Flaky batting effort condemns the Firebirds

They should have been slapping Mark Gillespie's aching back for a matchwinning bowling performance. Instead the Firebirds limped from the Basin Reserve mulling another batting collapse that left them teetering, halfway through the national one-day competition.

With a solitary victory on the board, Wellington need to win three of their final four matches to make the playoffs, starting with an equally desperate Otago in Dunedin on Sunday.

Just three days after Wellington and Otago produced a 614-run thriller on the same strip, the Firebirds folded for 154 in 44.2 overs against Northern Districts' handy but hardly venomous attack yesterday.

To Wellington's, and particularly Gillespie's, credit they gave it a good crack before the table-topping Knights scrambled home by three wickets, with 33 balls to spare. Gillespie (4-22) was outstanding and for as long as he was shuffling in, Wellington were an outside chance. But when he bowled out in the 38th over and limped off to pack both ankles with ice, it was game over with too few runs on the board.

''That's why it's even more frustrating that we didn't get to that 180-200 which would have been a competitive score,'' stand-in skipper Michael Papps lamented. Captain James Franklin was a late scratching after back spasms he suffered after Tuesday's training hadn't settled on match morning.

Having posted a winning total of 308-5 against Otago on Sunday, Wellington's batsmen reverted to the bad old days of round one when Central Districts rolled them cheaply in Palmerston North.

In muggy, heavily overcast conditions the ball swung and the odd delivery bounced sharply, but it hardly looked unplayable. Papps stood his ground when caught at slip by Mitchell Santner, which from the boundary looked like it bounced short. Santner and the umpires were adamant.

Former Firebird Scott Kuggeleijn bowled with some heat and with veteran Graeme Aldridge knocked the top off. Then spin, via Ish Sodhi and Jono Boult, completed the rout. Young Henry Walsh topscored with 31 then was run out in a mix-up with Matt Taylor.

Papps was annoyed the middle order didn't adjust their targets after they'd initially thought 300-plus was required again.

''It did do a little bit this morning, as it did against Otago, but the ND boys bowled a bit better. If we had reassessed a bit quicker and maybe aimed for 220, that was the disappointing thing that we didn't give ourselves a chance to bowl at something defendable.''

After conceding 18 off his final over on Sunday, Gillespie certainly thought 154  was defendable. He steamed in to trap Santner in front second ball then snared the in-form BJ Watling, standing in as skipper for Daniel Flynn (groin).

The Knights' batting had a brittle look but Daryl Mitchell, who guided them home in the Twenty20 final in January, showed how it was done with a composed 52 before Gillespie nicked him out. Substitute fielder Peter Younghusband took a magnificent catch on the mid-wicket boundary, throwing infield from the rope and regathering, but Wellington needed even more brilliance.

Said Papps of Gillespie: ''What can you say about him? He's been battling away all year doing a great job and he proved again what a class bowler he is and gave us half a chance.''

The Dominion Post