The Hawke's Bay men's cricket team will have possibly its strongest 11 of the season in its first 2022 defence of national minor association's cricket prize, when they host challengers Manawatū in the Hawke's Cup.
The three-day game at Nelson Park in Napier starts at 10.30am on Friday, and the team is hopeful of going the distance.
National weather agency MetService is forecasting cloudy conditions on the opening day, with a possible morning shower, followed by fine weather with light winds and sea breezes on Saturday and Sunday.
New Hawke's Bay coach Christie Van Dyk, who took the side through three victories by more than an innings in Central Districts North competition the Furlong Cup this season, had to wait until Wednesday to know who was available from the Bay's strong representation in Central Districts first-class, one-day and Twenty20 cricket.
With the Central Stags not due to play again until Tuesday, a one-day match in Palmerston North, he says: "I've got a few players back. I think it's the best team available to Hawke's Bay cricket."
The three changes from the team that hammered Whanganui in the last Furlong Cup match two weeks ago, sees see the return of right-hand bat Bayley Wiggins, right hand bat and right arm medium pace bowler Christian Leopard and pace bowler Liam Dudding.
Hawke's Bay has dominated Manawatū in recent years, winning five in a row (three outright) in 2018-2020, before a first-innings loss in January last year, and a match in Napier last month when Hawke's Bay was dismissed for 218 and Manawatū was 129-2 when the game was rained-out.
With matches able to be won on the first innings, Hawke Cup cricket is renowned for its big first-innings scores, notably Hawke's Bay's 524-5dec in winning a challenge against Nelson by 10 wickets in 2019.
It is one of the most successful associations in the 112 years of the Hawke Cup, which uniquely Hawke's Bay holds simultaneously with rugby challenge trophy the Ranfurly Shield, and is now in its 14th term with the trophy.
The Bay started this cup tenure with victory by an innings and 52 runs in ruining North Otago's first defence in Oamaru on February 26-28 last year.
In its own first defence on Nelson Park a fortnight later, Hawke's Bay rolled Hamilton for 113 in its first innings and eventually won by eight wickets.
With Wiggins and Brad Schmulian among the runs this summer, the side has the line-up to control the match if the toss is won by skipper Angus Schaw, who scored 114 not out in that big innings three years, and who had match bowling figures of 11-41 in the Bay's last Furlong Cup match earlier this month.
Van Dyk said his team won't lack for motivation as it tries to keep the cup in the Bay.
From 2011 to 2021 the Bay had six challenges, winning three and losing three, and twice lost its first defence.
He says he's detected "a major shift" in focus as the squad neared the end of its Furlong Cup round-robin and looks forward to successfully defending the Hawke Cup in four defences this season.
But he warned: "It's going to be a tough game…It's not going to be a walk in the park."
The team named for the defence is: Jono Whitley, William Clark, Brad Schmulian, Bayley Wiggins, Christian Leopard, Angus Schaw(captain), Dominic Thompson, Todd Watson, Kurtis Weeks(wicketkeeper), Liam Dudding, Ben Stoyanoff. 12th men are James Rawnsley and Cameron Crawford.