Wellington won't win the Plunket Shield but they will have a say in who does.
Central Districts take a nine-point lead into the final round starting on Thursday when they host Northern Districts at Nelson.
Second-placed Otago meet Wellington at the Basin Reserve, in a match Central coach Alan Hunt will have almost more interest in than his own team's.
"Goodness knows I'll be hoping for [Wellington] to step up. It's about time," Hunt said after Central's four-wicket win over Canterbury yesterday.
The Twenty20 format might now provide domestic cricket's most lucrative and high-profile competition, but the shield winners are recognised as being the best side of the entire season.
Central have led it from the start and would be deserved winners, if something of a rarity.
Hand-on-heart, you couldn't call Central the best side this summer, but it would be hard to find a better team.
Hunt felt that was evident in yesterday's win against Canterbury. Central had not dominated at all but whenever things looked grim one player showed the way and the rest quickly followed.
"You've got to come together in the tough times and in the first half-session after lunch on Saturday we were very, very ordinary. But that's when you've got to keep working for each other," Hunt said.
"Whoever's got the ball in their hand or whoever's got the bat in their hand has a responsibility to do the job and that's what we got out of our bowlers in this game. They really stood up and did a good job."
Doug Bracewell's 7-35 in Canterbury's first innings was as good a performance as the figures suggest, Hunt said, while new-ball partner Andrew Lamb took 5-49 in the second innings to set up a last innings of chase of 259.
But Hunt was quick to add that Andrew Mathieson's 2-43 was as good an effort as anyone's, while spinners Tarun Nethula and Ajaz Patel were tidy as well.
"It takes a whole lot of guys to front up if you're going to take wickets, even in the case of Dougie's seven-for." Their required total of 259 was a challenge on a MainPower Oval pitch that wasn't as true as usual, but Jamie How's 81 and Jeet Raval's and Mathew Sinclair's half-centuries enabled them to get there without too much bother. Hunt expects the pitch at Nelson's Saxton Oval to be slow and knows that beating Northern should be enough to secure the title. All the same, he wouldn't mind a bit of help from Wellington.
"We won't be out there trying to do any favours for anyone apart from ourselves," Wellington captain Stephen Murdoch said.
The Firebirds are up to fourth in the competition, thanks to bonus points, despite slumping to a five-wicket defeat to Northern in Whangarei yesterday.
Wellington were good for two days, but couldn't wrap up Northern's tail and then batted poorly in their second innings having scored a very competitive 423 first time round.
Tim Southee's 83 off 54 balls pushed Northern out to 510, before he took 5-52 in Wellington's second innings of 234. That gave him nine wickets for the match, his first outing since he broke a thumb against Wellington in December.
"Their bowlers came pretty hard and put us under pressure and we weren't able to get the big score we needed. You can put that down to guys getting starts and not pushing on," Murdoch said.
"Joshy [Brodie] got another [poor] decision like the last one you witnessed [against Auckland], when he was looking good and looking to be our anchor."
Brodie, who was given out leg before wicket to leg-spinner Ish Sodhi, was one of six players to get past 20, but his knock of 49 was the highest score anyone could muster.
At Dunedin, Otago completed an easy 10-wicket victory over Auckland after being set just four runs to win in their second innings.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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