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Asking the question . . . North Otago wicketkeeper Zack Wade and slip fielder Duncan Drew appeal for a wicket. PHOTO: NICCI SMITH

 

Jeremy Smith and his North Otago team-mates know there is no sport like cricket for both lifting you to the heavens and bringing you crashing back to earth.

The North Otago cricketers flirted with every possible emotion – from disappointment to delight, from dominance to despair – in the opening Hawke Cup game of the season against Otago Country at the weekend.

Eventually, the lingering feeling was one of frustration as Country escaped with a one-wicket win on an unbearably tense final afternoon at Centennial Park.

In a low-scoring game, North Otago appeared to have pulled off a dramatic victory when it reduced Country to 56 for nine in its pursuit of 99, before Liam Cotton and Tom Myles combined for a remarkable final partnership of 44 – the biggest partnership of the game, by some distance – to break home-town hearts.

Smith, whose gutsy unbeaten 52 in the second innings had given North Otago a fighting chance, said the home dressing room was fairly sombre after the game.

“There wasn’t much being said,” he told the Oamaru Mail

“I think everyone was just a bit disappointed. After tea on the last day, it was our game to lose.

“But the two Country guys at the end batted really well together. They really stepped up and did it for them.”

North Otago lamented a couple of half-chances on the final afternoon. Myles nicked his second ball between keeper and first slip, and Smith thought he had a run out but the stumps had already been accidentally broken.

It was a game for the bowlers – 39 wickets fell for just 394 runs – and the home attack certainly did its bit to carry North Otago’s momentum from a marvellous 2015-16 campaign into the new season.

Craig Smith grabbed three wickets in the first innings, Nathan Smith took three in the second, and Francois Mostert turned the game with three wickets in four balls to put Country’s chase in jeopardy.

Batting was another story at the revamped back oval at Centennial Park. North Otago could scrape together just 74 in its first dig of the summer, although Jeremy Smith felt there were mitigating circumstances.

“It actually wasn’t a bad score, to be fair. Big boundaries, and the grass was long, so twos became ones, and threes became twos. It felt like we’d scored something like 130.

“It was really tough as a batsman. You always felt there was a ball with your name on it. A bit of rain had spiced up the pitch, and the ball was moving a lot through the air.”

In the circumstances, Smith’s 110-ball half-century in the second innings was a marvellous display of determination and patience, and he could reflect with pride on his performance.

“Personally, I was quite pleased to get some runs.

“I want to step up and show I can do it this season, and I thought I did that in the second innings. It’s a start.”

North Otago was underdone going into the weekend, having been largely confined to artificial pitches in club cricket, and there is now a six-week break until the next Hawke Cup game, against South Canterbury in Timaru.

South Canterbury smashed Mid Canterbury by an innings at the weekend, meaning the next game is almost already must-win territory for North Otago.

Top innings . . . Jeremy Smith on his way to an unbeaten half-century. PHOTO: NICCI SMITH
Top innings . . . Jeremy Smith on his way to an unbeaten half-century. PHOTO: NICCI SMITH
Pace ace . . . North Otago fast bowler Nathan Smith in action during the Hawke Cup game against Otago Country at Centennial Park at the weekend. PHOTO: HAYDEN MEIKLE
Pace ace . . . North Otago fast bowler Nathan Smith in action during the Hawke Cup game against Otago Country at Centennial Park at the weekend. PHOTO: HAYDEN MEIKLE