Cricket: Auckland switch from T20 to first-class mode

By David Leggat

Auckland captain Gareth Hopkins is happy with T20 progress. Photo / Richard Robinson
Auckland captain Gareth Hopkins is happy with T20 progress. Photo / Richard Robinson

Auckland are preparing for a crucial part of their domestic campaign, switching their attention from the shortest form to the first-class game.

Having easily beaten Canterbury in their HRV Cup game at Eden Park on Saturday night - 24 hours after having Wellington chase down 200 in a six-hitting record night at the same ground - Auckland host Central Districts in the Plunket Shield starting on Wednesday.

It begins a three-game run of four-day fixtures, including a return trip to Napier and playing Northern Districts at Eden Park, before Christmas.

The HRV Cup goes on the back burner until December 27, but captain Gareth Hopkins is happy with T20 progress, after two wins from three games, and recognises the importance of the next period.

"A lot of our season will depend on how these next three games go," Hopkins said yesterday. "We'd love to win two of those to get back on track [having had a draw and loss to date], because I know it's going to get pretty hectic in December and January."

Auckland are nestled in third spot in the T20 standings behind leaders ND and defending champions Otago and Hopkins knew the significance of putting the Wellington loss - where 27 sixes were struck in a contest of 402 runs in 39.2 overs - to bed as quickly as possible.

Opting for experienced left-armer Michael Bates to open the bowling paid a healthy dividend against Canterbury, Bates snapping up two wickets in his first over.

When Kyle Mills chipped in by removing Dean Brownlie in the third over, Canterbury were on the run in a game reduced by rain to 19 overs, and from 31 for six there was no comeback.

Auckland knocked off the runs in double-quick time. But the team, having farewelled English import Luke Wright, have lost another overseas player before he arrived. Northamptonshire allrounder David Willey is out with a stress fracture.

There is potential for Australian T20 bat-for-hire Brad Hodge - counted out by injury at the start of the HRV Cup - to return if there's a gap in his Big Bash League commitments, while import James Fuller hasn't been required.

And that's a pleasing pointer to the strength in the Auckland squad.

"On paper we do have quite a strong lineup and then the Black Caps are coming back. Unless you've got a world-class overseas player it's pretty tough to try and keep one of our local guys out," Hopkins said.

HRV Cup standings: Northern Districts (played 4) 12 points, Otago (4) 10, Auckland (3) 8, Wellington (4) 8, Canterbury (4) 4, Central Districts (3) 2.

- NZ Herald

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