Auckland Aces hold all the cards

JUSTIN LATIF
Last updated 11:06 09/11/2012

The cricket season is upon us again and despite Radio Sport's Mark Watson pleading the contrary, cricket still holds its place as New Zealand's favourite summer pastime. 

Unfortunately, the fortunes of our international side are too predictable, so I'll focus on the domestic scene for now. 

I'm picking the Auckland Aces to reclaim their T20 title and go one better to take out the four-day Plunket Shield competition. 

They have a strong squad, with a tasty mix of young talent, seasoned campaigners and wise old heads like Lou Vincent.

What is most interesting as you trawl through the squads is how many Aucklanders have moved to other teams to further their careers.

It shows Auckland's expanded club competition is helping the top players rise up, and now it seems Auckland has such an embarrassment of riches that it can afford to let go internationals like Ronnie Hira.

I can count eight players who were developed as youngsters on the Auckland scene. But hopefully losing a rising star like Jeet Raval doesn't come back to haunt the Aces this season. 

My only question mark over the Auckland side is the depth in their fast bowing stocks. Dean Bartlett isn't going to scare too many batting line-ups, and Chris Martin isn't getting any younger, which leaves a lot of responsibility on fiery left-armers Michael Bates and Mitchell McClenaghan. 

But this side is stacked with run-making machines, so expect big totals and then for Bruce Martin to grind sides into submission with his sharp left-arm off-spinners.

Domestic cricket in New Zealand is in crisis though, as there just aren't enough top quality teams to truly challenge our best players.

A solid player can easily shine on the first-class level as they become familiarised with all the other teams, but they often find the step up to test matches and one-day internationals too steep.

The playing calendar is also all over the map, with teams swapping between four-day, one-day and T20 on a fairly regular basis, making it hard for fans to follow. 

And the four day format isn't long enough to teach our cricketers how to play the longer form of the game. So it should come as no surprise when our Black Caps regularly collapse in their second innings. 

The whole competition could do with a shake-up and perhaps the incoming New Zealand Cricket President Stephen Boock should make the local scene his priority.

A super rugby style competition between the top first-class sides in South Africa and Australia would give the fans something new, and test our players more thoroughly.

If administrators of netball, rugby and league can sort out their diplomatic differences, surely the cricketing head honchos can work something out.

If we hope to see better results from the Black Caps on the world stage, then there has to be a dramatic overhaul at the level below - anything less will only invite more mediocrity. And if New Zealand Cricket does nothing it may not be long before sports like triathlon and football eclipse cricket as the summer sport of choice

- © Fairfax NZ News

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