Firebirds look the part, on paper

HAMISH BIDWELL
Last updated 05:00 09/11/2012
Firebirds
CRAIG SIMCOX/Fairfax NZ
CALL UP: Grant Elliott in action for Wellington.

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Wellington should thrash Canterbury tonight.

And, with the lineup they've got, the Firebirds probably ought to give most teams a towelling in the domestic Twenty20 competition.

Whether they will remains to be seen. It's been between the ears, rather than on paper, where Wellington have had obvious failings.

But when you reel off the names, tonight's floodlit match at Westpac Stadium shouldn't be a contest: Jesse Ryder, Luke Ronchi, Shaun Tait, Mark Gillespie, Andy McKay, Cameron Borgas.

No disrespect to Matt Holstein, Tim Johnston, Willie Lonsdale, Henry Nicholls or Logan van Beek, but encouraging performances on Hagley Oval or Redwood Park hardly compare to what some of the Firebirds have done on the world stage.

Wellington have fashioned an unenviable reputation for losing their nerve when it counts. But with nine international players in their squad of 12, they'll surely have too much class for a Canterbury team hampered by having five players on Black Caps duty.

Borgas is, technically, one of those nine. Even if the memory of having represented Scotland and the Netherlands momentarily eluded him this week.

"No, I haven't played international cricket, no. Sorry, I have. I've played for those two," Borgas said.

"I actually represented Australia at the Hong Kong Sixes, so I've played for three countries in two years. But none of them really count, unfortunately."

The 29-year-old South Australian can be forgiven for forgetting. Something of a hired gun, he'll turn out for the Sydney Thunder in this season's Big Bash League, having been an Adelaide Striker last summer.

In the last few months there's been state cricket for the Southern Redbacks, a stint in Holland and then a few games for Basnahira Cricket Dundee in the Sri Lankan Twenty20 league.

"I really enjoy being able to travel to new countries and play with different people. It's probably been the most enjoyable part of the last couple of years," he said.

A stylish, rather than destructive batsman, Borgas made the Scottish and Dutch teams by virtue of playing league cricket in those countries. Both nations appear in the English county limited-overs competitions, with Borgas able to play as their overseas professional.

Borgas will bat at No 4 for Wellington tonight, where it's hoped his multi-faceted game will prove most useful. Able to rotate the strike or clear the boundary, the right-hander is happy to help where he can.

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"When you come into a team like this, and you see how much talent there is, you know that if you can contribute there will be five or six other guys that will do the same. That's normally enough to get a win," he said.

"Normally I try and work the ball around for 10 to 15 balls. But if you come in with two or three overs to go, you sort of go from the first or second ball.

"So I'd say being flexible is probably one of my strengths."

There is uncertainty about how many spectators will turn up. It's early in the summer and with only one match having been played so far, between Northern Districts and Otago, the competition has no momentum.

"We're budgeting on the basis of a domestic Twenty20 crowd being around 2500 . . . and with players like Jesse [Ryder] and Shaun Tait available, we're hopeful of topping that," Cricket Wellington chief executive Peter Clinton said.

"Something around the 3500 to 4000 mark would be fantastic."

HOW THEY LINE UP

What: Domestic Twenty20 competition Who: Wellington v Canterbury Where and when: Westpac Stadium and Sky Sport 2, 7pm tonight

Wellington: Jesse Ryder, Michael Pollard, Michael Papps, Cameron Borgas, Luke Ronchi, Grant Elliott (c), Harry Boam, Luke Woodcock, Dane Hutchinson, Andy McKay, Shaun Tait, Mark Gillespie Canterbury: Peter Fulton (c), Gareth Andrew, Dean Brownlie, Brad Cachopa, Matt Holstein, Tim Johnston, Ben Laughlin, Willie Lonsdale, Ryan McCone, Henry Nicholls, Shanan Stewart, Logan van Beek, George Worker

TAB odds: Wellington $1.42, Canterbury $2.70 Competition market: Auckland $4, Northern Districts $4.50, Wellington $4.75, Central Districts $5.50, Canterbury $6, Otago $6

Hamish Bidwell analyses the Firebirds' prospects in the Twenty20 competition this season.

STRENGTHS

Jesse Ryder: When he's happy in himself and enjoying his cricket, Ryder is pretty much in a different class to any batsman in the country. His recent form is compelling and his ability to gap the ball, and clear the fence, makes him a daunting prospect for opposition bowlers and captains. Some players can win matches on their own in Twenty20 cricket and Ryder is in that bracket. His bowling and agility in the field don't generate many headlines, but will also be assets to the Firebirds. Put simply, the Twenty20 game was made for Ryder.

Bowling: The battery of quick bowlers Wellington takes into this match are as good as any around. So good, in fact, that there's a whisper Mark Gillespie could end up carrying the drinks. Shaun Tait hasn't won too many hearts and minds outside of Australia, but his international T20 record is world-class with 28 wickets at 17.78 and an RPO of 6.94. In terms of spin, few domestic bowlers are as effective as Luke Woodcock. If Woodcock gets hit, it will be interesting to see if he reverts to his old action or stick with the round-arm one he's been trialling lately.

Luke Ronchi: Enjoy him while you can, because these next couple of months could be the longest stretch Ronchi ever spends in Wellington colours. The Dannevirke-born, Australian-raised wicketkeeper batsman qualifies for New Zealand selection in January and will be hard to leave out once he becomes available. Hits the ball exceedingly hard and has shots all round the ground. Can also improvise well and is electric between the wickets. Ronchi's keeping is also very tidy.

WEAKNESSES

Batting starts: Only once in last summer's competition did Wellington post more than 18 for the first wicket. The rot often set in from there and the team copped some fearful hidings. Ryder will remedy that, to a point, but Michael Pollard and Michael Papps still have to do more. Both can punish a bad ball, but don't do a lot in between, and Papps averaged a pathetic 2.66 last summer. With Ryder opening and Ronchi likely to slot in at five, those that bat with them don't have to do anything extravagant. But wasting balls and then getting out, simply won't do.

Fielding: Wellington will not be the best fielding team in this competition. Ageing and lacking a bit of mobility, the Firebirds possess plenty of triers but not too many guys capable of saving 5-10 runs in the park. Margins are often fine in Twenty20 and a screaming catch or direct hit from the edge of the circle can turn out to be the difference between teams.

Death bowling: Dane Hutchinson's name won't mean a lot to cricket followers. But such is the former Brisbane club player's ability to bowl yorkers, that it sounds like he might earn a start tonight. For those who haven't seen Hutchinson, he does have a touch of former Firebird Paul Hitchcock about him. Tait can be a good exponent of blockhole bowling, although he tends to have more success at the start of innings when shapes the ball away from right-handers at high pace. Ryder could be the best option of anyone.

- The Dominion Post

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