Struggling Murdoch's Firebirds spot on the line

18:24, Dec 20 2012
Luke Ronchi
STAND OUT: Luke Ronchi's dual centuries were a bright spot for an otherwise poor showing from the Firebirds.

Captain Stephen Murdoch could be playing for his Wellington spot at next month's provincial A tournament as coach Jamie Siddons puts the heat on his underperforming batting lineup.

Siddons felt Wellington lost their Plunket Shield match against Northern Districts on Monday evening when they slumped to 23-4 at Karori Park. Despite outstanding dual centuries from Luke Ronchi and another mature Scott Kuggeleijn knock of 83, the Firebirds never recovered as they lost by six wickets yesterday, defending 194 after following on.

Murdoch, and to a lesser extent Grant Elliott (96 runs at 12), are the concerns heading into the Plunket Shield's five-week break. Murdoch scored 11 runs from four Karori Park innings this past fortnight, and has a season topscore of 48.

Aside from Jesse Ryder and Michael Papps, there's been precious few big scores from the top-six, and the fourth-placed Firebirds won't be title contenders if it continues.

"We've got to identify what the batsmen are doing wrong and hopefully bring them back bigger and better when the four-dayers start again. It's probably Grant and Stephen that need to get that [form] back. Grant will be playing a lot of T20s and his last innings there was fantastic, it won us the game," Siddons said.

"Stephen will have an A tournament to hopefully get some runs and work it all out. You don't get picked on captaincy, you get picked on your runs. He's got to go to the As and get some form and I'm pretty confident he'll do that."

Elliott will reclaim the captaincy for the T20 competition while Murdoch eyes the A tournament in Christchurch starting on January 2.

On another excellent pitch, ND cruised to their total thanks to test batsman Kane Williamson's unbeaten 121. It was his 12th first-class century and gave ND their first win of the season, set up by a dominant all-round performance by Tim Southee on day one.

Wellington struggled for bite in their inexperienced attack without injured pacemen Mark Gillespie and Andy McKay. Both are recovering slowly, Siddons said, and won't be considered until the January 24 Plunket Shield game against Otago, at the earliest.

Ronchi was the Firebirds' standout after they followed on 197 behind. He cracked 108 off 119 balls yesterday after his brutal 113 in the first innings. He was the second wicketkeeper to score back-to-back tons in a New Zealand first-class game, after Gareth Hopkins for Canterbury in 2002-03.

Ronchi also pouched eight catches, and looks increasingly difficult to leave out of New Zealand's ODI squad in South Africa when he becomes eligible on January 13.

"If they chuck him straight in that's great for him but not great for us [Wellington]," Siddons said.

"He's firing with the bat and that's what they want, and I still think he's the best keeper in the country. You can't ask for much more than what he did here."

Wellington's next game is a T20 against Otago in Dunedin on Sunday where explosive Bangladeshi batsman Tamim Iqbal will debut.

Siddons said Tamim and Ryder will open, with Michael Pollard moving to three. The squad has two changes from the 55-run win over Central Districts, with Tamim and spinner Mark Houghton replacing South Africa tourists James Franklin and Jeetan Patel.

Plunket Shield leaders Central hold a 17-point buffer over Otago after both sides drew at Dunedin's University Oval yesterday.

Contact Mark Geenty
Deputy sports editor


The Dominion Post