Dollar each-way with Knights, Volts in photofinish
Predicting a winner in the race for an outright victory between the Northern Knights and Otago Volts looks harder to pick than the Melbourne Cup.
After two days of their Plunket Shield match at Hamilton's Seddon Park, it is impossible to gauge which side will find the consistency to gain the upper hand.
The advantage has swung both ways twice, leaving the opportunity on the penultimate day of the four-day encounter for both teams to push for the win.
At times yesterday, it appeared the visitors would recover from a perilous position to dictate terms, but the Knights fought back and were 20 minutes away from coming out on top before losing two wickets prior to stumps.
They will resume today at 120 for two, giving them a lead of 26 runs with eight second-innings wickets in hand.
The hosts had a century partnership for the opening wicket between skipper Brad Wilson and Joey Yovich.
However, both departed to leave Otago feeling good about their day.
Resuming at 71 for five yesterday after Northern's first innings of 204, Otago flourished on the back of a maiden first-class century from Jimmy Neesham and some hard hitting at the tail from former Knight Ian Butler.
The 23-year-old Neesham's previous best tally was 67, with an average of 15.52. However, he belied those figures with a bold effort that reaped 20 boundaries in his 168-ball tally of 124.
Neesham and wicketkeeper/batsman Derek de Boorder added 137 for the sixth wicket to frustrate the hosts, and then Butler blasted his way to 61 off just 49 balls.
He clobbered four sixes and six fours and put on 55 for the last wicket with No 11 Jacob Duffy, who made two.
The Northern bowlers were guilty of offering too many boundary opportunities on a shortened outfield.
"Probably the guys' discipline wasn't as good as it could be and what we are capable of and what we showed on the first night." Yovich said.
Brent Arnel remained the pick of the home crop, snaring five for 74 off 26 overs to give him his eighth five-wicket bag in first-class cricket.
He was unfortunate not to gain further reward in the first session, with vociferous lbw shouts against Neesham and de Boorder denied.
"I thought Neesham and de Boorder batted well at the start and, in particular, Neesham almost batting through - he played a particularly good innings," Yovich said. "He gave them a foundation which we didn't have in the first innings and will need tomorrow."
The left-handed veteran and his skipper calmly went about rubbing out the deficit, putting on 103 for the first wicket before Yovich (50) chased one from Neesham and then Wilson (54) edged Butler to slip in the day's last over.
Neil Wagner also gave James Marshall a searching examination of quick bowling which twice saw the left-armer on his knees, pleading for an lbw shout to be given.
"It was a frustrating way to finish the day but we've still got a lot of batting to come," Yovich said.
"It was nice to knock off that deficit but disappointing especially to lose the last wicket. It's a good wicket now - it's not an easy wicket to score runs quickly on but if they pierce the field, you can get a lot of boundaries.
"The game's well advanced and both teams have plenty to play for."