N. Otago targeting first cup game

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Drew confident about strength of squad

HAYDEN.MEIKLE
@oamarumail.co.nz

Duncan Drew believes the present North Otago cricket team may be even stronger than the Hawke Cup-winning squad of 2010.
However, the veteran of 72 games for the province is also adamant the rest of the teams in the southern zone have improved, so even getting in position to challenge for the cup will not be easy.
‘‘I think we’ve built up a better playing base to the point this squad is actually stronger than the one that won the Hawke Cup,’’ Drew said.
‘‘But the zone is getting stronger all round, and the other three teams are coming through nicely. There is no real easybeat.
‘‘Obviously, Southland are always strong, with their greater population. Otago Country usually get some handy players out of somewhere. And South Canterbury has got Nick Horsley their as player-coach.’’
North Otago’s Hawke Cup campaign starts with a game against Otago Country in Alexandra next weekend.
A boost this season is the ability to field both of the North Otago Cricket Association’s South African player-coaches, Francois Mostert and Stephan Grobler.
Previously, both were considered imports and only one could play at a time. Now, thanks to a rule tweak, their consistent service enables them to qualify to play in the same XI.
‘‘I guess it rewards those guys who have come back every year,’’ Drew said.
‘‘They’re here primarily as coaches. Stephan has been here five years, so he’s basically a local anyway.
‘‘It’s good for local cricket to have those guys involved. It’s improved our level of cricket. We’re the smallest district association now, I think, so we sort of need a bit of help for our player base.’’
Further experience is provided by Ben Cant and Jordan Horrell, while the Smith brothers, Nathan and Jeremy, and the Kingan cousins, Brady and Lachie, provide plenty of youthful talent and enthusiasm.
Mostert and Nathan Smith can tear teams apart with the ball, and Drew hopes the batting order will provide plenty of support.
‘‘There’s some depth there now. Our batting order could end up with someone batting at No 11 who actually bats 3 or 4 in club cricket.’’
The Hawke Cup is a rather odd competition. It gives teams just four games, scattered across three months, and is often the only chance a heartland cricketer gets to play two-day cricket.
Drew, who made his debut in 1994 and has been a long-serving selector as well as a player, said it was hard to point to one key to success in the cup.
‘‘It’s so different every year. But the thing we always struggle with is the first game. Even when we won the Hawke Cup, we lost to Otago Country by an innings in our first game.
‘‘That’s something we’ve targeted this season. There are only four games, so you need to rip into it straight away.
‘‘It’s our only chance now to play two-day cricket, and it’s such a refreshing change from 50-over
cricket. There’s a bit more thinking involved — it’s a bit more of a chess game.’’
North Otago produced an excellent bowling performance and got another fine innings from Mostert to thump South Canterbury by 78 runs in a warm-up game in Oamaru on Sunday.
Mostert was unbeaten on 89 as North Otago posted 170 for nine off 50 overs. Cant (three for 12) and Nathan Smith (three for 14) then dominated with the ball as South Canterbury crumbled for 92 in the 34th over.
Both of North Otago’s home games would be played at Milner Park as the redeveloped back ground at Centennial Park was not ready for representative cricket, Drew said.

Hawke Cup
North Otago draw
Nov 28-29: v Otago Country, Alexandra
Dec 5-6: v Southland, Oamaru
Jan 9-10: v South Canterbury, Oamaru
Jan 23-24: v Mid Canterbury, Ashburton

Key man . . . North Otago allrounder Stephan Grobler bowls during the preseason game against Mid Canterbury at Milner Park. PHOTO: CAROL EDWARDS
Key man . . . North Otago allrounder
Stephan Grobler bowls during the
preseason
game against Mid Canterbury at Milner Park. PHOTO: CAROL EDWARDS