Little separates top teams in Gillette Cup
Who will solve the Gillette Cup riddle this weekend?
The Wellington Gillette Cup tournament, which begins on Friday, looks to have as many permutations as a Rubik Cube.
Six of the eight teams are probably capable of making a genuine challenge for a place in the regional final, which is scheduled for tomorrow week, at the Basin Reserve.
Making the national Gillette tournament, which is held at Lincoln in December, is probably the most treasured prize in college cricket.
It gives the leading players a chance to shine on the national stage, with their schoolmates, and in a less demanding environment than the national under-17 and under-19 tournaments.
As a result, the regional tournament imposes a different pressure from the weekly premier one games and being at the top of the local competition is no guarantee of success.
Four different schools - Scots, Hutt Valley, Hutt International and St Pat's Silverstream - have represented the Wellington region at the Gillette finals in the past five years.
Remarkably, Wellington College, who have entered the regional tournament as favourite each year over that period, have not qualified for the national finals since 2008.
Wellington won all its 14 round- robin games last year but were unable to win either the Gillette tournament or the premier one final.
Their teams have felt the weight of expectation in past Gillette tournaments but the 2014 team might not feel under the same pressure this weekend, in a tournament where Silverstream, HIBS and Onslow also have obvious prospects.
Wellington College, who have five Wellington under-17 reps in their squad, have had five wins from seven premier one matches this year and have beaten both Silverstream and HIBS.
Ironically, the losses came against Onslow and Tawa, who are both in Wellington's pool this weekend, along with St Pat's Town.
"We have had our ups and downs [this year] but collectively we have a good team," Wellington College coach Ivan Tissera said. "Sam [Brandwood] is leading well and everybody in the team can do their job."
Wellington have a solid top six and openers Franscois Swartz and Will Martin put on 122 for the opening wicket against Silverstream last Saturday, while Louis Chemis will be another key batsman.
Young allrounder Jakob Bhula is making good progress and opening bowler Jack Sargentina, who has also performed with the bat this year, took 6-40 against Wanganui Collegiate in a traditional this week.
Onslow have been the success story of the premier one competition, and head the table with six wins from their seven games, with Silverstream, HIBS and Wellington College on five wins.
Onslow went to the top of the table with a comprehensive win over Scots last weekend, an effort Onslow coach Matt Tilley described as "our most complete performance."
"Our first target for the year was to get the six wins that we thought would ensure we avoided the promotion-relegation games and to reach that in the first round was beyond all expectations," Tilley said.
Onslow's left-arm spinner Daniel Pile has picked up 10 wickets over the past three matches, to be the leading wicket- taker in premier one, with Alex Ridley and Daniel Shannon spearheading the pace attack. "Daniel has bowled particularly well in the last four or five games," Tilley said.
The experienced pair of Angus Henderson and Tim Johnson have been Onslow's leading run-scorers.
"But if the TAB framed a market [for the Gillette tournament] we would probably be fourth favourite, behind Wellington College, Silverstream and HIBS," Tilley said.
Silverstream lost to Wellington College last weekend, a day after claiming the Hunt Trophy by beating HIBS in the Twenty20 final at the Basin Reserve.
Silverstream's batting has been a strength this term. The team has topped 300 twice and made over 200 in five of their seven premier one games. The exceptions were when they collapsed for 58 against HIBS and when making 178 against Wellington College on Saturday.
Silverstream also have a trio of off-spinners - Peter Aitken, Ben Murrow and Zac Brodie - who are usually hard to get away.
Mitchell Scott, who was dropped early in his inning, set up Silverstream's Twenty20 final win, with 77 from 53 balls, and Ken Tuffin scored 43 as Silverstream got through to 137.
HIBS were always under pressure with the bat, after losing early wickets, and could manage only 66 from their 20 overs.
However, HIBS are capable of matching any side this weekend, especially if top batsmen Troy Johnson and Ollie Flemmer have a good tournament.
Scots have lost all bar one of their games in premier one but can play the spoiler's role, particularly if allrounder Josh Lawrence regains the form he displayed at the Gillette finals in December.
GILLETTE CUP (March 21-23)
Petone Rec on Friday and Sunday, school grounds on Saturday.
Final: Thursday, March 27, Basin Reserve
St Pat's Town
St Pat's Silverstream
Hutt Valley HS
The Dominion Post