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Return to form . . . Nathan Smith charges in during a devastating spell. PHOTO: DAVE NALDRETT

See, cricket doesn’t always need to be about a bucketload of fours and sixes.

Hawke Cup southern zone powerhouses North Otago and Southland proved that with an old-fashioned, low-scoring thriller at Centennial Park last weekend.

Chunks of time were lost to rain but the regular clatter of wickets meant the game progressed rapidly, and it ebbed and flowed so much it was never really clear who was the favourite.

Eventually, Southland took the honours based on its first-innings lead, and has earned the right to challenge for the Hawke Cup.

North Otago will reflect on another game where its superb bowling – dismissing this Southland side for 156 and 122 represented a wonderful effort – was just not quite backed up by enough runs.

Francois Mostert did his thing, grabbing another 10-wicket bag to take him to 40 for the season, and Nathan Smith bowled beautifully for a five-wicket bag in the second innings, but Lachie Kingan and Jeremy Smith were the only North Otago batsmen to pass 25 in either dig.

Under pressure . . . North Otago batsman Brady Kingan looks for a gap during the Hawke Cup qualifying game against Southland at Centennial Park at the weekend. PHOTO: PHIL JANSSEN

North Otago at least gave it a good crack when it was asked to score 143 in 19 overs to win the game, batting with positive intent to the finish.

Still, there had to be some frustration in the home side that it dipped out on a challenge.

“Sure, 100%, but that Southland side is seriously good too,” Nathan Smith told the Oamaru Mail

“I think that game was almost like a semifinal, and will have given Southland really good preparation for the challenge.

“There was so much riding on it, and both teams were geed up and getting stuck into each other, which is always good.”

Southland had its own batting struggles against a lethal North Otago attack, and even kingpin Harsh Visavadiya was kept relatively in check.

Regular Volts fast bowler Jacob Duffy and promising spinner Ben Lockrose proved difficult for the North Otago batsmen to get away, and Smith acknowledged the home team did not come to the party with the bat.

“I think that, with two-day cricket, you’ve got to go out with a positive mindset but you also need to bat time, and maybe you can get caught between those two things sometimes.

“You’ve just got to keep a positive attitude. When we were batting, a couple of calls didn’t go our way, and Southland took a couple of good catches to slow our momentum.

“We had to focus on getting the boys fizzed up. If we didn’t believe we could win, we might as well have gone home.”

At least, for Smith, there was an opportunity to recapture some form and confidence.

He has not played much cricket over the last couple of months but revelled in the opportunity to tear through the Southland top order in the second innings.

“To be honest, that’s the best I’ve bowled in probably a year.

“It was a really good confidence boost for me.”

Smith was playing in a Volts intrasquad game starting on Wednesday, and hopes to get back in the mix for Otago’s remaining Plunket Shield games.

The rest of the North Otago squad will return to club cricket and put dreams of Hawke Cup glory on hold for another year.