Canterbury Wizards in search of batting form
Strike bowler Matt Henry is back, but it's the Canterbury Wizards' batting which needs a spell cast over it.
Henry, who missed the Wizards' thrilling 10-run win over Wellington last week in Rangiora, has recovered from hamstring tightness and passed a fitness test on Tuesday.
He replaces offspinner Tim Johnston in the 12 to play Northern Districts at Hagley Oval starting today, as Canterbury are likely to play four quicks on what is expected to be a more seamer-friendly surface than Rangiora.
With captain Andrew Ellis joining Todd Astle and wicketkeeper/batsman Brad Cachopa as all rounders, there is a nice balance to the side, but more work is needed with the bat.
In three Plunket Shield matches, just one of 12 batting bonus points has been collected.
Batting bonus points are given for reaching 250 (one), 300 (two), 350 (three), and 400 (four) in the first 110 overs of each side's first innings.
Canterbury have passed 250 just once in their first innings.
The fact they've nabbed 11 of 12 possible bowling points - and have secured two outright wins - has them on top of the six-team table, but there's plenty of room for improvement with bat in hand.
"There's plenty of room for improvement, across the board," coach Gary Stead argued.
But the numbers point at the batsmen.
Tom Latham and Ellis have played just one game each this season and looked in ominous form, averaging in the 70s, but then there is a drop off.
Dean Brownlie is currently the side's highest run scorer with 196 at 32.66. He's the 11th top run scorer in the competition, but hasn't yet found the special form he's capable of.
Henry Nicholls is still developing his craft and averages in the 30s as does Cachopa. Shanan Stewart is in the 20s while George Worker was the out of form batsman left to carry the drinks in the last match, averaging 14 in the first two matches.
All are better than that and will be desperate to lift their numbers. As will Rob Nicol who has played just one game and got a pair.
Stead said it was far from panic stations in the batting department and plenty of work was being done.
He was pleased that with plenty of room for improvement, his side had still earned two outright wins.
That is helped by the fact Hamish Bennett and Astle are the competition's two leading wicket takers with 14 and 13 scalps respectively.
Add Henry back into the mix, the consistency of Ellis and the rise of Logan van Beek, and even Stewart with the ball, and the Wizards have a strong attack.
Stead pointed out that while the first innings runs weren't there, that was helping create chances for outright wins and he was confident a more consistent batting display was right around the corner.
"We want to be scoring 400 [in the first innings]," Stead said.
"We haven't done that yet and we know that's not good enough. We showed glimpses of how we wanted to play in Rangiora [against Wellington]."
Northern Districts have a win and two draws from their three matches, but sit fourth on the table.