Call it the curse of Karori Park.
No sooner had Central Districts paceman Adam Milne been ruled out of New Zealand's tour of South Africa than his replacement, Mark Gillespie, was in serious doubt last night with an abdominal strain.
In a bizarre turn of events on day three of the Plunket Shield match, Milne was officially scratched from the tour with an Achilles tendon injury suffered during Monday's warmups. Gillespie was duly summoned to the Twenty20 squad after solid first-class form and a good record against South Africa, despite being unwanted for the Firebirds' past two T20 matches.
Then, as he bent his back to fire in a short delivery in his 17th over of Central's second innings, he felt a twinge.
He was ushered off the park as a precaution and initial reports had him sidelined for 4-6 weeks.
Team-mate James Franklin said he was "gutted" for Gillespie.
But Firebirds physiotherapist Vijay Vallabh wasn't giving up hope of Gillespie being on the plane tomorrow, pending results of a scan and a doctor's visit this morning.
"It's 50-50 at this stage. He's going to have a good night's sleep, and reassess and test it out. It's responded to treatment and his strength has come back," Vallabh said.
The hosts will hope Gillespie isn't required to bat today as Wellington need another 194 runs with seven wickets in hand to bank 12 vital Plunket Shield points. But, given the way this absorbing match has ebbed and flowed, the Stags, runaway competition leaders, wouldn't be counting themselves out, especially with Jesse Ryder already out for 19.
The Firebirds have a knack for making the elementary look tricky and, eyeing a chase for 247, they teetered at 34-3.
Unwanted Wellington seamer Andrew Lamb continues to thrive in Stags colours. He removed captain Stephen Murdoch cheaply, then Ryder looked ominous in search of his fourth successive Plunket Shield ton against the Stags. But an errant hook at Lamb was well held by a running Jamie How and the whoops of joy signalled game on.
Opener Michael Papps will resume today with nightwatchman Scott Kuggeleijn and with James Franklin, Grant Elliott and Luke Ronchi to follow, the odds sway towards a Wellington outright.
Franklin led the way with the ball in Gillespie's absence, taking 4-71 as the Stags were dismissed for 389. The in-form Carl Cachopa (90) and Peter Trego (59) fought hard, while test spinner Jeetan Patel (3-66) applied the brakes in his 29 overs.
There's no understating the importance of today for Wellington as they look to climb the table from fifth, 39 points behind Central.
"A win would mean us getting right back in the hunt and for them it would stretch their lead. It's a massive day's play for the whole competition. There will be a few teams hoping we get a win to keep CD in check," Franklin said.
"The pitch has played well throughout but there's been an area if you hit a good length and hit it hard you can keep questioning the batsman."
Franklin departs for South Africa tomorrow buoyed by his bowling performance and hoping for a good second-innings knock as he looks to reclaim the test No 6 spot.
- The Dominion Post