Tasman Premier League – Season Pre-View
Nelson Cricket has turned a potential negative into a real positive as they prepare for the beginning of the 2018/19 season over Labour Weekend. While the demise of the Brightwater based club Wanderers means that there is one fewer Nelson team mobilised this year, it has been somewhat compensated for with a part amalgamation with Marlborough. It is hoped that Wanderers will be able to re-group as soon as possible, but for now the five Nelson teams will be joined by a couple from over the hill in the seven team main competition format on Saturday.
As has previously occurred in short season competition the Marlborough Falcons will be comprised of the Wairua and Wairau Valley teams and will be heavily leaning on the reliable duo of Nick Weaver and Matt Stretch. Renwick and Celtic will bury the hatchet and become the Marlborough Dolphins and their key performers are likely to be Josh Poole and Prabodha Arthavidu.
Of the Nelson teams, Stoke Nayland will be looking to defend all four trophies after an incredible 2017/18 season. They will have to do it however without two hugely influential former representatives. Seamer Martin King has called it a day, favouring spending more time with the family, while last season’s leading wicket taker Ryan Edwards leaves a huge hole with both bat and ball when he accepted the Nelson Cricket role of Coaching Manager.
Their departures have been offset by the return of hard hitting top order batsman Chris Dittmer, who missed last season to further his medical career. Stoke Nayland will also welcome the return of Mitchell Ross from Queenstown. Ross, along with the new arrivals of quick bowler Timothy O’Connor, from Auckland, and former Marlborough representative left arm medium pacer Ben Stark, will look to fill the void left by Edwards and King. Dittmer, Kurt Pahl, Patrick Howes, Ben Homan, Darius Skeaping and Brendan Hodgson will form the bulk of the top order while the exciting James Barron will take over the wicket keeper role having arrived from Nelson College. Former Wellington Firebird Ili Tugaga, Dylan Eginton and Symon Carr will form the experienced heads in the bowling group, with Skeaping, Stark, Ross, O’Connor and spinner Howes all expected to shoulder the bulk of the bowling burden over the course of the season. Stoke Nayland will be difficult to beat.
The upcoming season sees very few changes to the core of the Wakatu side. Most of the team will be backing up again as they will field an almost identical squad. They have however lost evergreen skipper Laurence Kirdy. Kirdy has represented the club since the mid-1990’s and has plied his trade in many guises: tear away opening bowler, leg-spinner, wicketkeeper, top order batsman and middle order stabilizer. His versatility and experience will be sorely missed. The management team will also be without coach Richard Percy who has moved across town to WTTU. While it was a tough year last year for the Victory Square domiciled team this season they will be buoyed by the talented trio of Matthew O’Sullivan (Taranaki), Tom Argyle (Celtic) Jason Campbell (Renwick). Wakatu should also see the return from injury of the talented Bud Jackson and all-rounder Nathan Dufeu. With these tweaks and the return of their regulars they will be looking to build on performances from last year and hopefully make finals cricket this season
WTTU will be looking to establish themselves as a consistent performer in 2018/19, after a season of the sometimes sublime, sometimes ridiculous. Representative commitments in the past few years have often been the Achilles heel for the club so they will welcome the new format changes that do not unduly penalise the teams with high numbers of Nelson players. Under new coach Percy this outfit seems destined to be well in the mix come finals time in all formats. The untimely demise of Wanderers has mostly benefited WTTU. They have acquired the services of prolific run scorer Tom Cross and the all round skills of burly Joe O’Connor. The top order looks well settled with this duo joining Griffins batsmen Tom Ingham and the exciting Mason Thelin who will hopefully provide the bulk of the runs. Jack Aldridge will also be looking to build on his one Nelson appearance last year which capped a productive season for the promising wicketkeeper/batsman. The development of young Waimea College batsman Sam Kininmonth will also be watched with interest. The only major defections from the squad are parsimonious medium pacer Amit Dhiman who has succumbed to work commitments and Doug Seaward who has retired. Jon Routhan has eased back on his playing commitments but will no doubt be seen in some cameos. WTTU will also welcome any appearances from the prolific bat of Greg Hay when representative commitments allow. The seam bowling attack will again be potent with Josh Newport, O’Connor and captain Sam Baxendine to the fore. The skipper will this season be looking forward to genuine spin options for the first time in two years. He has Nelson College student and left arm spinner Sam Halsey at his disposal and potentially a long overdue twin spin combination with former Central Districts “A” player Sam Field available all of December and January. WTTU appear to be another solid outfit with genuine title aspirations
Nelson College has undergone a major change in personnel. Long-serving and well-respected coach Garry MacDonald has passed over the reins to the effervescent Luke Toynbee. Toynbee has quickly made his presence felt by releasing the majority of the senior students to allow the immediate integration of the younger boys into the senior ranks. This has meant Thomas and David Zohrab, Josh Simpson, Albie Murray, Daniel Endersby, James Barron and Sam Halsey have all left to bolster various club teams. This will leave a large dent in the ranks of the students and it will be relying on the limited experience of Fergus Hughes and Finn Restieaux to carry out the bulk of the run scoring. The Zohrab twins will be replaced with the Raxworthy twins, Jonty and Finn, who carry similar all-round skill sets to the Zohrabs. Their abilities will be well tested at this level. Toynbee may be required himself to stretch out the score sheet. Bowling wise the College has maintained the services of gangly quick Jarrod McKay. He had a stellar 2017-18 season and was rewarded with Central Districts “A” selection. Their efforts will well and truly revolve around McKay’s abilities as the other youngsters will quickly need to learn the ropes. College will rate themselves to be the fittest fielding team in the grade and may well need to save as many runs there to remain competitive as they find their feet.
ACOB have been the major benefactor of Nelson College’s decision to release their players early. They have acquired the skills of the Zohrab boys plus Murray and Simpson who will seriously assist any aspirations they may have going forward. Allied to this is the return from Wellington of charismatic all-rounder BJ Barnett and ACOB may well feel that their time is due again. They will have the regular crew of Ben Gully (who has returned from England), James Graham, Horse Baumfield, Liam Baird and Sunny Dhaliwal back from last season. All-rounder Daniel Grimes is as yet undecided but once the sun comes out surely so will his competitive juices. Talented youngster Nic Clark will also be back once University finishes to round off this talented group. Although ACOB is strong they will be rueing the decision whereby players cannot play in two provinces. They will be deprived of a triumvirate of outstanding players from last season, Willem Ludick, Felix Murray and Josh Clarkson who will all be plying their trade in Napier this season. Even without these three, however, ACOB are looking particularly ominous.
2018/19 promises to be an intriguing cricket season with many potential contenders. The ball is now in their hands.