Firebirds finish with a whimper

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 12:39 27/02/2014

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Firebirds

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It will be up to Jamie Siddons to decide how bad yesterday's 106-run loss to Auckland was.

The Wellington coach will know that the defeat was a limp way to end a Plunket Shield campaign that promised plenty and ended in a disappointing fourth place.

Siddons has indicated that the imminent one-day competition, which begins against Central Districts in Palmerston North, is a chance to look to the future.

That arrived slightly ahead of time yesterday, when Tom Blundell scored his second hundred of the summer in the Firebirds' doomed pursuit of 425 to win on Eden Park's Outer Oval.

Siddons has said that Blundell will play the first two one-dayers as a specialist batsman, then take the wicketkeeping gloves when Luke Ronchi heads off on Black Caps duty. Other players of Blundell's ilk are said to be in the mix too, with Siddons set on playing James Franklin and Grant Elliott as frontline bowlers in a bid to get a young batsman or two into the XI.

That would leave some faithful servants surplus to requirements, which hasn't been Wellington's selection policy in recent times.

However Siddons shuffles his deck, Blundell looks like he has come up trumps.

A broken hand delayed the 23-year-old's passage into the team this summer. He marked his eventual return with a maiden first-class hundred, then bagged a pair in the next match and wasn't sighted for two rounds.

Only, along with a pair against Central Districts at McLean Park, Blundell got himself viral meningitis. Almost a month on he hasn't fully recovered, despite making 104 in Wellington's innings of 318 yesterday.

"'I played the first day [against CD] OK, although I probably shouldn't have played, but I was keen to back up my first hundred. Second day I was bed-ridden and couldn't really move and I ended up in hospital and was in there for a day and a bit," Blundell said.

"It's been a rough few weeks."

Now deemed Wellington's best up-and-coming batsman, particularly with Michael Pollard out injured, Blundell came straight back into the team once he was well enough. He made 26 in Wellington first innings at Eden Park, then found himself in at 59-4 in the second.

First with Franklin, then Ronchi, Blundell simply set about batting for as long as he could.

The plan was to play his natural, uncomplicated game and hit anything he liked. Which was why, on 98, he happily waltzed down the wicket and hit Jeet Raval for six to bring up his hundred.

As proud as he was of that, yesterday's result left him a bit flat.

"It's disappointing. I obviously got some runs, but I'd rather have batted for the day and got the draw. It's bittersweet really."

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Final Plunket Shield points: Canterbury 106, Otago 86, Auckland 79, Wellington 72, Central Districts 70, Northern Districts 58.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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