CRICKET: Northern District face juggling act

By Kelly Exelby

It's not known as the Twenty20 circus for nothing but, rather than take on the role of ringmaster, Northern Knights coach Grant Bradburn has been busy fine-tuning his juggling act.
The Knights have imports Herschelle Gibbs (South Africa) and Australians Brad Hodge and David Warner in their Twenty20 lineup for the HRV Cup in December - the first domestic T20 squad to feature three overseas stars on their roster.
ND's domestic squad are in Tauranga this week preparing for their opening Plunket Shield match against Otago on November 9, although Bradburn already has one eye on December's Twenty20 roadshow, which features two games at Mount Maunganui's Bay Oval.
Each New Zealand side in the six-team competition, which features 10 round-robin matches and a final, are allowed to field two imports in a match.
The Knights last year used Sri Lankan opener Tillakaratne Dilshan. The plan is to have Hodge for the first four rounds of the Twenty20 competition - which starts on December 2 when the Knights host last year's champions Central Districts at Hamilton's Seddon Park - with veteran South African Gibbs replacing him midway through.
Warner is likely to join the Knights from round three. The Knights were also chasing West Indies allrounder Kieron Pollard, but he was too expensive.
Bradburn said bolstering their hitting at the top of the innings was behind the contracting of three international batsmen.
"We identified our power hitting up the order as one area we were vulnerable. We were satisfied with our bowling attack."
The imports give the Knights a star-studded lineup for the cup, although several Black Caps will miss the opening rounds while they complete a tour of India.


How's this for a possible ND Twenty20 lineup? Gibbs, Warner, BJ Watling, Scott Styris, Kane Williamson, James Marshall, Daniel Vettori, Peter McGlashan, Joseph Yovich, Tim Southee and Brent Arnel.
"There's some huge calls to make for the selectors in December," Bradburn said, "but a big part of our coaching philosophy is creating an edge for competition and putting pressure on to perform."
Bradburn said there was belief the Knights could win all three domestic titles this season, although recent history tended to suggest otherwise.
"We'd love to win the HRV Cup, which could give the boys an opportunity to go to the world stage (ICC Champions Trophy), but realistically to win one trophy a season is a great effort.
"Last year was exceptional winning two titles, but history tells you ND typically wins one trophy every two years."
Knights skipper James Marshall said adding one more title to the trophy cabinet would be a perfect result.
"It (HRV CUP) was the one that got away from us last year," Marshall told the Northern Advocate.
He said the three imports would take competition in the squad to another level.
"Having guys like Hodge, Warner and Gibbs around is fantastic for the group.
"Adding those three into the mix means we have got some tough decisions to make when it comes to selection because we've already got a lot of quality batsmen, but it's a healthy position to be in."
Fitness trainer Jason Wheadon led the squad up Mauao this week as ND built on their mantle as the fittest team in New Zealand.
They are also playing a two-day game against the ND Academy at the Bay Oval
"Two weeks ago when we did fitness testing our numbers were higher than last year, although we've drummed into the guys the mirror is still the best test - they know whether they're prepared or not," Bradburn said.
"They say a business needs to improve 5 per cent a year just to stand still and the same applies to us."

- BAY OF PLENTY TIMES

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