• Black Caps trio in strong Stags squad

Black Caps trio in strong Stags squad

One trophy remains up for grabs in the Central Stags’ 2020/21 cricket season, but they may be on every Hawke’s Bay farmer’s Christmas card list from tomorrow.
National champions for two of the past three seasons, the Stags have named a strong squad for the resumption of the first-class Plunket Shield, however rain is forecast tomorrow in Napier as they head into the fifth-round four-day match against the Wellington Firebirds at McLean Park.
After a long, hot, dry summer everywhere other than where the Stags have played this season, it’s déja vu for the team with wet weather having affected all four of their matches before Christmas, including a rare total washout in Nelson where there was not even an opportunity to toss the coin.
“On the bright side, we’re pretty used to it now which means we’re mentally prepared for all eventualities,” said strike bowler Seth Rance. 
“We had rain for most of our first-round match in Hamillton back in October and ended up winning the game, so we’ll all be staying positive and ready to play when we get the opportunity.”
Rance heads the pace bowling contingent that includes Blair Tickner, left-armer Ray Toole, allrounder Josh Clarkson and tall 21-year-old Joey Field who will play his first home Plunket Shield match for the Stags if selected in the starting XI, after his October debut in Auckland.
Test BLACKCAPS Ajaz Patel, Ross Taylor and Will Young also all line up for the team, with Ben Wheeler (torn hamstring) and Doug Bracewell (side) the only contracted Stags missing from the twelve due to injury.

Rance heads into the fixture with 141 first-class wickets to his name, including his seventh first-class bag in previous round against Northern Districts, at Saxton Oval in November. Swinging the ball prodigiously, he has 13 wickets at a tidy 20.15 average from the stop-start first half of the campaign while Manawatu’s Ray Toole has impressed with 11 at 22.45.
The Stags are still very much in title contention, sitting in fourth spot on the table on 27 points and needing to make up ground on leaders Canterbury who head the ladder on 62 points. There are a maximum of 20 points available per round, including 12 for an outright win. 
Defending champions the Firebirds sit bottom of the ladder on 18 points. The two teams were set to meet at McLean Park in the penultimate round last season before the arrival of COVID-19 in New Zealand saw the last two rounds cancelled, with the title subsequently  awarded to the Firebirds and the Stags runners-up on the points table.
“They will be hungry to get back on track and find their first win of the current season so we won’t be taking them lightly,” said Rance. “We’re expecting a good battle as always.”
The free admission match will be wicketkeeper-batsman Dane Cleaver’s 50th first-class appearance for the Stags, scheduled to begin at 10.30am tomorrow with updates and livescores at https://scoring.nzc.nz/centraldistricts and on the NZC app, with video highlights.
From Friday until Sunday, there will also be staunch red-ball cricket action on the other side of Latham Street where Hawke’s Bay will be looking to defend their newly acquired Hawke Cup at Nelson Park, against Zone 1 challenger Hamilton in the last Hawke Cup Challenge Match of the 2020/21 season. The match will be live-scored at www.nzc.nz and on the NZC app from 10.30am on Friday.
McLean Park, Napier
10.30am, 11-14 March 2021
Greg Hay (captain) — Nelson
Tom Bruce — Taranaki
Josh Clarkson — Nelson
Dane Cleaver (wicketkeeper) — Manawatū
Joey Field — Hawke’s Bay
Ajaz Patel — BLACKCAPS (Hawke’s Bay)
Seth Rance — Wairarapa
Ross Taylor — BLACKCAPS (Manawatū)
Blair Tickner — Hawke’s Bay
Ray Toole — Manawatū
George Worker — Manawatū
Will Young — BLACKCAPS (Taranaki)
Coach: Aldin Smith
Assistant coach: Dion Ebrahim

Points after Round 4

(maximum 20 points per round)
Canterbury — 62, Northern Districts — 42, Auckland Aces — 41, Central Stags — 27, Otago Volts — 26, Wellington Firebirds — 18.