Kane Williamson tuned up for the test series against South Africa with an unbeaten 121 leading Northern Districts to a six-wicket victory against Wellington in the Plunket Shield in Wellington yesterday.
It was Williamson's 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, coach Jamie Siddons said, and won't be considered until the January 24 Plunket Shield game against Otago, at the earliest.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Luke 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."
Captain Stephen Murdoch could be playing for his Wellington spot at next month's provincial A tournament in Christchurch as Siddons puts the heat on his underperforming batting lineup.
Siddons felt Wellington lost the match on the first day 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 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 top score of 48.
Aside from Jesse Ryder and Michael Papps, there's been few runs from the top-six, and the fourth-placed Firebirds won't be title contenders if it continues.
Wellington's next game is a T20 against Otago in Dunedin on Sunday where explosive Bangladeshi batsman Tamim Iqbal will debut.
Plunket Shield leaders Central hold a 17-point buffer over Otago after both sides drew at Dunedin's University Oval yesterday. Fairfax NZ
- The Dominion Post
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