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Otago made rather a sandwich of their first innings of only 241 when they won the toss and batted first on the opening day of their State Championship match against Auckland at Colin Maiden Park today.
The sandwich had a substantial and hearty filling built round a marvellous 111 by the 26-year-old captain Craig Cumming, supported by a solid and patient 39 by the No 6 batsman Craig Pryor.
These two put on 106 for the fifth wicket. Sadly, the outside parts of the Otago sandwich were soggy bread. The first four wickets were lost for 81 runs. The last six went for 54 runs.
There were few demons in the pitch, as Auckland showed in the 19 overs before stumps when they scored 56 without loss from 19 overs. Mark Richardson was 43 not out (eight fours) and promised, or threatened, depending on the point of view, to do some substantial damage to his old Otago team-mates tomorrow.
Otago also face the prospect that another southern favourite Matt Horne has been in wonderful form this summer, and only a bruised foot (a temporary injury) prevented him from joining Richardson in the entree this evening.
Otago lost Robbie Lawson for one in the fifth over, but once Simon Beare had made a nervous start (his three previous innings were ducks) and Cumming quickly settled in Otago prospered.
These two went steadily along to 62 before Beare, 98 minutes over his 22, misjudged the line of Gareth Shaw's medium-fast line, and shouldered arms while his middle stump was being knocked out. Chris Gaffaney went quickly, also to Shaw and when Andrew Hore gave Chris Drum his second wicket without scoring Otago were 81 for four, and had wasted good batting conditions.
With Pryor showing poise and good judgement, Cumming was able lead a counter-attack of quite splendid quality. The Otago skipper's fifth first-class century was not an affair of sparkling stroke-play from some fancy batting manual. Rather Cumming batted with quite marvellous efficiency, and with the rare ability to make the most of any ball that did not threaten his castle.
Pryor gradually joined in the counter-thrust, and while the first 50 of their partnership was a solid foundation, the second 50 produced a flow of firmly-struck boundaries by Cumming, and with Pryor occasionally lending an attacking hand.
Cumming sailed past the 100 in 216 minutes, from 157 balls and there seemed the prospect that he and Pryor would completely dominate an Auckland attack without any sharp teeth left.
Unfortunately for Otago Pryor lifted a solid drive at Tama Canning's bowling and at a shortish cover Llorne Howell took a brilliant two-handed catch. All a sudden, the face of the game changed. Cumming seemed to be half-forward when given out lbw to Canning - Otago 194 for six.
Martyn Croy played some solid blows, but he, too, fell to a fine catch by Howell, and the door was open for the Auckland bowlers.
Suddenly Brooke Walker, the Auckland captain and leg-spinner, began to confuse the Otago tail-enders with the ball which went quickly and straight through. This brought him three lbw victims, from Barry Frost, the umpire, which took the last three Otago wickets at 232, 236 and 241.
So Otago, which probably needed a first innings of 300-plus to justify batting first in favourable conditions, fell seriously short of their target, and they must have had the worry beads out tonight as they regarded the mastery that Richardson enjoyed before stumps.