Friday night televised Twenty20 and a schedule reshuffle are hoped to breathe some much-needed life into domestic cricket. Mark Geenty previews the 2012-13 season.
Three domestic titles, three different winners. None of the aforementioned silverware etched with Wellington's name.
That was the familiar washup of last season, which sees Auckland (HRV Cup), Central Districts (Ford Trophy) and Northern Districts (Plunket Shield) defending their titles when the new season opens tomorrow with the South Island derby in Rangiora.
On Sunday, Wellington open their Plunket Shield campaign against CD in Napier to begin a five-month quest for elusive silverware.
A trophy, any trophy, will do for the first time since 2004, as Australian coach Jamie Siddons' reign enters year two.
"You want to be sitting at the top of all three. I'm not sure that anything takes precedence over the other, I'd like to win them all," Siddons said.
Fourth was the Firebirds' best last season, in the Plunket Shield after being in contention for most of the competition.
In June they had a solitary player, James Franklin, named on NZ Cricket's contracted player list, the lowest representation of the six major associations.
It meant a logjam on Cricket Wellington's books but also one of the strongest lineups when the internationals are absent.
As CD coach Alan Hunt put it, in assessing his rivals: "Wellington have picked up some good players and they've got Jesse [Ryder] there. They're always strong on paper."
That's been their issue: star power and not enough substance. And a few attitudes to go with it.
Siddons has impressed in his first year with an honest, no-nonsense approach. Team culture was his big work-on in the pre-season and he took them on camp to Mt Maunganui for matches against ND.
What he's seen has impressed him. "Our young blokes should be getting better and our work ethic is fantastic. I don't see any reason why we shouldn't get better. We've got a way to go but we're getting there.
"The last few days have shown me that guys are really working for the team, which is a good sign. They're all growing up and going to play their part now."
It sounds great, and with Wellington's lineup there's reason for confidence. But caution must reign and the proof will be on the park.
Ryder is apparently in a good head space and can plunder domestic attacks for fun. Gloveman Luke Ronchi can play, and is pushing for a New Zealand spot when he's eligible in January.
Franklin won't be seen much but they have plenty of fringe internationals, led by a rejuvenated Jeetan Patel. There's a fresh new captaincy voice from Stephen Murdoch, and two handy T20 imports - England all-rounder Chris Woakes and Bangladeshi opener Tamim Iqbal.
SKY TV has bought the domestic rights, which means eight weeks of Friday night T20 cricket, including two at Westpac Stadium on November 9 and 16.
The Black Caps will be absent for all but the early December rounds, removing some gloss. But as the coaches say, every cricketer wants to impress on live TV.
The Plunket Shield ends early, in February, and the 50-over competition is squeezed into just over a month. The final is on March 30.
Hunt and Siddons agree T20 has the biggest prize - a trip to the Champions League - but developing players and snaring the Plunket Shield in the traditional format holds plenty of appeal.
Hunt has already made one big decision by installing all-rounder Kieran Noema-Barnett as skipper, and allowing Jamie How to concentrate on his batting.
The coach believes it could be the most keenly contested competition in years. The way teams cope with the comings and goings of Black Caps, touring Sri Lanka then South Africa, will be a key.
"Auckland will come back from South Africa in pretty good shape and they're experienced. But this year might be as even as it's ever been," Hunt said.
CD have promising left-armer Ben Wheeler fit after he bowled just 13 overs last season, while leg-spinner Tarun Nethula is tinkering with his action and out to prove a point to the national selectors. Opener Jeet Raval, from Auckland, adds to batting strength from veterans How and Mathew Sinclair.
Hunt believes CD have more depth after they struggled with injury last summer.
Auckland look strong and have former test opener Lou Vincent back and eyeing an international recall.
ND have youngsters on their books with so many NZC-contracted players; the most notable being teenaged leg-spinner Ish Sodhi who received a high rating from Daniel Vettori.
Canterbury have fast bowler Hamish Bennett back from spinal fusion surgery and spinner Ronnie Hira from Auckland, while Otago farewelled Craig Cumming but have high hopes for young batsmen with familiar cricketing surnames, Hamish Rutherford and Michael Bracewell.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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