Heartening return of Black Caps to Twenty20
Despite Sky's best efforts, including novelties such as heart-rate monitor readings, Friday night Twenty20 cricket hasn't raised too many pulses among the viewing public.
The lack of Black Caps has been the fundamental issue, but thankfully that won't be a problem this week.
James Franklin will be back to captain Wellington when they meet Central Districts in Friday's Twenty20 clash at McLean Park, and fellow international Jeetan Patel also returns. Luke Woodcock, who went on paternity leave for the Firebirds' Plunket Shield match this week, still hasn't become a dad, but is also expected to play.
On the CD side, Jacob Oram will definitely front, while Doug Bracewell and Kruger van Wyk also look like being starters. Their return would be timely, given leg spinner Tarun Nethula (shoulder) and captain Kieran Noema-Barnett (calf) face four and three-week spells on the sideline respectively.
Ross Taylor is not likely to be available for Friday.
The Black Caps' next assignment is a Twenty20 match against a South African XI at Pietermaritzburg on December 18 and that had been expected to eliminate players like Franklin and Bracewell from the selection mix when Wellington and CD convene at Karori Park on December 10 for a Plunket Shield match.
But Stags coach Alan Hunt said yesterday that there might be movement on that front.
"It sounds like maybe [Black Caps management] want to get a little bit of cricket for those guys before they head off to South Africa, which will mean just delaying them a day or two. But you could only say it was a possibility at this stage," Hunt said.
CD sit 30 points clear of their nearest Plunket Shield rivals after four matches, with their solitary loss coming against Wellington in the first round.
But they won't be quite the same team over the next few weeks without Nethula, who's averaging nearly 50 with the bat as well as taking 12 wickets at 28.50.
Nethula went on winter tours to the West Indies and India, without being granted a test debut, and popped an AC-joint while fielding in the Stags' 10-wicket win over Otago.
"He'd been bowling a lot better since he got back [from those tours] and got pretty much back to where he was before he was selected," said Hunt.
"He seemed to be working on things that we weren't aware of until he got back and I think now he's just taken it back to the fundamental reasons why he had success in the first place.
"I think he was trying to find some silver bullet that wasn't there.
"When you're not getting picked, and you're away touring, I guess maybe you look for ways to try and do things better and maybe that got away on him a little. I'm not sure, the important thing is he's back bowling well and hopefully be can contend for the Black Caps again in the future."
In his absence, former Auckland A left-arm orthodox bowler Ajaz Patel will come into the team, with former captain Jamie How to fill in for Noema-Barnett as skipper.
On paper, CD aren't the flashest side in the world. But Hunt seems to be able to prise useful contributions out of a different couple of players every game.
"We have a set of values that challenge ourselves to be honest and play to our ability in all conditions. There's no excuses, so if we under-perform we address it.
"The guys are saying ‘give me the ball' or ‘I'll get the runs' and it's all part of a team culture that works for each other.
"It's so important that you can look yourself in the mirror and say ‘I did the best I could to be my best' and, if we're not, we're big enough to say so."
All of the Firebirds players will front for their clubs today, bar Mark Gillespie and Jesse Ryder. Gillespie is tired, while Ryder suffered back spasms in the draw against Auckland this week, which prevented him bowling or batting in his usual spot in Wellington's second innings.