With a crowd of almost 3000 pouring through the gates of New Plymouth’s Pukekura Park on the weekend, the Central Stags have one, simple mission for their next two Burger King Super Smash T20s coming up at the venue this Thursday and Saturday: send them home happy.
Last year’s Grand Finalists were front-runners and top qualifiers, but their stop-start beginning to this season’s competition has been a different story — a loss-win-loss-win-loss record after five rounds.
It’s no reason to hit the panic button, says promising pace bowler Blair Tickner.
“We’ve played one fewer game than all the other teams while the Knights and Firebirds having actually played two games more than the Stags. So while we’re fifth on the ladder at the moment, we’ve got games in hand and we know it looks worse on the table than it is.
“It’s still a bit annoying because we’d been putting together complete team performances in both The Ford Trophy (one-day) and Plunket Shield (first-class cricket) heading into this format.
“What’s been happening in our Burger King Super Smash games is that we’ve put in either a very good batting performance, or a very good performance in the field. We just need the two to go hand in hand in this format.”
The gregarious big 24-year-old from Hawke’s Bay has been spearheading the Stags’ attack in the absence of Seth Rance and Doug Bracewell — regular performers both plucked away for BLACKCAPS duty — but has stepped up with and extra yard of pace this summer and his 10 wickets elevating him into the top bracket of Burger King Super Smash strikemen this season.
Having already claimed a red-ball hat-trick this season in the Plunket Shield, the super-fit right-armer’s winning 4-24 at Mount Maunganui was against one of the best batting line-ups in the T20 comp while on Saturday the observant will have noted his dot ball percentage was running at a high 54.2 per cent — all the more impressive given Pukekura Park’s reputation as a bowler’s graveyard with its tantalisingly short boundaries.
With his eye-catching wicket celebrations, Tickner’s natural effervescence rubs off on his teammates and he’s feeling confident heading into the back half of their run.
“There’s no reason we can’t be there come finals time. We’re a good enough team to do it. We showed at the Mount that we can match it with the front-running teams in the comp this year and beat them, and we’re refreshed and ready to start again after the new year.”
Tickner is expecting the deck for tomorrow to be quicker than previously, but weather could deliver a curve ball for their showdown against the Auckland Aces with rain forecast to dollop on Taranaki this week.
“The Aces have been running pretty well, so we’re keen to get on the park and beat them tomorrow,” says Tickner.
“It’s handy to be playing them at this stage when they’ve lost a few big players themselves to the BLACKCAPS like Martin Guptill and Glenn Phillips, but regardless of who we face we’re confident and I’m just looking to bowl my best ball and get a wicket.”
After the key clash with the Aces, the Stags play the bottom of the table Otago Volts at their Taranaki base on Saturday afternoon, the Volts now having gone more than a year without a victory in this format.
The Stags then play the cellar dwellers again in Invercargill before returning to Pukekura Park in a rematch of last year’s Grand Final with the Wellington Firebirds.
The Central Stags have named an unchanged squad for tomorrow, a hard-hitting batting line-up led by BLACKCAP George Worker, Jesse Ryder and captain Will Young, while the Aces have brought in top order star Jeet Raval.
Burger King Super Smash at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth
- Thursday 4 Jan at 4.10pm: Central Stags v Auckland Aces
- Saturday 6 Jan at 4pm: Central Stags v Otago Volts
- Friday 12 Jan at 4pm: Central Stags v Wellington Firebirds
Central Stags squad to play the Auckland Aces tomorrow
Will Young – captain
Dane Cleaver — wicketkeeper
Craig Cachopa – captain
Ben Horne – wicketkeeper