Taranaki face huge match in cup aspirations against Hawke's Bay
OPINION: This weekend is huge for the Taranaki men's cricket team at Pukekura Park.
They must take out first innings points or better against Hawke's Bay, the team currently sitting on top spot with the locals, if they are to have any chance at all of securing a Hawke Cup Challenge in February.
The cup is the pinnacle of provincial cricket in New Zealand, can be won in the old fashioned manner of being ahead after one innings over three days, and is what every cricketer at this level aspires to.
Just like this challenge match, there are no second chances.
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Matt Broadmore was the last Taranaki captain to hold the cup in 2006/07, which was first in the province in 1926/27.
It has been here six times and had a glory period of three years under Denis Yardley in the early 70's.
This is not just any old game. This is about having the bragging rights over a major adversary, the opportunity to push more players in to the first class scene and create a wave of excitement with the possibility of playing in a game which is set as the goal at the beginning of every season.
The main man is skipper Mattie Thomas fresh off the National A Tournament where he had success with his left arm spin. His overall contribution will be vital in a game where the aim must be to take 10 Hawke's Bay wickets as cheaply as possible.
A combination of some proactive captaincy and bowlers fronting up will hold the key.
Ryan Watson with his in-ducking medium pacers is the leading Taranaki wicket taker to date and, should he hit his stride, he will be difficult for any batsman. He is now the king pin of the attack and must take this responsibility very seriously.
Tom McDougall can bowl accurately for long spells; Hayden McIntyre is a more experienced model with the skill to swing and seam the ball, while Taylor Williams is a young quick who needs to wind up and bowl at pace.
They should all be dreaming about a five-wicket bag.
Batting is about belief and confidence and at least two of the batsmen will need to score big runs.
This is a game to be the standout and there are plenty of quality candidates.
Leading the pack will be Dean Robinson who is a proven performer and James McDougall who has been one of the leading scorers at the National A competition.
Liam Muggeridge is a classy player who scored 100 in his last trip to the crease while New Zealand Under 19's player Kaylum Boshier is capable of scoring runs against a tough opposition.
Sam Fastier, Ryan Fleming and wicket keeper/batsman Jackson Braddock-Pajo are less heralded on the national stage but all have the ability to score runs at this level.
Two individual centuries from this group would ensure a healthy total.
Now is the time for the team to embrace the expectations and grab this opportunity in both hands. There can be no excuses. At 10.30 on Saturday morning there should be a smile on every face and a skip in every step. This is a biggie.
Best of luck.