Central Districts coach Heinrich Malan returns to the helm of the Stags team with the Plunket Shield campaign resuming today in Alexandra.
For Malan, who had assumed the mantle of New Zealand A coach in their away-then-home campaign, returned from Whangarei yesterday before catching his flight for the resumption of the first-class competition in round three at Molyneux Park where the Stags face the Otago Volts from 10.30am.
The South African-born mentor thanked interim coach Ben Smith for his stint, including the one-day Ford Trophy campaign, before the Englishman departs for India on Saturday to be with Ireland who have established a week-long camp in Mumbai.
"He has done a really, really good job although it does help that he's been around our environment in the past as an assistant coach," he says of Smith who also has represented the Stags as a player .
"He knows all our players and understands how we go about our business," he says, emphasising Smith spent eight weeks with a crop of unseasoned players after a rash of wicket-savvy Stags had been called up for New Zealand duties in the international arena.
However, the Greg Hay-captained Stags hold an envious unblemished record dating back to an undefeated last summer in the red-ball format and will do everything to maintain that purple patch from today.
The wheels had come off the predominantly youthful CD side in the one-day campaign, especially after the departure of Black Caps seamer and captain Doug Bracewell for NZ A duties.
With Seth Rance also in the Black Caps equation, Hay will welcome back the mongrel NZ A seamer Blair Tickner brings to the deck against the Volts today.
Destined to become a Kiwi international, Tickner showed his prowess last season, especially when he claimed a hattrick of scalps in the shield format.
Malan says the Ruahine Motors Central Hawke's Bay premier club cricketer and former CD skipper/batsman William Young had stood out during the NZ A campaign.
"He [Tickner] has again shown his worth at a high level in the last eight weeks in UAE and, obviously, back home so it's good to see him bowl to guys who have scored a lot of runs at international or first-class level ... which is fantastic."
Tickner, on debut, took four wickets against Pakistan A in spin-friendly UAE before returning to New Zealand to claim seven India A wickets, including a best of 4-80.
"It was a great experience being away with New Zealand A," says Tickner who is also is looking forward to the Burger King Super Smash Twenty20 campaign after round four.
"I've learned a lot about myself and my game. It was a test playing in different conditions and against quality players, and overall a great learning experience which tested my skills."
Bracewell, Rance, Young and batsman George Worker are still with the NZ A squad.
However, Malan points out all the warm fuzzies will mean little because today CD will be playing a fresh four-day match following the tempo of one-dayers.
"We need to focus on the little things we planned for in four-day cricket," he says, stressing Otago will have a different side to the one who lost in the Ford Trophy final to the Wellington Firebirds in Dunedin at the weekend.
Nothing, he says, will be taken for granted as they endeavour to play "constructive cricket" over four days.
Malan says the injection of Anaru Kitchen and Neil Broom into the Volts' one-day side showed how much difference experience can make.
You Travel Taradale CC batsman Dean Foxcroft may make his first-class debut after breaking into the one-day squad.
If the 20-year-old debuts it'll give him the opportunity to help CD build on their 10-point lead in the shield format despite the effects of the revolving-door disruptions through injuries and selections.
Foxcroft had averaged 51.80 in his six Ford Trophy games, including a maiden ton — an unbeaten 120 — in just his second game for the Stags, against Northern Districts Knights in Hamilton.
Opening batsman Ben Smith is still recovering from a broken thumb, Innovative Electrical Napier Technical Old Boys player Christian Leopard and Black Caps fast bowler Adam Milne, of Palmerston North, are recovering from side strains.
Bevan Small, of Palmerston North, is nursing injury niggles and form allrounder Ben Wheeler is employing a take-it-easy, managed approach from spinal-fusion surgery.
With his contract expiring in April, Malan has a few lines to pursue in his next challenge but "nothing's in concrete just yet".
With two sons born in the country, the idea of finding a niche in the New Zealand Cricket set up appeals immensely to the mentor.
The Stags play the Firebirds at Saxton Oval, Nelson, in the next round.
• Otago Volts: Brad Wilson, Cam Hawkins, Josh Tasman-Jones,
Shawn Hicks, Mitch Renwick, Josh Finnie, Nathan Smith, Michael Rippon, Christi Viljoen,
Jacob Duffy (c), Jack Hunter, Ben Lockrose.
• CD Stags: Greg Hay (c, Nelson), Tom Bruce (Taranaki), Joshua Clarkson (Nelson), Dane Cleaver (w, Manawatu), Dean Foxcroft (HB), Willem Ludick (Nelson), Ryan McCone (Horowhenua-Kapiti/Canterbury), Felix Murray (Nelson), Navin Patel (Manawatū), Kieran Noema-Barnett (HB), Bradley Schmulian (HB), Blair Tickner (HB).