Knights may look overseas to bolster Twenty20 squad

NERVE-RACKING TIME: Knights coach Grant Bradburn.
NERVE-RACKING TIME: Knights coach Grant Bradburn.

A busy summer for their Black Caps representatives may force the Northern Knights to enter the market for overseas players again as they chase a first Twenty20 title.

It is unlikely the leading New Zealand players will be available to contest the 2012/13 HRV Cup, as the Black Caps are in South Africa from mid-December to the end of January and then host England in February and March.

The Knights are waiting for confirmation of the schedule for the coming season but if the HRV Cup is held from mid-December to mid-January as it was last season, the Grant Bradburn-coached side may enlist some overseas firepower after using solely Kiwi players to finish third in their last campaign.

Last season the international programme allowed the domestic sides to use their Black Caps for most of the tournament. However, this summer's schedule would have the Knights without some – or possibly all – of their six players with NZ Cricket contracts – Daniel Vettori, Kane Williamson, Tim Southee, BJ Watling, Daniel Flynn and Trent Boult.

"We need to make sure we've got depth in every skill-set," Bradburn said of the Twenty20 competition. "Last season we felt we were a little short of power-hitting at the top of the order."

The Knights have had mixed success with their imports for the HRV Cup over recent seasons and have yet to contest the final which offers a place in the lucrative Champions League tournament. Bradburn admitted a congested international schedule would again be a strong test of the association's top-level playing resources but he was pleased to have six players in the top 20.

"From our point of view we hope not to see them – that's what we're about.

"If they're not with us, it means they're playing well. That's good for them and for NZ Cricket.

"And it gives us the ability to offer contracts to our wider squad – it's an exciting opportunity for us to keep developing players. There's lots of young skilful players right on the doorstep and knowing the Black Caps are going to be busy this season means they know there may be opportunities."

One likely departure from last season's extended Knights squad is pace bowler Andrew Mathieson, who is understood to be heading to Central Districts, while Auckland spin bowler Bhupinder Singh is rumoured to be heading south to join Northern Districts.

That would leave about 18 contenders for 12 contracted spots.

"It's a nerve-racking time for players and for us," Bradburn said.

"We're well aware we've created a rod for our own back – we have so many players ready to play but you can only get 11 on the field at one time."

Those set to be contracted include Knights veterans James Marshall, Joey Yovich, Graeme Aldridge, Brent Arnel, Peter McGlashan and Brad Wilson.

"All of our experienced guys are keen to continue playing – they feel they have a lot to offer, so opportunities for younger players can be few and far between," Bradburn said.

A number of players who struggled last season with injury will be anxious to hear if they have gained a contract.

Young seamer Anurag Verma was contracted last season but played only four matches as injury again hindered his progress, while Corey Anderson showed flashes of his ability before a knee injury curtailed his campaign.

Veteran Bradley Scott's season was also hampered by a knee problem.

"It is tough to judge – but our philosophy is to contract not retrospectively but on what's likely to happen in the future," Bradburn said.

All-rounder Anton Devcich should be another on the list, with batsman Daryl Mitchell and seamer James Baker likely too, while the likes of batsman Brook Hatwell and Verma will be pushed by Brandon Hiini, Mitchell Santner, Joey Walker, Brett Hampton and New Zealand under-19 representatives Joe Carter, Sean Davey and Nick Kelly.

Aldridge and Devcich have had minor operations in the off-season but are confident they will be fit to start the new season, while Gloucestershire's Hamish Marshall won't be returning early next year as he has in recent seasons.

The first round of contracts for New Zealand's six major associations will be announced towards the end of next month, with the squads to be competed by mid-August.

Waikato Times