Big guns face duel in the sun
First, the weather.
There appears little prospect of rain once again ruining the Nelson Cricket Association's two-day club championship showpiece when Harrington's Beer Cafe Waimea Toi Toi United and Car Company Stoke-Nayland meet in this weekend's final at Saxton Oval.
WTTU claimed last season's two-day crown when their scheduled final against Motueka was washed out. As top qualifiers, WTTU were awarded the title without a ball being bowled.
They're top qualifiers again this time, although the forecast is for continuous fine weather, and with it the promise of a genuine contest between the competition's two top teams.
Stoke-Nayland won the last of their four consecutive two-day titles in 2010, with six of that team - skipper Ryan Edwards, Darius Skeaping, Todd Marwick, Ian Coles, Ben Homan and Dylan Eginton - back to attempt title No 5 over the next two days. And coincidentally that year WTTU were on the receiving end.
"I'd be lying if I said the two-day final two years ago still doesn't sting, so it'd be nice to go and amend that result," WTTU captain Jon Routhan said.
As top qualifiers and with the match able to be decided on the first innings, WTTU have the advantage of knowing that Stoke-Nayland need 10 wickets to try and force an outcome. However, Routhan was adamant that it wasn't in his players' natures to merely bat time, and that they'd be adopting a typically positive mindset.
"I think the reason Stoke and us are in the position we are is because we've played reasonably attacking cricket this year," Routhan said.
"Certainly our mantra has been to go out and play attacking cricket and win games. With the points system the way it is, you've probably got to stick your neck out a couple of times and I think it would be foolish, with one game to go, to try and change that.
"A lot of our guys are see-it-and-hit-it cricketers and I think it would be foolish to tell them to try and play a defensive mindset."
There's one man Stoke-Nayland would love to see the back of, with WTTU batsman Greg Hay in vintage form. While representative commitments have restricted him to just three club innings, for scores of nine, 54 not out and 161 not out, Hay epitomises the kind of batting prowess WTTU need to keep Stoke-Nayland's representative-strength bowling attack at bay.
While Routhan certainly acknowledged Hay's crucial role in the side, he said that everyone had equally critical roles to play.
"I think one of the pleasing things from a club aspect for us is that there's not a single player in that side who hasn't stood up for us at some point throughout the season."
Edwards wasn't fazed by WTTU's top-dog status heading into the match.
"Being second qualifier doesn't overly bother us," Edwards said.
"The weather, by all accounts, is going to be gorgeous, so that would be a main concern with any weather about that we lose time or overs. But it looks like we're going to get two full days in.
"I guess we've got to force the play a little bit and if, for whatever reason, they can bat two days or a day-and-a-half and give us less time to chase runs, then so be it. But at the end of the day, it's who's going to play the best cricket on the day, and who fronts up."
Edwards said that in their previous four title successes, it was the team's batting that generally carried them through. This season, it has been their seam attack, including representative players Marty King, Darius Skeaping and Dylan Eginton, and with Mitchell Ross also featuring, that has caused most teams problems.
"I'm backing our bowlers to knock them over. Regardless of whether we're top qualifier or not, we'll play the game with the same intensity and energy."
Both captains agreed that the two best teams were in the final, and considering their two previous losses to Stoke-Nayland in two-day deciders, Routhan felt that his team had the confidence and ability to achieve success.
"We want to play Stoke, it's always a great contest."
The final is scheduled to start tomorrow at Saxton Oval at 11am.
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