Spin wizardry could be the key to big pay-day

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 17/01/2014
Rob Nicol
KIRK HARGREAVES/ Fairfax NZ
READY TO ROLL: Rob Nicol could be key for the Wizards.

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It's in the back of their heads, building away like a slow-burning fire. They dare not think about it too much, but most just can't help it.

The Canterbury Wizards might have their domestic Twenty20 cricket semifinal to play tonight against the Northern Knights, but by 10pm tomorrow they could be qualified as the New Zealand representative to play in the qualifying tournament for the lucrative T20 Champions' League. The big show; a chance to play in front of the IPL coaches and purse-string holders and a chance to play against the world's best.

It could be a tricky balancing act for some - use the Champions' League for motivation, or ignore it as a distraction surrounded by dollar signs.

Either way, it's there and it's hard not to think about.

Canterbury and Northern Districts play tonight for the right to take on defending champions Otago in tomorrow night's final and the Wizards have momentum on their side.

They're unbeaten in 2014 and have won their last four completed matches, which include two against the Knights.

Canterbury have also received a double dose of good news with both injured all-rounders Rob Nicol and Andrew Ellis declared fit to play.

Nicol could be key and is a genuine x-factor player for the Wizards with both bat and ball.

With fellow spinner Ronnie Hira, Nicol has been able to put the brakes on a number of sides this season, and the former Black Cap struck 61 against ND in the final round-robin match of the season to bat himself back into form.

Coach Gary Stead said spin could be crucial for the side, but was confident in the options captain Peter Fulton had at his disposal, including quicks Hamish Bennett and Matt Henry and the side's top wicket-takers, all-rounders Ellis and Logan van Beek.

"[The spinners] are both very good, they're experienced and when you look at bowling balance, you want to have match-winners in your side and I think both those guys, on their day, are matchwinners," Stead said.

"Rob's experienced, he's canny, he's a clever bowler who reads the game and the batsmen well while Ronnie bowls wicket to wicket, gives no width and batsmen need to take risks against him.

"Ronnie's also very good at just giving away ones, if you do that every ball, you've only gone for 24 and you're doing well."

Batting and getting a big score on the small Seddon Park ground will also be crucial and the Wizards are being encouraged to bat aggressively and take the game to the ND bowlers.

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Canterbury have taken an unchanged 12 to Hamilton and Brad Cachopa is expected to be 12th man again. ND will have Kane Williamson in their side and Australian import Chris Tremain returns.

Should the Wizards have a fifth match interfered with by rain, they would lose as Northern Districts finished ahead of them in pool-play, courtesy of a better run-rate.

Showers are forecast in the morning in Hamilton, but they are expected to clear for the 7pm start.

- The Press

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