When the last Hawke Cup challenge of the season begins tomorrow at Napier's Nelson Park, Peter Bocock will be hoping for more than a bit-part in cricket history.
Hamilton is the challenger and the squad includes wicketkeeper-batsman Bocock, most recently sighted keeping wicket for the BLACKCAPS in a Test match at the Basin Reserve this week.
Bocock is one of several current of recent Northern Districts representatives in the strong Hamilton squad that suggests a big fight is on the cards in the final challenge match of the season.
Having lifted the coveted cup from Nelson a fortnight ago in dramatic fashion, holders Hawke's Bay must see off the Zone 1 regional qualifiers over the next three days if they are to lock away the trophy for the winter, with Hamilton requiring a first innings win or an outright to remove the Hawke Cup from Napier's Nelson Park, the headquarters of Hawke's Bay Cricket Association and venue for tomorrow's clash.
NZC's historic Hawke Cup has been on the line since 1910 and all of this season's holders — Southland, then Nelson, then Hawke's Bay — have considerable history in the competition.
Hawke's Bay first lifted the trophy in the 1946/47 season and has enjoyed multiple reigns in the intervening decades as one of the more storied provinces in the competition's tradition.
Prior to uplifting the trophy at Saxton Oval two weeks ago, Hawke's Bay had last successfully challenged against North Otago in 2015/16, but immediately surrendered the prize to a strong Bay of Plenty (Zone 1 challenger) in the first defence. Bay of Plenty went on to defend the Hawke Cup in epic fashion throughout the entire following season, which included repelling a challenge from Hawke's Bay who had again qualified from Zone 2 that summer.
This season is the first time since then that Hawke's Bay has made it to the Challenge Match level, and coach Dave Castle and experienced captain Jake Smith are determined to hold on to the cup this time.
They will have to do so without off-spinning allrounder Dean Foxcroft, however, who has been retained in the Central Stags' squad for the concurrent final round of the Plunket Shield. Recent NZU19 rep Todd Watson (20) will also be missing from the squad that travelled to Nelson, making way for pace bowler Liam Dudding who has played four first-class matches for the Stags in recent summers and been in form for Central Districts A. Hard-hitting youngster Izaiah Lange (below), who turned heads when Napier Technical Old Boys won last season's NZCT National Club Cricket Championship, also comes in for tomorrow's defence.
Napier Technical Old Boys has already won the right to defend its national club title at the season-ending club championship in Auckland in April, and Lange is one of four players from that club in the Hawke Cup squad, alongside young Central Stags allrounder Christian Leopard, Jayden Lennox, and Matt Edmondson.
Edmondson scored 242 in Hawke's Bay's mammoth first innings in Nelson, setting up the startling 10-wicket win that saw the Cup travel north to Napier.
Challenger Hamilton has a solid Hawke Cup record of its own, including a recent undefeated reign throughout the 2011/12 season.
Hamilton last challenged for the Hawke Cup in 2013/14, but was repelled by their neighbouring rivals and then-holders Bay of Plenty, to whom they had given up the Cup at the start of the previous summer.
Hamilton generally dominated the Hawke Cup between 2000 and 2012, getting their hands on the trophy more regularly than any other contender.
Coached by former Northern Districts first-class opening batsman Brook Hatwell, the Hamilton squad includes spinning brothers Joe (Josef) and Freddie Walker — the former having played 24 first-class matches for Northern Districts while the latter has played the one-day Ford Trophy for the same team. Former ND and Knights rep and, more recently, Wellington Firebirds seamer Anurag Verma has returned to full fitness and is also named in the squad.
HAWKE CUP DIRECT CHALLENGE
Holder Hawke's Bay v Zone 1 Challenger Hamilton
Nelson Park, Napier
10.30am, Friday 15 — Sunday 17 March 2019
HAWKE’S BAY squad
Jake Smith (captain), Liam Dudding, Matt Edmondson, Joey Field, Izaiah Lange, Jayden Lennox, Christian Leopard, Angus Schaw, Brad Schmulian, Ben Stoyanoff, Dominic Thompson, Bayley Wiggins. COACH: Dave Castle
Keir Bettley (captain), Peter Bocock, Anish Desai, Jack Devane, Michael Dodunski, James Field, Ben Morris-Brown, Cooper Rowell, Elliot Santner, Anurag Verma, Freddie Walker, Joe Walker. COACH: Brook Hatwell