Wellington cricket trophy drought embarrasses

MARK GEENTY
Last updated 05:00 05/04/2014
Luke Woodcock
JOSEPH JOHNSON/ Fairfax NZ
FIREBIRDS READY: Luke Woodcock believes the Wellington cricket team can win the one-day final against the Knights.

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The beer and bubbly stains have long faded from the Basin Reserve dressing room walls.

It was March 7, 2004, the last time the Wellington sheds were graced by a trophy when a draw against Canterbury clinched them the first-class title. James Franklin, Luke Woodcock, Mark Gillespie and 12th man that day, Jeetan Patel, are all back a decade later at Mt Maunganui seeking the overdue silverware.

For a team as perennially talented and experienced as Wellington, it's a damning drought, a source of embarrassment within the province and amusement outside it.

Of today's likely 11 to face Northern Districts in the one-day final, only Michael Pollard, Stephen Murdoch and Tom Blundell have yet to play for New Zealand. The Firebirds were further bolstered by gloveman Luke Ronchi's journey from Bay of Bengal to Bay of Plenty, while the Knights regained Black Caps Trent Boult and Anton Devcich but, crucially, not Tim Southee (rested), Kane Williamson (in England) and Corey Anderson (injured).

Woodcock said the memory of 2004 had faded fast. The team trained under warm sun in Mt Maunganui yesterday and remained calm and relaxed about their chance to silence the sniggers.

''We spoke about it before practice - trying to not overdo things and overthink things and keep it simple and treat it as another game,'' Woodcock said.

''There's naturally going to be nerves and tension. It's a TV game but if we can get into it early, everything will settle down.''

Woodcock, Pollard, Ronchi and Michael Papps are back from last year's side who lost to Otago in the Twenty20 decider. Lessons from that defeat would feature in their team talk, Woodcock said.

Importantly, the Firebirds' momentum gained pace in the past week after some worrying batting jitters. Twice in knockout matches, in Auckland and Christchurch, they did the job and Wednesday's eight-wicket victory over Canterbury was a comprehensive dress rehearsal, inspired by Woodcock's 3-26 and iced by Pollard, Murdoch and captain Franklin with the bat.

''I've been coming on at some key stages and I'm familiar with my role in the middle overs and it's been great to contribute,'' Woodcock said.

''The calmness we showed against Canterbury was excellent and, if we can get to that sort of level, the guys should be fine tomorrow to have a decent crack at ND.''

Woodcock welcomed the sight of a used pitch at Bay Oval which should suit he and fellow tweaker Jeetan Patel, along with Grant Elliott's tricky medium pace which was a key factor in Christchurch. Spin has been the Knights' strength all season with Ish Sodhi, Devcich and Jono Boult all queueing up.

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Northern, the T20 champions with six current or former internationals, are deserved favourites given their big match record and their opponents' lack of it.

Still, Wellington toppled them last time they met in Hamilton and have  more batting firepower and better balance in their attack. If the nerves are minimal and Trent Boult's swing doesn't cause too much carnage, then the word ''drought'' can finally and gratefully be pushed to the background.

HOW THEY LINE UP

What: National one-day final

Where: Bay Oval, Mt Maunganui

When: 10am today, live on Sky Sport 1

TAB odds: Northern Knights $1.65, Wellington Firebirds $2.15

Knights (from): Brad Wilson, Daniel Flynn (c), BJ Watling, Joe Carter, Daryl Mitchell, Anton Devcich, Mitchell Santner, Scott Kuggeleijn, Jono Boult, Graeme Aldridge, Ish Sodhi, Trent Boult, Anurag Verma, Brett Hampton.

Firebirds (likely): Michael Pollard, Michael Papps, Stephen Murdoch, Tom Blundell, James Franklin (c), Grant Elliott, Luke Ronchi, Luke Woodcock, Mark Gillespie, Jeetan Patel, Brent Arnel.

- The Dominion Post

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