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Key men . . . Valley bowler Francois Mostert and Union batsman Duncan Drew (at the non-striker's end) in action during the Dick Hunt Trophy final. The pair will lead North Otago into battle against Mid Canterbury this weekend. PHOTO: DAVE NALDRETT

Duncan Drew has a problem – but he is not complaining about it.

The North Otago player-selector has been mulling over the playing XI for the Hawke Cup qualifying game against Mid Canterbury in Ashburton this weekend.

And, in what is always a good sign, the issue is who to leave out, and not who can answer the emergency call to play.

North Otago will be close to full strength with talented Christchurch-based all-rounder James Ferris the only player definitely unavailable.

Two recent Otago players, Llew Johnson and Nathan Smith, should be in the team.

“We’re checking with Otago cricket but at this stage we should have Llew and Nathan,” Drew said.

“That’s a good headache for us to have. We’ll have to think about who we want to leave out.”

Smith has not played for the Volts since last November, and has been getting his body right after a big workload in the last couple of years.

Having the gun fast bowler and rising batting star Johnson back in the squad would be “fantastic” for North Otago, Drew said.

“The best thing for us is that guys like Llew and Nathan want to come back and play cricket for North Otago.

“South Canterbury is probably the classic example. They always talk about Hamish Bennett and getting him back to play for them. But I don’t know if he has ever played for them.

“It’s great to see our guys getting a chance for Otago but also showing they want to come back and help their home province.”

North Otago’s first Hawke Cup game of the summer was on December 2-3 and its second was a week later, but Drew has no concerns the two-month break will lead to a rusty performance.

“In the past, having a 2-2 split like this has actually worked out better for us. Last year, we had a 1-3 split, and it was hard to get momentum.

“Southland has four games in five weeks, but we’ve got guys who are too busy with work, so you need to take that sort of thing into account.”

After opening the summer with a dominant 199-run over Otago Country in Alexandra, North Otago grabbed first-innings points off South Canterbury to get itself into a handy position ahead of the crunch end of the season.

Southland, which comes to Oamaru next weekend, has won both its games outright, and hosts South Canterbury – which has the same points (24) as Southland but has played one more game – this weekend.

“We’ve got Southland in that last round, and they’re right up there,” Drew said.

“But we just need to think about Mid Canterbury this weekend. We need to up there and do our thing and not look too far ahead.

“If we at least get first-innings points against Mid Canterbury, it probably all comes down to that game against Southland.”

Drew said Southland was invariably strong, as it had comfortably the largest population base in the Southern zone.

North Otago would lean on Craig Smith, who spent six years in Invercargill, for some insight into the strengths and weaknesses of the Southland squad.

Mid Canterbury’s biggest problem this summer has been scoring runs, so the lethal North Otago bowling attack has a golden opportunity this weekend to help the side push for another outright win.