Dew on the grass, cricketers heading off on club stints to England. The IPL in full swing and rugby posts/football goals popping up on suburban domains where the summertime cricket block is quickly vanishing back to green. Welcome to April!
For some Kiwis, however, it’s not quite time to put away the bats and pads. April is also synonymous with New Zealand’s NZCT National Club Cricket Championship where the top club (regional winner) from each of New Zealand’s six first-class regions goes after the final national cricket trophy of the season.
Early April is the traditional calendar slot because it allows most first-class and international players to turn out for their clubs for their most challenging week of the season. Recent years have seen the ilk of Ish Sodhi, Jimmy Neesham, Jeet Raval, Nick Kelly, Jesse Ryder, Malcolm Nofal, Christian Leopard, Teja Nidamanuru, Michael Guptill-Bunce and Michael Barry in action, to name but a few, with admission free every day.
Leopard will be back again this year with defending champions, Napier Technical Old Boys who again qualified from Central Districts. The only team to make it back from last year’s championship, the “Texans” will be joined by Parnell (representing Auckland), Greerton (Northern Districts), Green Island (Otago), St Albans (Canterbury), and another team with a very impressive recent record at the nationals, Eastern Suburbs (Wellington) in what's likely to be one of the most hotly contested events yet.
Other names to watch out for this year include Wellington Firebird powerhouse Michael Bracewell and two-time Player of the Tournament Jamie Gibson (Eastern Suburbs), Knights big-hitter Brett Hampton (Greerton), Otago Volts Christi Viljoen and Brad Wilson (Green Island) and powerful Central Stag Kieran Noema-Barnett (NTOB). And that's just a few from the strong field.
The tournament originated in the 1970s, but came to a halt in 1978 — before being successfully resurrected from 1994/95, with support from NZC and the six Major Associations. The week-long battles begin anew this Tuesday, 2 April at Auckland’s picturesque Cornwall Cricket Club — the traditional host and organiser of the long-running event, in the lee of One Tree Hill and Cornwall Park.
The competition is a round robin of one-day matches that culminates in a seeded “Finals Day” (Sunday April 7, this year) with simultaneous 1st v 2nd, 3rd v 4th, and 5th v 6th playoffs unfolding side by side on Cornwall’s three grounds.
The Texans, who defeated Wellington’s Onslow in last year’s 1v2 final for their second national title, are making their ninth tilt this season (previous seasons: 1995, 1996, 1998, 2001, 2003 - winners, 2009, 2016, 2018 - winners).
But watch out for the experienced Wellingtonians of Eastern Suburbs who will also be making their ninth appearance at nationals this week, after previously having attended in 1995, 2002, 2003, 2012, 2013, 2014, 2016 and 2017 — winning the trophy back-to-back on the last two of those occasions.
All matches are live-scored at nzc.nz