Opportunity is the word for a fair chunk of the North Otago squad as it prepares for another representative cricket season.
Indeed, if North Otago is to get another crack at the Hawke Cup, several players are going to have to make the most of the opportunities they are given.
The retirements of Duncan Drew and Craig Smith, the departures of Christchurch-based veterans Jordan Horrell and Ben Cant, and the almost certain unavailability of rising Otago Volts star Nathan Smith leave some big boots to fill.
“I suppose it’s a bit of a slow turnover,” North Otago selector Drew said.
” But the guys coming in are guys who have been around the squad, which is a good thing.
“We used to struggle to get 11 guys to play, but in recent years, we’ve had a reasonably consistent extended squad of 18 players.
“You might see more of guys like Nick Johnston and Brad Fleming. They’ve been around but they just haven’t played a lot of Hawke Cup cricket.”
Drew is keen to monitor the development of Waitaki Boys’ High School and Otago under-19 players Mason James and Scott Kitto.
Newcomers this summer could also include Tom Dempster and George Bell, talented juniors who attend school outside the district but hail from the region.
“We’ve always tried to get these guys coming through from high school so we can prepare for the future,” Drew said.
A more seasoned face back in the squad is Stephan Grobler, the South African top-order batsman who helped North Otago win the Hawke Cup in 2016 before heading overseas.
Grobler may not play every game this summer due to work and family commitments, but his batting and legspin bowling could provide huge value.
Irish-Australian wicketkeeper-batsman Cormac Hassett, who played with Grobler and has joined Oamaru-St Kevin’s, is an intriguing newcomer.
Boom teenager Llew Johnson has been encouraged by Otago Cricket to play in the Hawke Cup, while Jeremy Smith, Brady Kingan and Jeremiah Shields will be asked to produce some runs.
As has been the case in recent seasons, North Otago’s progress may depend on the efforts of its extraordinary import, Francois Mostert, with ball and bat.
Scoring runs has been an issue but Drew said that was nothing new for any province in this part of New Zealand.
“The pitches in our zone often have a big role to play. Sometimes you have to keep it simple, and think about batting overs. If you bat more overs, you get more runs.
“Most of the teams only bat 50 overs. So if you can push to 60 or 70 overs, you can build a decent wee lead.”
North Otago, which had two outright wins last summer, was scheduled to open the campaign with a game against Otago Country in Oamaru this weekend, but it was abandoned due to rain.
Southland holds the Hawke Cup, so North Otago will get the first challenge if it wins the zone or finishes second to the holder.
In a warm-up game in Ashburton last weekend, Mostert scored 82 and Hassett 39 as North Otago scored 183 off 59.2 overs. Mid Canterbury was 90 for one when the game was abandoned.