Coach pleased with team effort
Otago Country fired the first shot in the southern zone Hawke Cup series but Southland cricket coach Steve Jackson is still encouraged with what he saw in Alexandra during the weekend.
The two-day game was Southland and Otago Country's first matchup in the five-team southern zone Hawke Cup competition which also includes North Otago, South Canterbury and Mid Canterbury.
The winners of the zone progress to challenge the holders of the Hawke Cup, New Zealand's symbol of supremacy for minor-association cricket.
Southland got that opportunity last season when they headed to Hamilton but it was Otago Country who took the first step towards that goal in the 2012/13 season after grabbing first-innings points against Southland in Alexandra during the weekend.
Batting first, Southland got off to a less than impressive start when they were reduced to four for 52. However, Southland's best performed batsman in recent seasons, Shaun Fitzgibbon, provided some much-needed resistance with his knock of 75 while others hung in around him.
Hamish Cooke also highlighted his development as a batsman to go alongside his bowling abilities when he contributed 49 at No 9.
With No 11 Jonathan Hodson, Cooke put on 58 for the last wicket to get Southland to 224 in their first innings.
When Southland struggled last year to foot it with Hamilton in a Hawke Cup challenge, the continuing debate about Southland's flaky batting qualities surfaced yet again.
In the buildup to the 2012/13 season, Jackson asked his players to show more patience with their batting and to occupy the crease for longer.
On Saturday they batted 94 overs, the longest stint at the crease by Southland for some time. Jackson conceded they probably did not link the wish to bat long periods with ticking the scoreboard over.
However, he did not think it would be fair to lump too much criticism on the players for it.
"To bat for 94 overs is a huge improvement from last season for us," Jackson said.
"While we occupied the crease for a long time, we probably weren't ticking the score over as quickly as we should have but, to be fair, the players were doing everything I'd asked of them.
"They were leaving a lot of balls, they were keeping good balls out and Otago Country bowled very tightly, so I guess we've got to be happy with 224 in 94 overs."
That total of 224, however, meant Southland's bowlers did not have a big margin of error to work with and in the 16 overs they had to bowl at Otago Country before stumps on day one on Saturday they let their guard slip a little.
Otago Country openers Jonathan Homer and Scott Paulin made them pay as they finished day one 67 for none, needing only 158 with 10 wickets in hand on day two to claim first-innings points.
To the Southland bowling unit's credit, they produced a much better showing early on day two yesterday, taking six wickets in the space of 131 runs to give them a glimmer of hope.
However, it was the innings of Paulin that ultimately proved the difference as he faced 213 balls for his 87 in hot conditions.
Otago Country passed Southland's target of 224 with the loss of seven wickets and continued on to 251 for eight from 84.4 overs before play was called off with no outright result likely.
For Southland, Mark Beer was the best of the bowlers, taking four wickets, while Jonathan Hodson toiled away for his two for 38 from 20 overs.
Southland's next game will be against South Canterbury in Timaru on January 12-13.