With just four rounds to go until the 2019 Grand Final, the WHITE FERNS return to their domestic teams this weekend for two crunch rounds of the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield.
The return of the international stars will be welcomed at the sharp end of the national one-day competition, all available bar Wellington Blaze’s Sophie Devine, Canterbury Magicians Lea Tahuhu (both rested ahead of the upcoming Rose Bowl Series) and the injured Frances McKay (Canterbury Magicians).
McKay is the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield’s leading run-scorer, but remains sidelined after having sustained an ankle injury during the WHITE FERNS’ T20 International series win against India.
Unbeaten defending champions the Auckland Hearts and the Central Hinds meet each other in a top-of-the-table clash at Auckland’s Melville Park with the Hearts aiming to lock in a berth in the Final, while the pressure is rising on the chasing teams to make their own move up the points table this Saturday and Sunday, before it’s too late.
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The Otago Sparks will have home advantage in Mosgiel against a winless Northern Spirit — the Spirit the only team with no mathematical chance of qualifying for the 9 March Grand Final.
With a maximum 20 points left available to each team from the final four rounds, Wellington Blaze meanwhile needs to beat the Canterbury Magicians twice — at the Basin Reserve on Saturday and Karori Park on Sunday, to close the 10-point gap opened up by the Central Hinds in second spot. Only the top two sides proceed to the Final.
The high-flying Hinds have dropped just one game all season in their stronger format, but will look to secure their position whilst they still have the services of their frontline pace attack — Hannah Rowe and newly named Rosemary Mair both due to depart on the WHITE FERNS’ Rose Bowl tour of Australia ahead of the final two rounds.
Consistent Mair (above, PHOTOSPORT) is the leading wicket-taker in the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield with 11 wickets at an average of 13.37 and economy rate of just 2.94. She is followed by Blaze’s Deanna Doughty — 10 wickets at 14.60 and an economy rate of 2.64 — while Mair’s young teammate Monique Rees has taken nine wickets at 13.11 after her maiden five-wicket bag (5-14) in Palmerston North in December, the top haul by any woman in this summer’s competition.
A power start to the season sees opening batsman Natalie Dodd (below, PHOTOSPORT) heading the national batting averages in her first season with the Hinds, having averaged 144.50 after carrying her bat four times in six innings.
After 93 one-day appearances in 11 seasons with Northern Spirit, Dodd is in line to play her 100th Hallyburton Johnstone Shield match this Saturday at Melville Park — joining a small but elite echelon of players nationwide.
Auckland Hearts dynamo Katie Perkins is also on the cusp of her appearances century with 98 one-day matches for the Auckland Hearts. Perkins (below, PHOTOSPORT) is her team’s fourth most-capped player of all time, behind Vic Lind (118 caps), Emily Drumm (109), and Paula Gruber (108).
McKay, should she return this season, and former WHITE FERNS legspinner Erin Bermingham are also in sight of the career milestone, having both played 98 games for the Canterbury Magicians — behind only Amy Sattherthwaite (139) and Haidee Tiffen (108) for the red and blacks. Bermingham will captain the Canterbury Magicians this weekend.
Wellington Blaze, winners of this season’s Burger King Super Smash Grand Final against the Magicians, need to recapture that winning formula to fend off the strong Magicians in the weekend’s back-to-back rounds in Wellington. They will meanwhile be hoping the Hinds — who will face their stiffest challenge yet against the consistent Hearts machine, don’t improve their hold on second spot.
All matches are live-scored here at www.nzc.nz with Sunday’s round eight beginning at the slightly earlier time of 10.00am at all venues.
AUCKLAND HEARTS v CENTRAL HINDS
Melville Park, Epsom, Auckland
WELLINGTON BLAZE v CANTERBURY MAGICIANS
Basin Reserve, Wellington (Saturday) and Karori Park, Wellington (Sunday)
OTAGO SPARKS v NORTHERN SPIRIT
Brooklands Park, Mosgiel