Celtic carry favourite tag into do-or-die final

CLAY WILSON
Last updated 12:25 07/02/2013

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Biddy Kates Celtic take form and favouritism into tomorrow night's Mitre 10 Mega senior cricket Twenty20 competition final, but there is no doubt their opposition, Criterion Hotel Wairau Valley, have desperation on their side.

The inaugural Marlborough T20 champs in 2006-07 and also winners in 2008-09, beating Valley in the final, Celtic won four straight round-robin matches to comfortably qualify in top spot for the title decider at Horton Park.

Valley scraped into the final thanks to a last-ditch win over Renwick and a superior run-rate. However, not only do they have a side more than capable of tipping over a strong looking Celtic outfit, Valley are also long overdue a Marlborough senior title, especially in the T20 format.

Their last title came in March 2007 when they overcame Celtic to win the one-day crown and, in the six-year-old T20 competition, they have contested three of the last four finals and come up short on all three occasions.

Valley vice-captain Tim Abrahams said, among other things, a lack of match awareness had cost his club in recent finals.

"We certainly need to have better match awareness, knowing when to attack and when not to. Also, we have tended to lose wickets in clumps and, if we can avoid that, it makes the game a lot easier.

"In the field, it is only an hour-and-a-half, so we need to give it everything and put them under as much pressure as possible."

Just two wins from five games proved enough to get into the final and Abrahams felt although they had not performed badly in round-robin, they would still need a complete performance to lift the silverware.

"We just lacked the finishing skills in our three losses and in the loss against Celtic we had a weakened side. We haven't been smashed and we've been competitive in every game, but you need a complete performance to win titles."

Finishing skills have hardly been an issue for Celtic and since their round one loss to Renwick they have won four straight, with a 20-run triumph over Valley in round five their smallest winning margin.

Captain Ben McLennan said while that gave them confidence, they were still well aware of the threat Valley posed, particularly with the bat.

"Since that hiccup in the first game our results have been quite comprehensive. We're confident, but we are also wary that their batting has probably underachieved and it's a one-off T20 game. If one of them gets away and scores quick runs, it could take the game away from us."

McLennan felt his side had performed well in all three disciplines thus far in the competition and said that continuing that form was key if they were to prevail.

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"Our bowling and fielding has contained teams really well and we also have in-form batsmen. We have a few match-winners, but everyone has been contributing."

That all-round strength is evident with a glance at the Celtic lineup. Their top four batsmen are all members of the Marlborough side and, in particular, the competition's leading run-scorer Greg Knowles and Josh Poole are potential match-winners. Below them, leading six-hitter Landon Neal, Gareth Weaver and Andy Fitzpatrick are all capable of clearing the rope, while McLennan is no mug with bat in hand, either.

Typically, Celtic have strength in the seam bowling department, led by McLennan, Knowles and Ben Blackman. The addition of former Central Districts seamer Greg Hegglun for another match will make the task even tougher for Valley.

Backing the seamers up are the left-arm spin duo of Poole and Sean Neal. With 11 and seven wickets, respectively, they are the first and third best bowlers in this season's T20 competition.

It is no secret Valley's strength lies with their batsmen, opener Abrahams just two shy of Knowles in the run-scoring aggregate. Abrahams' opening partner Blake Parata and young Englishman Richard Hagen are also capable of scoring quickly, while Greg Stretch, Matt McCormick and Matthew Stretch form a dangerous middle-order.

Despite not being blessed with the experience of the Celtic attack, the Valley bowling unit is not to be underestimated.

Spearhead and former rep player Mark Gear is second behind Neal in the competition bowling statistics and his new-ball partner Sam Boyce is growing in confidence after getting four rep matches under his belt this season. Hagen and McCormick are more than useful first-change options, while off-spinner Rohan Prasad can pick wickets in clumps on his day.


T20 FINAL FACTS

Biddy Kates Celtic v Criterion Hotel Wairau Valley

Where: Horton Park, No 1 ground.

When: 5.15pm start.

Celtic: Sean Neal, Greg Knowles, Chris Gibb, Josh Poole, Landon Neal, Andy Fitzpatrick, Gareth Weaver, Tom Argyle, Ben McLennan (c), Greg Hegglun, Ben Blackman.

Wairau Valley: Tim Abrahams, Blake Parata, Richard Hagen, Greg Stretch, Matt McCormick, Matthew Stretch (c), Duncan Grigg, Grant Goodwin, Mark Gear, Rohan Prasad, Sam Boyce.

Forecast: Fine, light winds, high 27 degrees.

Head-to-head T20 this season: Round two: Match abandoned. Round five: Celtic 126-6 beat Wairau Valley 106 all out. -

- The Marlborough Express

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