We definitely don't want to lose to Nelson three times in-a-row and we definitely don't want to lose at home. Pete Knowles
If the Marlborough senior cricket side is searching for motivation ahead of its opening Hawke Cup zone three match against Nelson at Horton Park in Blenheim this weekend, it doesn't have to look too hard.
Marlborough have played their arch-rivals from the other side of the Whangamoas twice already this season and on both occasions Nelson have prevailed. On top of that, Nelson edged Marlborough to win the rights to the zone three challenge last season and, if Marlborough hold any designs on changing that, a positive result this weekend is pivotal.
Marlborough convener of selectors Pete Knowles is well aware his side has plenty to play for and said it was important the players made the most of home advantage.
"We definitely don't want to lose to Nelson three times in-a-row and we definitely don't want to lose at home. There is certainly a lot to play for, not just important Hawke Cup points but there is a fair bit of pride at stake as well."
Three changes have been made to the 12-man Marlborough side that went down to Nelson in the Newman Shield challenge earlier this month.
Wairau Valley English import Richard Hagen is unavailable, while Valley opening batsman Matt McCormick and young Wairau all-rounder Josh Clarkson have both missed out. With Hagen out, the return of Celtic all-rounder Greg Knowles is timely. Celtic opening batsman Sean Neal and young Valley seamer Sam Boyce are the others to join the fold. At this stage, Boyce looks likely to be the one carrying the drinks.
Wairau opener Marty Vercoe has withdrawn from the squad, as has Renwick's English opener George Marshall, who has back issues and is returning home on Monday.
Superior batting was key to Nelson's two victories over Marlborough and, although Marlborough bat a long way down their order, Nelson appear to once again hold the edge in that department.
Openers Dan Cooper and Central Districts all-rounder Marty Kain, former first-class player Greg Hay and skipper B J Barnett make up a formidable top order. Both Cooper and Hay scored unbeaten centuries in Nelson's innings and 13 run win over West Coast in the opening zone three fixture in Nelson last weekend and, before that, Hay hit 96 not out in a warm-up match against Canterbury Country and an unbeaten 161 in club cricket.
While the Marlborough top order have plenty to prove, the good news for them is they do hold the edge in one crucial department. With an in-form new-ball attack of Ben McLennan and Chris Pope, backed up by left-armer Ben Stark and Knowles, Marlborough's seam bowling unit is not one to be scoffed at. Skipper and No 1 spinner Nick d'Auvergne is a potential match-winner and has support in the form of Josh Poole and Sean Neal, though the Nelson duo of Kain and Barnett are pretty handy too.
Knowles acknowledged Marlborough were underdogs and said Nelson had a "very strong batting line-up".
However, he noted that Marlborough's top four batsmen - Tim Abrahams, Neal, Chris Gibb and Poole - had begun to find some form and he felt, with the bowling attack they possessed, they were more than capable of coming out on top.
"It's just about batting time and everyone valuing their wicket more . . . Sean [Neal] batted well on Saturday. He played a good patient innings and we expect him to do well. All the batsmen have been in the runs and there is no hurry this time. It is a different format and they have plenty of time to build their innings."
Last year's corresponding fixture in Nelson was abandoned when rain washed out the second day's play. Marlborough had Nelson 91-5 after posting 195 batting first.
Play starts at 10.30am tomorrow and for the first time, the match will be scored live and streamed via the internet. For live scoring follow the live matches tab at www.crichq.com. Live video stream is at www.ustream.tv/channel/stucamnz.
TEAMS Marlborough: Nick d'Auvergne (c), Tim Abrahams, Sam Boyce, Chris Gibb, Greg Knowles, Ben McLennan, Sean Neal, Josh Poole, Chris Pope, Ben Stark, Greg Stretch, Matthew Stretch. Nelson: Dan Cooper, Marty Kain, Greg Hay, BJ Barnett, Ryan Edwards, Connor Neynens, Ricky Edwards, Simon McGowan, Joe O'Connor, Darius Skeaping, Dylan Eginton, Marty King.
- The Marlborough Express