Two of the leading players on the English cricket scene are to join the Northern Knights on their quest to win a maiden HRV Cup title.
The talent and experience of Essex captain, wicketkeeper and accomplished batsman James Foster - who has represented England in seven test matches, 11 one-day internationals and five Twenty20 internationals - has filled thevacancy behind the stumps left by the retired Peter McGlashan.
Joining him is Lancashire's Twenty20 and one-day captain Steven Croft, an attacking batsman and off-spinner who was named in England's preliminary squad for the 2012 Twenty20 World Championship.
Northern Knights Head Coach Grant Bradburn says the exciting acquisitions come at a strategic time for the team. "We're the Plunket Shield champions, we've won the one-day title in recent years and even won the Cricket Max trophy when it was played. But Twenty20 honours have steadfastly eluded us and we're very determined to set that right."
Foster, 32 and one of the game's taller wicketkeepers at six feet, showed his considerable batting prowess in this year's County Friends Life T20 competition – only Yorkshire’s South African import David Miller struck more sixes than Foster's 15. He was named Essex's Player of the Year at their awards ceremony overnight, and isfamiliar with New Zealand conditions, having toured here with the England team in 2002.
Foster has been a team-mate of both Scott Styris and Tim Southee at Essex. In a role reversal, it is now Styris who will captain Foster in the HRV Cup - and Styris is looking forward to it. "He's a tremendous signing for us," Styris says. "He topped the MVP table after the group stages of the UK T20 comp and was called the best wicketkeeper-batsman in the world by Essex coach Paul Grayson, such is the high regard in which he is held in the United Kingdom. He's also a like-for-like replacement for Peter McGlashan, which is ideal from our perspective."
Allrounder Steven Croft, 27, was also an award-winner this week: he was named Lancashire's 2012 Player of the Year and is only the second cricketer to have won that accolade morethan once. Croft scored 1,492 runs across the 2012 County season as well asclaiming career-best bowling figures of 6-41 with his right-arm off-spin bowling.
Croft is already familiar with the HRV Cup, havingrepresented the Auckland Aces as a young import in the 2008/09 season.
"I loved playing in New Zealand the last time I was there so I'm really looking forward to coming to Northern Districts andplaying some T20 cricket," Croft says. "I want to continue developing my game and hopefully push my way into the England T20 side."
Croft played alongside Styris - then playing for the Aces - back in 2009 and said the Knights' reputation as a positive, progressive team was part of the attraction.
"I've come across a few of the ND boys in County cricket and get along with them very well. I remember the last time I was over there with Auckland, the ND lads really looked after us well after the games."
Northern Districts CEO David Cooper said it was extremely satisfying for the association to have secured not one, but two County pros of such high standing.
"Through the legion of Blackcaps that we produce and the number of homegrown players like Kane Williamson, Hamish Marshall, Scott Styris and Tim Southee impressing on the County scene, we've got somegreat ambassadors out there for the way Northern Districts likes to play its cricket," said Cooper.
"Filling the sudden void left by Peter McGlashan's preseason retirement was obviously of some urgency for us and we are very pleased to have been able to attract such a highly experienced, competitive player as James Foster so quickly. Steven Croft's Twenty20 nous and experience was likewise very attractive as we look to succeed in the only format in which silverware has eluded us."
Foster and Croft will join the Northern Knights inlate October and will be available for the side's final preseason warm-up match on October 31. The Knights' HRV Cup campaign begins with a Friday night match in which they host the Otago Volts at Seddon Park, Hamilton on November 2.
A longtime senior player will be absent this season, however, with UK-based Hamish Marshall electing to remain in Gloucestershire as he and his wife await the birth of their second child. The Marshalls have a baby son and with Magda due in January, joining the Knights for their 2012/13 campaign on the other side of the globe was not feasible.
"When the baby arrives I will be hands on helping Mags," said Marshall - who is not entertaining calling time on his Northern Knights career just yet. "I'm spending the winter here training with the Gloucester squad and doing my level 3 coaching certificate. Surviving the English winter will be a challenge and I wish the lads all the best over the season."