Valley can't rely on rain this time

CLAY WILSON
Last updated 08:01 14/12/2012

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When Criterion Hotel Wairau Valley last won Marlborough cricket's McQueen Cup senior two-day championship back in the season of 1998-99, they did not even have to pull on their whites in the final to do so.

Heavy rain all Friday night and Saturday morning meant any chance of Redwood earning an outright victory and overcoming top qualifiers Valley to lift the title was gone by Saturday lunchtime and Valley were declared champions.

Like that 1998-99 season, this season Valley are top qualifiers for tomorrow's SBS Bank McQueen Cup final at Horton Park. This time around, though, there is likely to be one major difference.

A forecast of fine weather means play is almost certain to go ahead and with Grove Tavern Wairau in their way, Valley have plenty of work to do if they want to break a 13-year two-day title drought.

Valley skipper Tim Abrahams has named an all but full strength XI for the match. Young seamer and rep squad member Sam Boyce, who has work commitments, their only key man not available.

Abrahams acknowledged Boyce was a "reasonably big loss," but still felt there would be little between the two sides.

"They have what is pretty much a rep bowling lineup with Popey, Starky, Nick [d'Auvergne] and Logo [Greg Logan]. But we have a very good batting lineup to counteract that and I see the teams as pretty even. It will come down to who plays the better, and smarter, cricket on the day."

With a top-order including rep players Abrahams, Matt McCormick, Greg and Matthew Stretch, plus aggressive former rep squad members Blake Parata and English import Richard Hagen, Valley definitely have the batting edge on Wairau. However, Wairau have a very strong quartet of bowlers, including Ben Stark fresh off his history-making 10-wicket haul for Marlborough against West Coast, and Abrahams said his side's ability to make the most of their advantage with the bat would be key to their success.

"In the past we have been guilty of throwing away our wickets against Wairau and not playing to our ability . . . if someone in your side gets 100 you are usually in the box seat to win."

Along with their bowling strengths, in players like Marty Vercoe, Colin Wood, Logan and d'Auvergne, Wairau have a fair amount of finals experience to call on. For those reasons, Abrahams was claiming the underdog tag.

Wairau skipper d'Auvergne agreed his side's strength was with the ball and said, as they had done all season, himself, Stark, Pope and Logan would do most of the bowling.

Young left-armer Nick Weaver would be the first port of call for back-up.

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With Mike Hood, Geoff Barnett and Leon MacDonald unavailable, things are not looking as strong with their batting.

However, d'Auvergne said he had faith in his batters and was optimistic a top-order likely to include Vercoe, Fraser McIntosh, the in-form Colin Wood, Stark and rep youngster Josh Clarkson could get the job done. "Our batting is pretty much the same as it's been all season. I've got faith in our batters."

In relation to Valley's batting strength, d'Auvergne said they had plans for key men such as Abrahams, McCormick and Greg Stretch. He felt former rep seamer and new-ball specialist Mark Gear was Valley's major threat with the ball.

Gear will be joined in the Valley seam attack by Boyce's replacement Zac Harrison-Jones, Hagen and McCormick, while Rohan Prasad and Englishman Grant Goodwin are their major spin options.

Both captains expected the wicket to be flat and offer few surprises, although d'Auvergne predicted it may take some turn later in the day.

With he and wily veteran Logan forming a dangerous spin duo, that may sway d'Auvergne into batting first if he wins the toss.

- The Mirror

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