It would be a harsh critic who did not see the positives in the North Otago cricket team’s recently concluded Hawke Cup campaign.
No, there was to be no repeat of the 2015-16 fairy tale, and yes, there certainly are some holes in the batting order that will need to be filled if a golden run is to continue in the next few summers.
But this was still a very good season – and one that, with the claiming of a single wicket, could have ended up being a great season.
North Otago could not manage a threepeat of southern zone titles, and will have to watch Southland have a crack at the Hawke Cup.
Yet there is a lingering feeling that this team actually punched above its weight. It had to cope with the double whammy of losing star batsmen Ben Cant and Stephan Grobler in the off-season, lost both Smith brothers (Jeremy and Nathan) for a game each, and threw a bunch of extremely young players into the fray to get their first taste of Hawke Cup cricket, yet still got some good results.
North Otago comfortably beat Mid Canterbury outright, got into a strong early position against South Canterbury before rain stopped play, and was starting to compile a defendable total against Southland at the weekend before running out of time.
The game that got away – one that will stick in the craw for some time – was the opener. North Otago had Otago Country on the ropes at 56 for nine, but the visiting side added 44 for the 10th wicket to sneak home.
Everybody knew North Otago would field arguably the best bowling attack in districts cricket, as veteran Otago Volts left-armer Craig Smith returned to Oamaru to join wonder boy Nathan Smith and classy professional Francois Mostert, and taking wickets was generally not a problem.
Nathan Smith claimed seven wickets at 11.86, Mostert – who faced the impossible task of backing up last summer’s insane record haul of 56 wickets – finished with 14 at 9.50 and Craig Smith topped the charts with 15 at 10.20.
Runs were always going to be harder to come by, and so it proved. Too often, North Otago plunged into a hole as the top order crumbled, and if the magnificent Mostert had not produced two sparkling centuries, the tone of the summer would have been vastly different.
Mostert finished with 301 runs at 50.17, Craig Smith contributed an 83 and a couple of 30s, and Jeremy Smith managed an unbeaten 52 but knows he is capable of more.
The pleasant surprise was Regan George, who missed the opening game but showed his middle-order value with 174 runs at 43.50.
North Otago player-selector Duncan Drew thought the side’s efforts this summer were very good considering the high level of turnover in the squad from last season.
“I think, in that last game, there were only three of us left who played in the Hawke Cup challenge last season,” Drew said.
“There’s been a big cleanout, and I suppose we’re building again.
“We will definitely look back on a lot of positives this summer.”
Youngsters Scott Kitto and Mason James joined the team for the final Hawke Cup game, and Drew said their contributions, along with handy efforts from Blake James and Jonty Naylor, indicated there was plenty of promise in the ranks.