The top-of-the-table clash between last year's finalists New Plymouth Marist United and New Plymouth Old Boys will be the feature of Taranaki premier one-day cricket today.
The game, at New Plymouth's Lynmouth Park, will be the first this season played on a grass wicket. The other three matches will be played on artificial pitches.
Marist United are just one point ahead of Old Boys after beating New Plymouth Boys' High School last weekend. A depleted Old Boys lost to Woodleigh.
Marist United captain Ryan Fleming admitted his side was lucky to beat Boys' High.
"Boys' High were slick in the field and bowled one side of the wicket and we never got away on them," he said. "We were only going at three runs an over after 30 overs and were all out for 125."
Boys' High failed to take advantage, falling six runs short.
Allrounder Leith Johnston is back for Marist after missing last week's match with a minor shoulder injury. Opening batsman Dean Robinson is also available after missing out on a CD call-up to play the Plunket Shield match against Auckland in Napier starting tomorrow.
Fleming said Marist United were looking forward to getting back on a grass track.
"It's good for the bowlers. I know I've got sore calf muscles just through batting on artificials. I can only imagine what it's like for the bowlers. It's almost an injury management issue to get on grass as soon as we can."
Several premier cricketers have made solid starts to the new season. Few more so than Marist United allrounder Jarred Cunningham who has featured with bat or ball in all of Marist's successes so far.
A former Taranaki and Manawatu rep, Cunningham is unavailable to play for Taranaki until after Christmas. On early season premier club form the Taranaki selectors are sure to be quick to add him to the their squad.
Cunningham is highly motivated at the moment and his hard work is paying off, according to Fleming.
"He's the sort of batsman that is really hard to restrict because he can hit the ball to every part of the ground, which makes it really hard to defend against," he said
"And with his bowling, he has just got the ball on a string. It's absolutely perfect. Off-spinners like him are usually cannon fodder to play in the nets or on artificials but he's tough to play because he's got such control of his length."
Marist and Taranaki opening bowler Josh Barrett and rookie Ryan Watson have earned praise from their captain for their early season form.
"Josh was always niggling away at the outside edge in the match against Boys' High and like Jarred he's got his length right at the moment. Ryan is the same. I've seen him bowl 20 overs and his pitch marks would be pretty consistent. He's bowling a tough length to get away."
Meanwhile, Old Boys welcome back English professional Wesley Morrick, who arrived back in town on Wednesday to begin a second season as player-coach.
The fast bowler was the top wicket-taker in the Taranaki two-day competition last year and will be expected to get enough out of a fresh Lynmouth Park wicket to trouble the Marist United batting.
Called on to help plug the gaps of those unavailable today, including Will Young who is on duty with CD, are Matt Broadmore, Brad Fale and Travis Stewart.
In other matches, Hawera United host Inglewood at King Edward Park, Boys' High are at home against Woodleigh and Stratford will play Francis Douglas in Stratford.
Points: Marist United 12, NPOB 11, Woodleigh 11, Inglewood 11, Hawera United 9, FDMC 9, NPBHS 4, Stratford 2.
- © Fairfax NZ News
Do you think New Plymouth's recycling collection system is up to scratch?Related story: Council wheels out new approach to recycling
Get Taranaki's frequent news and sport updates