Firebird's Houghton haunted by fizzer final

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 24/01/2013

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It sounds like Wellington have been having a good old stew in Dunedin this week.

Beaten by Otago in Sunday's Twenty20 decider, the Firebirds didn't bother coming home.

That made sense, in that they meet Otago in Dunedin again when the Plunket Shield competition resumes today.

But, in talking to Wellington spinner Mark Houghton, it also seems that not leaving the scene of Sunday's crime has made the four-wicket defeat to Otago harder to shake.

"[I'm] still a little bit frustrated after Sunday; reliving memories and sleepless nights.

"It's all pretty tough," he said.

Not just because of the result but because of the way the Firebirds performed in the final.

"We just weren't good enough over the three facets," said Houghton. "It's always hard to recover after the loss of early wickets in Twenty20 but, with the way Harry [Boam] and Luke [Woodcock] scrapped to get us to a total [of 143], I still thought we were a chance of defending it."

That didn't happen, leaving Houghton and company yearning for "a replay".

"A lot of us left our best cricket in the changing rooms. To go through and play 11 games and to get to that stage where there's so much on the line and to not, well we certainly gave our best, but to leave so much of your better stuff behind is quite shattering."

Four-day cricket is not the arena in which Wellington would like to atone for Sunday but it's all they've got.

For Houghton, this is the second time this summer that he has been included in a Plunket Shield 12. He got the drinks role last time, so isn't assuming he'll be included in the final 11 today.

It's November 2010 since the left-arm spinner played the last of his 10 first-class matches for Wellington, having had to sit behind Woodcock and Jeetan Patel in the pecking order.

But after a fine Twenty20 competition, in which he bowled with great guile and control during the power play and death overs, Houghton's stocks are about as high as they've ever been.

"I'm not sure I was treated with a hell of a lot of respect by the opposition, which may have paid off for me a bit," the 28-year-old said of the eight Twenty20 wickets he took at a runs per over rate of 7.39 during the Twenty20 campaign.

Wellington start today's match fourth on the shield table with 47 points. Otago are second on 57, 17 behind leaders Central Districts, who host Canterbury at Napier.

Last-placed Northern are home to second-placed Auckland in Hamilton.

HOW THEY LINE UP

Wellington Plunket Shield team to play Otago in Dunedin from today: Josh Brodie, Michael Papps, Stephen Murdoch (captain), Jesse Ryder, Luke Woodcock, Michael Pollard, Luke Ronchi, Harry Boam, Scott Kuggeleijn, Mark Houghton, Ili Tugaga, Tipene Friday

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- The Dominion Post

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