Nelson, under 21-year-old captain Willem Ludick, begins its first Hawke Cup defence in 22 years this morning at Saxton Oval against a strong opponent that has regularly lifted New Zealand cricket's most cherished provincial prize during the intervening years.
Nelson last held the Hawke Cup in 1996/97 while Zone 2 Challenger Hawke's Bay has enjoyed three tenures since 2000 alone - including an undefeated reign in 2008/09 that began with lifting the silverware from then-holders Hamilton.
Hawke's Bay then lost the Hawke Cup to Manawatū at the start of the following summer, but was back for a one-match tenure most recently towards the end of 2015/16 before Bay of Plenty relieved them of the Cup in the final match that summer.
Felix Murray, Greg Hay and Willem Ludick helped lift the Hawke Cup from Southland
Both teams have named a strong side with Nelson's Ludick, off-spinner Felix Murray and Josh Clarkson all Central Stags representatives this season while Hawke's Bay counters with their own line-up of first-class representatives in Dean Foxcroft, Brad Schmulian and Christian Leopard in addition to young rising star Bayley Wiggins who made a one-match debut for the Stags as a wicketkeeper-batsman at the Basin Reserve during their Burger King Super Smash campaign this summer.
Roll in a sprinkling of New Zealand Under 19 players, captain Jake Smith's experience at the helm and a hard core of seasoned Hawke's Bay regulars and the challengers look prepared for a serious tilt over the next three days in Stoke.
Hawke's Bay has strong form in the Hawke Cup
Hawke's Bay earned the right to challenge for the Hawke Cup in spectacular fashion, by bowling out Manawatū for just 41 at Fitzherbert Park in Palmerston North in the final round of the Zone 2 (CDCA) Furlong Cup. Schmulian then scored an unbeaten 154 in Hawke's Bay's reply of 325 for nine.
Ludick leads the Nelson Pine Griffins in the stead of Greg Hay, who has returned to Plunket Shield captaincy duties for the Central Stags after having won the Hawke Cup for the first time in his career in Southland two weeks ago.
Hawke's Bay has won the toss and had elected to bat first.
HAWKE CUP DIRECT CHALLENGE
Holder NELSON v Zone 2 Challenger Hawke’s Bay
Saxton Oval, Stoke, Nelson | Friday 1 — Sunday 3 March 2019
Willem Ludick (captain), Thomas Zohrab, David Zohrab, Paddy Howes, Josh Clarkson, Nic Clark, Devon Serrurier, Sam Chamberlain, Felix Murray, Jarrod McKay, Josh Newport, Brendan Hodgson
HAWKE’S BAY squad
Jake Smith (captain), Matt Edmondson, Joey Field, Dean Foxcroft, Jayden Lennox, Christian Leopard, Angus Schaw, Brad Schmulian, Ben Stoyanoff, Dominic Thompson, Todd Watson, Bayley Wiggins
Twitter updates: @CDCricket
Official hashtag: #HawkeCup