A point-less exercise has left Wellington waiting on a Plunket Shield miracle.
After 3 1/2 days of rain, wet patches and bad light, the Firebirds walked away from Karori Park with nothing, their game against Northern Districts ending in a draw.
With round eight's other two games, Canterbury v Auckland and Central Districts v Otago, resulting in outright wins, and then not being able to add a point to the 60 they started with, Wellington is left languishing in fourth spot on the table.
They are now 25 points shy of leaders Canterbury, heading into the away clashes with Northern Districts and Auckland that bring down the curtain on this season's four-day games.
Wellington could have won this summer's Twenty20 competition, but didn't. They have had opportunities to claim the four-day title, but are unlikely to, leaving the coming 50-over tournament as their last chance for overdue silverware.
The Firebirds lost Grant Elliott and Luke Ronchi to international commitments at different times, otherwise they have boasted teams brimming with Black Caps.
If ever they were a chance to break a title drought stretching back a decade, this was it.
Captain James Franklin hasn't given up on the Plunket Shield, but concedes it will take something special to pip Canterbury.
"We have to win our two games with near-on maximum points and hope they slip up or get some rain or inclement weather like we've had," Franklin said.
He hopes Whangarei's Cobham Oval will offer a result wicket, when they begin their game against Northern Districts on Sunday, although Auckland's Eden Park Outer Oval has been harder work traditionally.
"We're going to have to force the issue [in both games] and give it a good crack."
If those attempts are unsuccessful, Franklin won't be reading any riot acts or calling the season a writeoff.
"We fell short in one crucial game [against Otago] down in Dunedin and that really cost us in terms of the HRV [Twenty20 competition] so we've only got ourselves to blame. We probably didn't live up to what we wanted to do and make the playoffs," he said.
"In terms of the Plunket Shield, there's still some cricket to be played but it's going to take a monumental effort and some results to go our way. I would've liked to have won one more game than we have, but overall I think we've played some pretty solid cricket in the four-day stuff. If we get two wins out of the next two games it'll be a reasonable season in that format.
"Then we've got one-day stuff and we'll set up with a broad goal of trying to make the playoffs and go from there."
Meanwhile, Central Districts are up to third after beating second-placed Otago by 134 runs and Canterbury enjoyed a 64-run win over Auckland.
Central Districts' win was a fine effort, given they began the bowling innings without the injured Bevan Small, then had Kieran Noema-Barnett and Carl Cachopa cry off with problems. But not before captain Noema-Barnett had claimed a hat-trick.
After having Neil Broom caught in the slips cordon, Noema-Barnett got Jesse Ryder in the same manner, before Nathan McCullum nicked one through to wicketkeeper Kruger van Wyk.
Jimmy Neesham scored 147, his highest first-class tally, but that still left Otago well short of the 412 they had been set for victory.
Plunket Shield points: Canterbury 85, Otago 67, Central Districts 63, Wellington 60, Auckland 53, Northern Districts 51.
- The Dominion Post
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