Toothless attack handicaps Firebirds

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 26/02/2013
Mark Gillespie
CHRIS HILLOCK/Fairfax NZ
DIZZY HEIGHTS: Mark Gillespie, who was head and shoulders above the rest of his Firebirds bowling mates, finishing equal top of the Plunket Shield table with 45 wickets.

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Wellington's Plunket Shield campaign proved yet again that while batsmen generate headlines, it is bowlers that actually win you things.

Fourth was probably a tolerable finish for the Firebirds, who scored lots of runs but rarely troubled too many opposing batsmen.

Michael Papps, Luke Ronchi and Jesse Ryder all finished in the top 10 of the competition's batting aggregates, while Mark Gillespie topped the wicket-taking tally with 45, alongside Northern Districts' Brent Arnel.

"He's flying. He's going really well and taking lots of wickets which I'd expect him to do at our level," Wellington coach Jamie Siddons said.

But below Gillespie, the Plunket Shield pickings were slim.

Scott Kuggeleijn took 22 wickets at 43.81, while going at about five an over, and Jeetan Patel snared eight wickets in the last match of the competition to finish with 17 at 43.64. Ili Tugaga (13 at 39.23) was the only other bowler to register double figures in the wickets column.

Wellington finished 53 points adrift of champions Central Districts and it is not hard to see why. None of CD's frontline bowlers averaged more than 36 with the ball and seven of them took more than 10 wickets.

"Good on them, they played unbelievably well and they deserved it," Wellington coach Jamie Siddons said of CD's title-winning success.

"They had the bowling team to bowl sides out all year and that's probably where we let ourselves down a bit."

The loss of Andy McKay through injury was a big one. Every team loses quick bowlers during a campaign, but Wellington were ill-equipped to cope without him.

Dane Hutchinson came and went, Kuggeleijn was quick but too often wayward, leaving Tugaga as the most reliable back-up to Gillespie.

"We've seen enough from Tugaga to think that we've got a reasonable bowler there, especially in short-form [cricket]. The way he broke the game open on the last day [against Otago] was fantastic," Siddons said.

"He's got a bit of outswing and wickets are possible for him and I'm really impressed with him."

Tugaga isn't express but does appear to have a good temperament and has been described as highly coachable.

Tipene Friday was the other young bowler thrust into the side and while steady at times, did not prove a huge threat on flat wickets.

Harry Boam falls into that category too. He took just six wickets in the campaign and does not do enough with the ball to trouble good players.

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Hutchinson has gone away and taken big bags of wickets at lower levels and Kuggeleijn, who was a specialist batsman until his last year at school, is seen as someone who still has a lot of improvement left in him. Throw in a fit McKay and the makings of a useful pace attack are there.

CD's own arsenal aren't the most fearsome around. But they bowled stuff that captain Kieran Noema-Barnett could set a field to and realised the value of working in partnerships.

One-day cricket beckons now, where Wellington can make do with slow bowlers and bits-and-pieces types.

The Firebirds meet Otago at the Basin Reserve today minus Ronchi, Patel and Gillespie.

The trio were named in the New Zealand XI for a four-day game against England starting tomorrow, but Ronchi has subsequently pulled out and is at least a week away from playing.

"He's got back tightness and quad tightness leading to hamstring pain and maybe a slight strain. It's a weird one, I can't even describe it," Siddons said.

"It's not really a tear, it's like everything tightens up and then his hammy grabs."

Wellington had been asked by the Black Caps to open the batting with Ronchi. It is a role he performed occasionally in Australian domestic cricket, although his strength lies in finishing an innings the way Brendon McCullum has done lately.

With Ronchi missing, Stephen Murdoch will bat at three, having seen off what director of cricket Robbie Kerr said were stern challenges from Ben Orton, Michael Pollard and Josh Brodie. Murdoch would be the obvious person to miss out once Ronchi is fit.

Ryder will open with Papps, having been given time to freshen up and get over a groin niggle.

Contact Hamish Bidwell
Sports reporter
Email: hamish.bidwell@dompost.co.nz

- The Dominion Post

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