Risk and reward for winning Canterbury Wizards

MATT RICHENS
Last updated 05:00 22/02/2014
Hamish Bennett and Andrew Ellis
JOSEPH JOHNSON/ Fairfax NZ
LEADING THE WAY: Hamish Bennett, who carried the Wizards' bowling attack this year, is congratulated by Andrew Ellis after taking a wicket.

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The Canterbury cricket side are attempting to change the way first-class cricket is played in New Zealand and believe there is plenty of room for improvement in their own game.

Canterbury wrapped up the Plunket Shield with a round to play this week despite losing three matches outright - the same as last-placed Northern Districts.

But teams pick up the same amount of points for a loss as they do for a draw - zero - so Canterbury have taken calculated risks a number of times in search of wins and it has come off.

They've been the competition's best bowling team, too, and that's clearly helped, as has the fact they've played - and won - two matches at a Hagley Oval wicket that offers something to hard-working bowlers.

Skipper Peter Fulton, his stand-in Andrew Ellis and coach Gary Stead have all been prepared to risk losing to win.

''You don't remember many draws at the end of your career,'' Stead said.

''It's not about the bonus points or the losses, this competition. It's about the wins.''

Canterbury have won four matches outright, the next best is two from nine rounds. Creating final day chases was also important for the betterment of players, Stead said.

''When you put teams in situation likes we did against Auckland [setting them a final day target] we find out more about our players. We like those tough situations and we try and embrace them.''

Ellis agreed and captained the side in that match, which Canterbury won by 64 runs. He wants more captains and teams willing to force a result. And he also thinks Canterbury have plenty of room for improvement.

''This was a real team effort,'' he said.

''A lot of people chipped in. That was epitomised by someone like Rob Nicol coming on very, very well at the end of the season.

''The challenge for us now is to keep pushing ourselves. We've got a good group of people here, we need to keep building, keep getting better and better and set new standards.''

Stead talked up the strength of his bowling unit in helping win the association's 17th Plunket Shield title, particularly its larger than life leader Hamish Bennett.

But in a strange way, his batsmen's woeful conversion rate with the bat also played a big part. Canterbury scored just three centuries throughout the season, but 33 half centuries and scored the lowest number of first innings batting bonus points.

''If you don't score too many big, big scores in the first innings it can naturally advance the game. And while we haven't scored too many batting points, I think you'll find our opposition hasn't either.''

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Canterbury now get to do their theoretical lap of honour with their final match, against Central Districts, in Napier starting tomorrow.

They will have the services of test players Peter Fulton and Tom Latham for the celebratory match, after which they will be awarded the Plunket Shield.

- The Press

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