Skipper eyes win
Marlborough face a must-win scenario in their final Hawke Cup zone three match, against Canterbury Country in Rangiora this weekend, but also looming is a major milestone for skipper Nick d'Auvergne.
Captain of the Wairau club, the vastly experienced 27-year-old off-spinner and all-time leading Marlborough wicket-taker is poised on 199 wickets for his province. The second player on the all-time list is former Central Districts and Celtic seamer Brent Hefford with 172.
In all likelihood, d'Auvergne will claim his 200th wicket against Country at Mainpower Oval this weekend. To date, he has wheeled down 1304.2 overs of off-spin across 87 matches.
He reckons that to finally rack up 200 wickets will be pretty special.
"It will mean quite a bit," he said. "When you look back through the list of all the players who have played for Marlborough, there are a lot of good players and people I have looked up to.
"Also, knowing that my old man [former Marlborough spinner Phil d'Auvergne] got 250 wickets for South Canterbury is quite special, and hopefully one day I'll be able to pass him."
Since making his debut against Nelson in 2001, aged just 15, d'Auvergne has compiled an outstanding representative record.
His 199 wickets include six five-wicket bags, a hat-trick and a best return of 8-11, coming at an average of 19.44 and an economy rate of 2.97. However, he admits that when he made his debut, he never imagined he would take 200 wickets for Marlborough.
"Early on, I didn't bowl a lot; I was behind a few other guys. But after a few seasons, when I started to bowl more, it wasn't really on my mind, but it was something to work towards."
While he always had a rough idea of how many wickets he had, it was not until former Marlborough batsman and unofficial historian Mike Hood dug into the scorebooks and compiled years of Marlborough statistics that d'Auvergne knew an exact figure. By that stage, it was around 150.
There have been a number of highlights on the path to 200, but the former CD A representative points to his first outright victory against Nelson in 2009-10, his hat-trick against Wairarapa in 2008-09, and defending the Hawke Cup at home against Hawke's Bay in 2011 as the standouts. He also fondly remembers his first rep wicket, disturbing the castle of Nelson's Bryan Krammer.
Despite such a major individual milestone being so close, d'Auvergne remains firmly focused on the job at hand for his team. At a minimum, Marlborough need a first-innings win over Country to stay in the running for a Hawke Cup challenge.
D'Auvergne is well aware of the need to take the match session by session.
"First things first - we need to get a first innings to set ourselves up. In a game like this, you don't want to get too far ahead of yourself. Ideally, bowling first would be best so we could advance the game, but either way, we need to make sure we are in a position to control the game."
There are two changes to the Marlborough side that beat Buller outright last time out. Opening bowler Ben McLennan is back in for the injured Chris Pope, and Fraser McIntosh is in for the unavailable Josh Clarkson. Young Wairau batsman McIntosh is likely to be named 12th man.
D'Auvergne admitted that it was not ideal having Pope and Clarkson out, but he felt the return of McLennan should boost his side.
"We are quite lucky to have Ben McLennan coming back in, which should work in our favour. We just have to make sure everyone stands up and takes the extra load."
Needing to shoulder a fair amount of that extra load are the Marlborough batsmen, who, aside from Josh Poole, have been the team's Achilles heel so far this season.
Openers Tim Abrahams and Sean Neal have averaged just 11.9 and 12 from eight and nine innings respectively, while No 3 Chris Gibb has averaged 16.2 from eight knocks.
The news is not much brighter in the middle order, where Greg Knowles is the best with 120 runs at 20, and the father-son duo of Greg and Matthew Stretch averaging 17.4 and 12.5 respectively.
If Marlborough are to overcome a Country outfit who have comfortably beaten Buller and West Coast outright so far, a much more solid batting effort is required.
"It's going to take everyone valuing their wicket," d'Auvergne said. "It's not going to come down to one person, it will come down to 11 guys batting smart and putting runs on the board, with, ideally, one or two guys kicking on to scores of 70-plus."
- The Marlborough Express