New Hagley Oval pitch under scrutiny

As the Canterbury cricket team bounce from the relatively docile Mainpower Oval in Rangiora to the nippy and zippy fresh wicket at Hagley Oval, coach Gary Stead still wants his players to play their shots.

The Wizards host Auckland starting today in the final Plunket Shield game, effectively a battle to avoid the wooden spoon.

The newly laid wicket at Hagley has hosted only one first-class match this season and the sporting deck - and poor batting - resulted in that game finishing in a little over two days.

Stead said while there might be an expectation to become far more defensive, tentative batting would lead to his batsmen's undoing.

"You can't ask guys to curb their natural game too much," he said.

"We know it's going to be bouncy so runs are going to come. We just need to make sure our defensive game is in order and know runs will come, especially if we can put partnerships together."

Canterbury have made just one change to the side that lost by four wickets last week to competition leaders Central Districts at Rangiora.

Black Caps Twenty20 player Ronnie Hira returns at the expense of Tim Johnston, who drops out of the 12.

Stead said Hira had performed well in his last match for the side while Johnston had been out of sorts. "[Johnston] knows what he's got to work on and he'll be pushing to get back into the one-day side."

Tom Latham will keep the gloves for Canterbury as Brad Cachopa has still not recovered from his shoulder injury.

Auckland have named a relatively young side, missing the experienced Chris Martin who is still injured.

❏ Dean Brownlie and Latham have both been included in the New Zealand XI to take on the touring English in a four day warmup game in Queenstown next week.

Hamish Rutherford has also been named and eyes two significant innings against England in the next four days, with the New Zealand test team to be named on Sunday.

Incumbent test opener Martin Guptill's strained hamstring still didn't have a public prognosis last night, leaving the prospect of two opening spots becoming available in the 13-man squad for the first test against England, starting on March 6 in Dunedin.

Rutherford, 23, was preparing to fly to Wellington on Monday for a Plunket Shield match. Instead he was diverted to Napier as Guptill's replacement for the second ODI. The Otago left-hander scored 18, 40 and 11 in his first three Twenty20 international innings but thought that was his lot for the summer in black.

"It has come as a surprise but it's a good surprise," he said. "Everyone is giving me good comments about how I went about things. It's only upwards from there."

One significant innings either today in Napier or on Saturday in Auckland could convince coach Mike Hesson that Rutherford has the skill and temperament for a test spot.

New Zealand XI: Luke Ronchi (c), Corey Anderson, Neil Broom, Dean Brownlie, Carl Cachopa, Mark Gillespie, Tom Latham, Jimmy Neesham, Hamish Rutherford, Ish Sodhi, Neil Wagner. Another may be added.


Canterbury: Peter Fulton (c), Todd Astle, Dean Brownlie, Brent Findlay, Ronnie Hira, Tom Latham, Ryan McCone, Ben McCord, Matt McEwan, Henry Nicholls, Shanan Stewart, George Worker.

Auckland: Gareth Hopkins (c), Michael Barry, Michael Bates, Craig Cachopa, Colin de Grandhomme, Lockie Ferguson, Michael Guptill-Bunce, Dusan Hakaraia, Anaru Kitchen, Bruce Martin, Matt Quinn, Brad Schmulian.

The Press