A dash of momentum, a sprinkling of confidence – and a nice helping of revenge.
They are the outcomes the North Otago cricket team is seeking when it heads to Alexandra for the opening Hawke Cup qualifying game against Otago Country this weekend.
The districts cricket competition is over quickly, as each team gets just four games, and it is vital North Otago gets off to a positive start as it seeks to get its hands back on a trophy it won two summers ago.
“In years gone by, we would start off poorly and it was an uphill battle from there,” North Otago player-selector Duncan Drew told the Oamaru Mail this week.
“But in recent years – apart from last year – we’ve gone quite well in the first couple of games.
“We’d really like to get that momentum straight away and then carry it on.”
Drew and his team-mates will be eager to avoid a repeat of the corresponding fixture last year.
North Otago had Otago Country on the ropes at 56 for nine in its second innings in Oamaru before the visiting side produced a 10th-wicket partnership of 44 to steal an outright win.
That was a deflating start to a summer that later featured plenty of good cricket but only one outright win, leaving Southland to progress from the zone.
As has so often been the case, the acid will go on the North Otago batsmen to produce enough runs for its feared seam bowling attack to defend.
A bonus is the imminent return of star batsman Ben Cant after a season away, while former captain Jordan Horrell is also back in the fold.
“I guess this zone is always about trying to score runs, and we’ve said that over and over again,” Drew said.
“Ben’s not available this weekend but should be available for the other three games, and Jordy looks like he will be available for the whole campaign.
“It’s really good to get some of that batting depth back.”
An intriguing “newcomer” is burly Oamaru-St Kevin’s all-rounder James Ferris, who has been carving up in club cricket and has oodles of natural talent, and returns to the North Otago squad for the first time in seven years.
“He’s an X-factor player for us, especially with the bat,” Drew said.
“He could turn a game, which is why he’s there.”
Oamaru team-mate Nick Johnston is a new face in an extended squad, along with Jordan Cafferkey, Albion’s English import.
Key men remain South African star Francois Mostert, who backed up his record 56-wicket haul of 2015-16 with 301 runs at 50.17 last year, crafty veteran Craig Smith, who will captain the side, and talented batsmen Jeremy Smith and Regan George.
North Otago will also hope to occasionally get the services of Nathan Smith, who may be available for the odd game when he is not selected by the Volts.
A second warm-up game last Sunday gave North Otago a chance to get ready for the Hawke Cup campaign.
Ferris whacked 68 but North Otago fell two runs short of victory in its pursuit of Mid Canterbury’s 222 off 50 overs at Centennial Park.
Drew said that game, and the preceding one against South Canterbury in Timaru, provided excellent preparation for the competition.
“The best thing was that they went the distance, so everybody got a bat and everybody got a bowl.
“They were really two perfect warm-up games for us.”