Knights clash with Aces high in Auckland

KNIGHT RIDER: Northern Knights' import player James Foster is back.
KNIGHT RIDER: Northern Knights' import player James Foster is back.

Having been careful not to overindulge in Christmas feasts yesterday, the Northern Knights will now be looking to dine out in their Twenty20 clash against the Auckland Aces today.

Two of the form teams of the so-far stagnated competition meet at Eden Park No 2 this afternoon, hoping to kick on and gather momentum as the short form game takes priority on the calendar.

With the competition having been limited to a game a week and staged in between four-day Plunket Shield fixtures, teams will now have the chance to focus solely on Twenty20, as it builds towards the January 20 final.

The Aces have won both their matches - the second of which was an eight-run victory over Canterbury last Friday night - while the Knights opened with three victories but stumbled at the hands of Otago in their last encounter.

Knights coach Grant Bradburn is looking for his players to react better when put under pressure and to trust what they know.

''We've got our systems pretty much sorted now,'' Bradburn said.

''We're just looking to keep things very very simple, we've worked hard on everyone knowing their roles.

Everyone knows what's expected and we're just trying to keep improving really. Rather than look anywhere else we're just encouraging the guys to look in the mirror and just work hard on improving their execution of their role individually. If we get enough guys doing that as a team we'll perform.''

Bradburn breaks the Twenty20 game down into three parts for each innings - the ''set, build and close'' in reference to the first six overs, the middle stages and the end.

''If we win the majority of those phases then we'll generally win the game. But with this game there's always going to be one or two phases that we need to continually work on,'' he said, noting that the death bowling from their last match would be a key thing to improve.

The Aces, who are two-time defending champions, won the corresponding fixture at the same venue last year and Bradburn knows they will be tough, even without the Martins - Chris and Bruce - as they've linked up with the Black Caps in South Africa ahead of the test series.

''They're always going to be a very strong side, I think they've got a lot of belief in their unit,'' Bradburn said.

''We've only beaten them a couple of times in Twenty20 history so we know that we're going to have to play well to compete with them and to take them down.

''From their last lineup, the Knights have lost BJ Watling, Daniel Flynn and Kane Williamson to international duty, while Tim Southee was to join them but was subsequently injured.

It means the Knights have a bit of a greener look about them, but Bradburn is keen for the more inexperienced players to get in on the actionntsGimmersed in the environmentnte.

After spending Christmas Day with their families, the players link up today and the Knights will take 13 to Auckland to cover their bases, with seamer Anurag Verma and all-rounder Brett Hampton likely to take the park for the first time this season, while young leg-spinner Ish Sodhi is another option, after decent showings in the Plunket Shield.

English import James Foster returns to the lineup, with the wicketkeeper missing the past two matches after returning home to be with his ill father, who is now steadily improving.

The Knights will be buoyed by Foster's presence, as he's already proved a hit with the bat after making 48 off 30 balls and 26 not out off 12 in his two appearances.

''It's certainly good to have him back,'' Bradburn said.

"He's a quality player and both him and Steven [fellow English import Steven Croft] have added heaps to our side, off the park and on.''

Fairfax Media