Queuing up for runs after Jesse Ryder

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 16/11/2012
Jesse Ryder STD
KENT BLECHYDEN/Fairfax NZ
ON FIRE: Central Districts are wary of the red hot form of Firebirds batsman Jesse Ryder.

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Grant Elliott insists he's a relaxed captain, not a reluctant one. So his heart rate monitor should remain at a low ebb even if Jesse Ryder somehow misses out tonight.

Ironically for a winning team, Wellington have had to plan for failure when they host defending Twenty20 champions Auckland in the last match of Shaun Tait's cameo stint with the side.

Ryder's been so dominant (117 not out and 174 against Central Districts; 90 not out off 57 balls in the six-wicket win over Canterbury) that it's difficult to get a line on the rest of the top six. While any Ryder onslaught is Friday night viewing gold, an early miscue carries some intrigue to see what these new, improved Firebirds are really made of.

"Of course, the guys know that. Everyone's got their role and responsibilities. The nature of T20 is that it's quite difficult to replicate good innings consecutively," Elliott said.

"Jesse's in good form, though, and hopefully that continues but there are a lot of batters who are hungry to score runs and step up in this competition."

Atop that list are the two Michaels, Pollard and Papps, who missed out a week ago, Luke Ronchi, who's had a lean early season run, and Elliott himself.

Skipper in all formats for the past two years, Elliott stepped aside and Stephen Murdoch (Plunket Shield) and James Franklin (T20) were named his successors. But Franklin's Black Caps tours to Sri Lanka and South Africa mean he'll probably play one of the Firebirds' 10 matches, so Elliott regains the armband.

"I'm a lot more relaxed about it. I learned a lot from last year. In some ways I would have liked to have done it [again], but that comes from winning as well.

"We had a lean couple of years with me as captain but it's great to be winning and see that this team's grown from those losses."

Elliott was impressive with the ball a week ago but wants to make his biggest statement with the bat.

"I'm going to be batting in the middle order so there's an opportunity to make a big impact. It's a position where it can be a bit hit and miss but I've been working on my aggression as a batsman and getting my strike rate up."

A lengthy pre-season, some soul-searching and more familiarity with coach Jamie Siddons has meant a flying start for the Firebirds. Consistency has always been their issue, though.

"Winning makes it a lot calmer in the camp," Elliott said.

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"In the past we've started the competition losing the first couple then you really start searching as players and as a group."

Tait was outstanding against Canterbury and his battle with Aces batsmen Lou Vincent and Australian import Brad Hodge will be another highlight.

The visitors are without Andre Adams (side strain) and Pakistani import Azhar Mahmood, but the two-time defending champions know how to win T20 matches and will be confident after their Champions League performance.

- The Dominion Post

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