CD Stags v Wgtn Firebirds Saxton Oval, Nelson Super Smash T20
Scores of cricket fans in Nelson will probably be thoroughly disappointed that Mahela Jayawardene will not make his debut for the Central Districts Stags today at Saxton Oval.
But a Sri Lankan from Napier is somewhat reservedly chuffed his revered countryman's flight complications will see him now make his debut in Saturday's televised Georgie Pie Super Smash Twenty20 match at Yarrow Stadium, New Plymouth, against the Canterbury Kings.
Oh ... and possibly Firebirds tweakers Jeetan Patel and Luke Woodcock who will have slept well last night comfortable in the knowledge the exponent of batting against spin will not ask for middle and leg today.
Today's pre-match talk was all about the predominantly young Devon Hotel-sponsored Stags watching and learning from the batting maestro who retired from Sri Lanka international representative duties in March.
Instead the 38-year-old veteran will be reduced to a spectator when interim CD chief executive Chris Lander will whisk him away from Nelson airport to Saxton Oval just after 5pm for the 4pm home match.
Re-enter explosive Complete Flooring Napier Technical Old Boys batsman Indika Senarathne who returned home after the 10-run loss to the Mondiale Auckland Aces at Eden Park No2 last Sunday.
For someone who would have been ecstatic to simply watch Jayawardene ply his trade the club upstart will now nervously find himself filling his big boots as the CD opening batsman with George Worker.
"Guys like Mahela and [Kumara] Sangakkara are legends and world-class players in Sri Lanka. Bowlers are scared to bowl to them," said Senarathne yesterday, packing his bag to catch a flight 5.10pm flight to Nelson, about the same time Jayawardene was preparing to board his flight in Colombo.
The 29-year-old, who hails from Kandy, hastened to put his humble club existence in perspective while savouring only his fourth game for CD today, provided coach Henrich Malan puts him in the starting XI.
"It's the best time to see him playing for CD and learn from him," he said.
Six years ago Senarathne played for the Kandurata provincial side, under the captaincy of Sangakkara, in what was effectively a Sri Lankan international team trials in 2009.
The pair faced the Wayaba team who had Jayawardene at the helm as captain.
"They [Jayawardene and Sangakkara] used to look after the younger players," he said of the long-time friends who went on to establish a third-wicket partnership of 624 runs in the first test match against South Africa in 2006.
The pair, who also captained their country, eclipsed the previous record for the third-wicket stand for all test-playing nations, surpassing the 467-run collaboration between former Black Caps Martin Crowe and Andrew Jones.
Senarathne said Jayawardene would be "loving it" in the Stags' environment with the boys.
"CD have good facilities, very good coaching and a great structure."
Senarathne had two uneventful starts for CD in the T20 campaign in trying to fulfil the portfolio of upping the run rate for a 50-plus opening partnership with Worker but last Sunday scored 35 from 16 balls.
He was there to make up for the loss of opener Jesse Ryder who scored only one run in as many games before injuring a thigh muscle.
"I didn't have experience. I didn't know what to expect but the coach said, 'Relax and enjoy yourself', so I had to try hard to apply myself in the middle," he said, enjoying the stint with top scorer William Young.
"I enjoyed every ball with Young but it's not just about one person but everyone chipping in so we have a lot of batting."
Malan said Senarathne showed "he's got something special ... so he has another opportunity to showcase his skills".
Jayawardene, he felt, would add another dimension to Senarathne's aggression and the top order with his classical play.
"Obviously we'd like him to play the first six games to help qualify but not having him is part and parcel of cricket."
However, should Senarathne perform today he would be asking the question of CD selectors to keep him in the equation.
"That's the nature of the beast. If people perform then it puts more pressure on others in the squad."
* Central Stags: Kruger van Wyk (c, wk), George Worker, Indika Senarathne, William Young, Dan Cleaver, Tom Bruce, Josh Clarkson, Marty Kain, Adam Milne, Andrew Mathieson, Seth Rance, Mitchell Claydon.
Coach: Heinrich Malan.
Manager: Lance Hamilton.
* Wellington Firebirds: Michael Papps (c), Alecz Day, Stephen Murdoch, Craig Cachopa, Tom Blundell (wk), Matt Taylor, Luke Woodcock, Jeetan Patel, Anurag Verma, Dean Hutchinson, Brent Arnel, Matt McEwan.
Coach: Bruce Edgar.