Hawke home after Battle of Buller

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It has come home _ and now North Otago’s aim is to keep the Hawke Cup here for a long time.
For just the second time in the history of the province, North Otago is the champion of New Zealand districts cricket.
Six years after their fairy-tale win over Manawatu, the Penguins won the cup again with a comprehensive victory over plucky Buller on a rugged artificial pitch in Westport at the weekend.
The 2010 squad lost the cup at its first defence _ though it stayed in the trophy cabinet an entire winter _ and the present side has a strong wish to avoid that fate.
“Winning the Hawke Cup is a great achievement for the province,” all-rounder Stephan Grobler said.
“The boys are obviously feeling very buoyant but, at the same time, we have to switch our focus really quickly on to the next game coming up.
“A lot of pressure goes on us now because we are playing at home and defending the cup.”Pressure? Just a little bit.
The raiding party heading south for North Otago’s first defence, at Milner Park starting next Friday, is Hawkes Bay.
The Magpies are fresh off a huge score (621, including four centuries) against Whanganui, and will be bolstered by players from the Central Districts first-class squad.
Add to that the possibility that New Zealand under-19 fast bowler Nathan Smith may still be unavailable, as he has been selected to play in the North v South game, and North Otago could comfortably claim underdog status.
Still, North Otago has home advantage, is in red-hot form and has arguably the No 1 bowler in districts cricket in the country, Francois Mostert, who banked another 13 wickets at the weekend.
“There’s a lot of belief in our side. We believe in every player in the team and that they can step up,” Grobler said.
“I know Francois has taken a lot of wickets but we’ve also had other people chip in, especially with the bat.”North Otago did not overwhelm with the bat in Westport, though its totals of 143 and 203 proved to be plenty for Mostert, Jeremy Smith and the other bowlers to defend.
Grobler has had a relatively lean summer but he chipped in with 29 in the first innings and a crucial 61 in the second, combining in partnerships of 89 with Duncan Drew in the first and a handy 37 with Llewy Johnson in the second.
“I was very pleased. We’ve relied a little too much on Ben [Cant] lately, so it’s important other people score some runs.
“It was great to have a nice partnership with Duncan in the first innings, and batting with Llewy in the second was really great. He played his natural game but I just tried to hang in there for a while.
“It wasn’t a normal artificial pitch. It actually did quite a lot and was quite tough to bat on.”It is already shaping as a big year for Grobler, who is expecting his first child with fiancee Lucy Bloxsom in just three weeks. Another couple of good Hawke Cup knocks and there will be plenty of reasons to celebrate.

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