Aces' Roneel Hira spinning for second T20 title
It was while preparing for his side's Champions League Twenty20 campaign in India last year that Roneel Hira was told the bad news.
After three seasons as a contracted player for the Auckland Aces, the talented left-arm orthodox spinner, it had been decided, would not be offered a deal for the coming season.
For a domestic cricketer with an already admittedly mediocre earning capacity, it was effectively a death knell for his career, and he soon found himself contemplating a life outside of cricket.
But after sitting down with a sports psychologist, Hira had a change of heart and decided to view the misfortune as a "turning point" in his career, rather than the end of the road.
And so it was with that mindset the 24-year-old returned to training for the Aces late last year. With only match payments to play for, it has been a tough summer away from the cricket pitch.
But the saving grace for Hira is he's been a standout for Auckland and is the leading wicket-taker in the HRV Cup heading into today's final against Canterbury.
Not bad for a bloke who doesn't even have a domestic contract.
"At the moment, I'm only receiving match payments and I won't lie – it's not easy," Hira admitted.
"Most people think that if you play cricket for Auckland it's great and that you get lots of money.
"But that's far from the truth and if you don't have a domestic or Black Caps deal, it's pretty hard to make a living."
This afternoon at Colin Maiden Park in Auckland, the Aces will be relying on Hira to spin them to their second straight domestic T20 title.
In an impressive campaign, he's taken 13 wickets and, importantly given the format, is going for only 5.8 runs an over.
If he was hoping to catch the attention of his paymasters at Auckland Cricket, few could argue he hasn't already achieved his aim.
That said, he's not about to get carried away with his purple patch of form. "I've been giving myself a reality check after every game," he said. "I'm really not trying to think about it too much and am just trying to put my best foot forward when I get an opportunity.
"Twenty20 is one of those games where bowlers can disappear, and we saw that against Canterbury.
"I'm just trying to take things as they come, letting the ball go in games and hoping for the best.
"I've done the work in the nets and during the pre-season, and that preparation has helped me heading into games."
With Daniel Vettori opting out of international limited-overs cricket for the foreseeable future, there is an opportunity for a spinner from the domestic scene to step up in his place.
Nathan McCullum is undoubtedly at the top of the food chain, but there is no clear-cut choice as to who would make a suitable No2.
Former international Simon Doull is an unashamed fan of Hira and recently wrote in his column for Sunday News that the Aucklander would be on the national selectors' radar.
Hira is aware of the "newspaper talk" but isn't letting it get to his head. He's got two papers to finish his Bachelor of Arts at Auckland University of Technology and, with the help of the Players' Association, is already looking for a winter job. Should a call come from Black Caps coach John Wright, he'd happily shelve those plans in a heartbeat.
"I get some of it relayed from my friends, which has happened a bit in the last couple of weeks. But I can't really read too much into that.
"I have ambitions to play for New Zealand in T20 or one-day cricket, but if it happens this season, next season or doesn't eventuate, I don't think it will change my outlook much of where I'm trying to get to in the big picture."