The first-class season comes to a finale this week as State Northern Knights host State Canterbury Wizards in the State Championship final at Hamilton’s Seddon Park.
Both teams are bidding for their maiden national title under the current format, but the Knights have led the way throughout the second half of the season.
Despite this advantage, they only secured home-field advantage with an exciting draw at the Basin Reserve, where 75 not out from rookie Tim Southee helped them claim first-innings points.
State Wellington Firebirds, finalists for the past four seasons, had earlier seen Canterbury leapfrog them into the crucial second place with first-innings points against State Central Stags, the 2005/06 champions.
Canterbury’s achievement comes despite an abundance of youthful players in their side.
Veteran captain Chris Harris and Michael Papps - the competition’s leading run-scorer – aside, many of the Wizards side are enjoying their first real taste of first-class cricket.
Coach Dave Nosworthy said: “A lot of credit goes to the youngsters. We’ve come up here as underdogs but we have done that lot this season.
“It’s all about the building blocks we’re putting in place in Christchurch, and perhaps it’s come a year early.”
Nosworthy said the absence of the World Cup-bound BALCKCAPS for the season had played into the hands of the province’s emerging youngsters, such as New Zealand Under-19 internationals Hamish Bennett, Todd Astle and Corey Anderson.
“We used a few of those guys early in the season, but we have four away,” he said. “But it’s always been the same. It’s tough without the BLACKCAPS – but it will be the same for ND.
“And this year has always been about experience and trying out players to see who’s good enough, who can come through.”
Knights counterpart Andy Moles also praised his players after a turnaround in the four-day game.
Wooden-spoonists last year, ND can now top the tree with a victory, but former Kenya and Scotland coach Moles said this was down to the playing staff.
“Really, the players have gelled this season and just perhaps concentrated on their roles in the team,” said the Englishman.
“They’ve been captained very well by James Marshall. It is about the players, not the coach. The key is getting each player to recognise their role and concentrate on their own games.”
Moles was attributed with a key role in briefing the BLACKACPS ahead of their ICC World Cup win over his former team Kenya.
However, the former Warwickshire player’s thoughts lie with his mentor Bob Woolmer, his old Edgbaston coach who died at the weekend.
“He’s a huge loss to the game of cricket and a personal friend of mine, from my time with Warwickshire,” he said.
“He was a very good cricket coach and a personable bloke who always had the time to talk cricket with anyone and everyone.
“He was always challenging players - be it Brian Lara, Tim Monkton, Andy Moles, Dermot Reeve - to never stand still.
“His work with South Africa, Pakistan, and with the ICC and the emerging nations means that he leaves a giant footprint on the game and it may only be in years to come that his contribution will be recognised.’
The Knights have named a 15-man squad ahead of the final, with the XI to be decided after examining the conditions ahead of play.
Three players likely to be on show are aiming to take top batting and bowling honours during the five-day match.
Knights seamer Graeme Aldridge can boast 31 wickets this season, three adrift of Wellington’s Iain O’Brien.
Team-mate Hamish Marshall is the only batsman with a realistic chance to deny Papps the leading run-scorer mantle.
The opener has been in excellent form this season, scoring 777 runs at 86.33 this season.
The five-day State Championship final begins at 10.30am at Seddon Park. Live scoring is available exclusively from BLACKCAPS.co.nz.
State Northern Knights: James Marshall (captain), Graeme Aldridge, Simon Andrews, Alun Evans, Te Ahu Davis, Nick Horsley, Peter McGlashan, Hamish Marshall, Bruce Martin, Tim Southee, BJ Watling, Brad Wilson, Brent Arnel, Joseph Yovich, Grant Robinson.
State Canterbury Wizards: Chris Harris (captain), Todd Astle, Hamish Bennett, Leighton Burtt, Andrew Ellis, Corey Anderson, Brandon Hiini, Willie Lonsdale, Michael Papps, Iain Robertson, Ben Rae, Shanan Stewart, Kruger Van Wyk.
for State Championship statistics (Cricket Archive)