Northern Knights struggling already
Unless they can drastically discover runscoring form, the Northern Knights face losing their Plunket Shield title before summer has started.
The defending champions went down by eight wickets to the Central Stags in Gisborne yesterday, with the visitors wrapping up an outright victory at noon on the final day of the four-day match.
Chasing just 95 for victory yesterday, Central got there quickly with opener Jeet Raval leading the charge with an unbeaten 57 off 74 balls.
Three games of pointless batting - literally - has left Grant Bradburn's side wallowing at the wrong end of the table with almost one-third of their first-class campaign already over.
The Knights have only managed to accumulate 11 points in their shield campaign to date - all from bowling.
With shield points doled out in the first innings for batting and bowling, only 12 points are left up for grabs for the outright win.
First innings batting woes have plagued the Knights this month - scores of 204 against Otago in Hamilton, 208 versus Auckland in Auckland and 183 against Central on Saturday have not only left the champions trailing their opponents but without valuable points.
After three rounds last season, the Knights had collected 30 points on their way to a title-winning tally of 96 points from 10 matches.
Bradburn is not despairing over his side's problems.
"We have to be realistic and honest about how we're not playing as well as we can yet," he said.
"We probably haven't paid enough respect to changing conditions when we've batted.
"We're aware that we've got some things to work on, but we're not far away - there's a fine line between a run of success and getting that flow-on to where we are now."
The Knights are without Black Caps test players Kane Williamson, Daniel Flynn, Tim Southee and Trent Boult, but wicketkeeper/batsman BJ Watling will be available for the next round and allrounder Daniel Vettori is eyeing the encounter as his first-class return from injury.
What the side needs badly is for the experienced duo of skipper Brad Wilson and first-drop James Marshall to find form - Wilson has just 107 runs in six innings at 17.83 and Marshall 88 runs at 14.66.
That pair have played 175 first-class matches between them for the association and would have been expected to provide a firm backbone while the likes of Daryl Mitchell and Corey Anderson find their feet.
"We have a very good group of talented future Knights who are working very hard. We won't get those Black Caps back and that's a good thing, as they're all playing international cricket, and that's what we want our players to aim for," Bradburn said.