Thirteen teams in; formats to change

More teams equals a stronger club competition, argued Cricket Wellington after it revealed the inevitable yesterday.

All 13 clubs who applied for premier status got their wish after Cricket Wellington's board rubber-stamped the final six at their Monday meeting.

Initially asked to provide more information after the previous board meeting on June 5, Hutt District, Karori, North City and Onslow all got the big tick along with two newly named sides: Hutt City (an alliance of Naenae Old Boys, Stokes Valley and Te Aroha), and Petone-Eastbourne.

It means 13 clubs will start the premier one-day competition, with the bye team meeting the Wellington Under-20s on Sundays.

A likely structure has 10 rounds of one-day cricket, before the top-six progress to contest the Pearce Cup. Previously contested across all three formats, the Pearce Cup will be decided over five two-day rounds and a final.

The bottom seven, and the top reserve grade side, will play for the Hazlett Trophy. The Twenty20 will include all 14 sides but probably have just six rounds, including two Wednesday evenings.

Cricket Wellington's operations manager, Bryan Dickinson, and director of cricket, Robbie Kerr, explained the format yesterday, addressing widespread fears that an expanded competition would lead to mismatches aplenty.

They likened it to Wellington club rugby, where 12 sides contest the Swindale Shield then the top eight progress to the Jubilee Cup.

Dickinson said it was preferable to the old Pearce and Hazlett formats where the pressure of promotion-relegation was a factor and teams were consigned to a full season in the second tier.

"At prem level you have the top three or four teams then everyone else. I'd be quite confident in saying that on any given day those top Hazlett first XIs could beat some of the bottom Pearce first XIs. What we've tried to do is having everyone starting on an equal playing field with the one-dayers in two even pools and the rankings from that competition decide the top-six and bottom-eight.

"For those clubs at the high end of the Pearce Cup we're actually giving them more competitive cricket because we're cutting out a couple of the weaker two-day games for them."

The bigger question was, why did it appear so easy for all 13 clubs to meet the strict criteria in Peter McDermott's independent review of Wellington club cricket, compiled a year ago.

Dickinson denied they had taken the easy option.

"It would be very hard to pinpoint only one or two clubs and say that they're not as strong as the others. We had a couple of clubs like Easts which were across the line straight away, but everyone else had something they had to do to go the whole way.

"They've all got different issues they had to address but they're pretty much all on a par with one another."

Required player numbers, particularly in the junior ranks, meant some creative thinking was required. Naenae, consistently among the strongest premier sides, aligned themselves with two neighbouring clubs while Petone-Riverside became Petone-Eastbourne.

Cricket Wellington will now assemble a club advisory group to confirm a competition format. Dickinson expected the season would run over 22 Saturdays, starting on October 20.

Meanwhile, last year's Dempster Shield competition for rep hopefuls will be modified. The Wellington Under-23 side won't continue, and two rep sides, Hutt and City, will play selected Central Districts provinces on Sundays. Manawatu and Wairarapa had already expressed interest.


At A Glance

Approved this week: Hutt City (comprising Naenae Old Boys, Stokes Valley and Te Aroha), Hutt District, Karori, North City, Onslow, Petone-Eastbourne. Approved on June 5: Collegians, Eastern Suburbs, Johnsonville, Taita, University, Upper Hutt, Wainuiomata. Likely format: Season to start on Labour Weekend (October 20). One-day competition played first, with two even pools of seven. Wellington Under-20s the 14th team for the one-day competition, with their games played on Sundays. Top-six from the one-day competition play two-day games for the Pearce Cup. Bottom-seven, plus the top-placed reserve grade team, play two-day games for the Hazlett Trophy. Twenty20 to be a standalone competition for the premier grade only, played on Saturdays and including two Wednesday evening rounds.