A side strain for Andy McKay, and Tuesday's washout, have left Wellington an uphill battle to claim outright points despite a top-order revival against Canterbury.
The Firebirds will resume today on 135-0 in their second innings in Rangiora, a lead of 73 and with opener Michael Papps five runs short of his 22nd first-class century on the final day of their Plunket Shield match.
But McKay's injury, which is expected to sideline him for at least a fortnight, and the lack of time remaining in an evenly-poised contest points to a draw on a Mainpower Oval pitch offering less and less for the bowlers.
Wellington's frontline paceman pulled up sore late in his eight-over spell on Monday. McKay underwent a scan yesterday and medical opinion was that he sit out the next two weeks at least, ruling him out of next week's match in Auckland which will be English all-rounder Chris Woakes' debut for the Firebirds.
"It will make things difficult but all the guys chipped in and did a pretty reasonable job. That [McKay's absence] might be one thing we have to factor into our decision [on what target to set Canterbury]," Papps said.
From 126-9 on day one after being sent into bat on a seaming pitch, the Firebirds clawed their way back admirably. Still, with 105 overs left, they'll need to pile on the runs before lunch today to entertain any thoughts of putting Canterbury's batsmen under pressure.
"The game's in a bit of a funny position and losing a day to rain didn't help. We'll look to be positive and start again and bat ourselves into a position where we're comfortable and maybe look at setting a target," Papps said.
"It won't be easy [dismissing Canterbury in the fourth innings] but it might depend on the overhead conditions. We're finding out that when it's a bit overcast it does swing around out here. The new ball will do a little bit."
Mark Gillespie and Scott Kuggeleijn are the only two recognised pacemen left, with backup from Harry Boam, Jesse Ryder and Grant Elliott, then Luke Woodcock's spin.
Papps has padded up endless times in Rangiora but admitted that he hadn't cashed in as much as he'd liked.
The former Canterbury opener, who scored a record 19 centuries for his original province, compiled 95 not out off 172 balls yesterday with capable support from Josh Brodie (39 not out).
Five more runs today will draw Papps level with former test captain Jeff Crowe in 21st spot on the all-time New Zealand list of first-class centurions. "It was pretty good for batting. The little bit of sideways movement, there was on that first day wasn't evident so much."
Unwanted test batsman Dean Brownlie also found conditions to his liking, hitting 133, his sixth first-class century, in Canterbury's 301-8 declared. Dropped after the West Indies tour due to a perceived weakness against spin, Brownlie's was a timely message amid the Black Caps' batting woes with a tour of South Africa looming.
Gillespie led the Wellington attack well in McKay's absence, taking 4-74 off 24.2 overs.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Is cricket still NZ's top summer sport?Related story: Rain can't save Black Caps from big defeat