Volts, Firebirds well-balanced after first day

A five-wicket bag to Matt Bacon got Otago Volts hearts beating as they embarked on two home matches to finish their first-class summer.

Yet to get a win in the four-day format, the Volts were back at the scene of the season’s white ball Ford Trophy Grand Final against the side that had come up with the goods on that big occasion, and now they hoped for some hometown revenge with the red ball.

The Volts were already out of contention in the race for the Plunket Shield, and the Firebirds’ hopes were faint, but both teams had points to prove as Firebirds captain Michael Bracewell won the toss and batted.

It was a torrid first hour, however, for the visitors who quickly found themselves three down for not much, with young Rachin Ravindra (caught for no score off Ben Smith), leading batsman of the summer Devon Conway (caught off Warren Barnes for four) and Bracewell himself (off pole ripped out by Bacon, also for no score) all back in the sheds at 30 for three.

Veteran Luke Woodcock at the top needed all of his experience to hang on but, with Tom Blundell, did a sterling job of rebuilding the innings. Both reached half centuries after lunch, in a fourth-wicket stand of 114.

After nearly four hours at the crease, Woodcock had reached 80 when Bacon angled one across his body and young keeper Max Chu, in just his second first-class appearance, flew full-length to his right to gobble up a good low catch. Confusion ensued as Woodcock stood his ground while the umpires consulted over whether Chu had indeed got his gloves under it, the Volts all the time in no doubt.

Eventually Woodcock had to trek back in, and from his loss at 144 for four, things went south for a period in the Firebirds’ innings. Blundell was soon following him back in, caught off Bacon on 52. Then Jimmy Neesham, back in the team after illness in the previous round, became Bacon’s fourth victim at 172 for six.

Bacon had taken a four-fa two rounds earlier, and had a first-class career-best of 4-31: now the big, bold paceman was in with a sniff for his first five-wicket bag, in his 11th Plunket Shield match. He didn’t have to wait long, claiming Ollie Newton, caught popping up an edge off his next over, for his maiden bag.

Batting at seven, Andrew Fletcher survived through to stumps and will resume at 47* on day two. But the Firebirds will have just one wicket in hand, Warren Barnes and Christi Viljoen each having picked up one further wicket on the opening afternoon, with Viljoen stopping some late damage from Iain McPeake who slapped 34 in an 85-run ninth-wicket stand with Fletcher.

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