It's crunch time for Manawatu if they want a shot at the Hawke Cup.
Manawatu play Hawke's Bay at Manawaroa Park this weekend, in what should be the defining Hawke Cup game of the Central Districts zone.
Hawke's Bay and Manawatu lead the Hawke Cup points in CD, so Manawatu captain Luke Murray knows the importance of this weekend's game.
"If we take this one out, we're a pretty good shot of getting the challenge," he said. "We've still got Wairarapa to play after that but this is a pretty good shot."
Hawke's Bay, with 27 points, have a slight lead over Manawatu on 24, with a gap back to Taranaki on 14, so first-innings or a win will give Manawatu an important points lead.
Murray thought Hawke's Bay would be a different side to the one that beat them by nine wickets in the Chapple Cup in October, which was full of New Zealand and CD players.
"I don't know what the Hawke's Bay team will be like. They'll probably have at least half a dozen younger guys now from Hawke's Bay I've never heard of. They'll have a few unknowns, more of a born-and-bred Hawke's Bay team."
Hawke's Bay are likely to have Stags pace bowler Andrew Mathieson, but will be without Michael Taiaroa who has been called into the CD squad and Hawke's Bay veteran James de Terte has retired.
Manawatu will be close to full strength except for pace bowler Bevan Small who is with CD for the HRV Cup and most of the squad has played plenty of cricket recently.
Dave Meiring, Dane Cleaver and Roald Badenhorst have been playing for CD A at the national tournament this week and the young trio of Brynn Cleaver, Arana Noema-Barnett and Navin Patel have been with the CD under-19 team in Wellington.
Murray hasn't had as much cricket as some of the squad recently, but the explosive batsman was hopeful of getting back the form which saw him play for Central Districts and CD A in the past.
"It's been a bit up and down probably," he said. "The consistency hasn't quite been the same as it usually has, this past year.
"I feel like I'm in good nick but I'm getting myself out."
He has found it harder to fully commit to training as he is busy with his eight-month-old child and work.
In the only change from the last game against Wanganui, seamer Bryn Templeman is unavailable for personal reasons but Badenhorst returns from CD commitments. The match starts at 10.30am on Saturday and Sunday.
Manawatu: Luke Murray (captain), Brynn Cleaver, Mitch Renwick, Dave Meiring, Dane Cleaver, Roald Badenhorst, Hayden Hill, Arana Noema-Barnett, Navin Patel, Tim Richards, Mike Mason, Phil Mecredy.
Hawke Cup points: Hawke's Bay 27, Manawatu 24, Taranaki 14, Wanganui 8, Wairarapa 3, Horowhenua-Kapiti 2.
- © Fairfax NZ News