Invigorated by a memorable win, the Central Stags head into their third round Plunket Shield cricket match against Canterbury in Nelson tomorrow with one change to the squad and trusting the city will live up to its sunny reputation.
The defending national first-class cricket champions leapfrogged up to second on the table with a key victory against Northern Districts last week and have one round left this side of Christmas to haul in the high-flying Firebirds in the first segment of the season.
The Wellingtonians hold an early 15-point lead over the injury-hit Stags, who are on a quest for a rare third consecutive title this summer. However, with a maximum possible 20 points available per round, the table can change as quickly as the weather in the eight-round competition.
After a winning debut, rookie pace duo Jarrod Mckay and Ray Toole have been retained in Central's squad for Saxton Oval and will be joined by another new face in uncapped 24-year-old right-arm seamer Ben Stoyanoff, who last summer earned his 50th cap for Hawke's Bay.
"Ben has been involved in our wider squad for the last few years and has been close on numerous occasions to playing for the Stags over that period. He was unavailable last round due to work commitments, and joins the squad after a standout performance for Hawke's Bay in last weekend's regional Furlong Cup round," Central Districts Cricket Association's high performance manager Lance Hamilton said.
Mckay's selection has brought to three the number of Nelson players selected in the 12-man squad, with allrounder Willem Ludick and captain Greg Hay, the tall teenage right-armer's senior by 17 years.
Hay, a veteran of more than 5000 first-class runs, said he was impressed by the way the young pair of Toole, 22, and Mckay, 18, had handled a testing introduction to first-class cricket last week against Northern Districts.
"Jarrod is obviously a very tall bowler and used his height to get some bounce out of a pretty flat wicket and also, in the outfield, where he took two very good catches for us.
"Ray hit his mark straight away, and he was very consistent. It was exciting to see both of the young men taking their maiden wickets, and it will be a win they will never forget, I'm sure."
Hay said tomorrow would also be the start of a special match for Ludick as he returns to the scene of his maiden first-class century against Canterbury last year, "and we're sure they won't have forgotten that".
Toole said he was excited at a chance to play at Saxton Oval for the first time at any level, with the four-day match beginning at 10.30am.
"Training there for the first time yesterday, it was great to have a look around, obviously it's a class international venue. I'm also really enjoying being part of the Stags, it's been a really good team environment to come into and all the guys have made it really comfortable for myself and Jarrod.
"They made sure we were clear in what our specific roles were, and that they were all there to support us through it. That made us relax more on debut so we could just do our thing and be ourselves."
Toole took 2-38 in his first innings of Plunket Shield, a 74-run win against hosts ND, and faced his first ball of first-class cricket against fired-up Black Cap Neil Wagner.
"I was a little bit nervous to start with, but the adrenaline kicks in when you're out there. I was just concentrating on watching the ball and blocking absolutely everything else out," Toole said.
"Tom Bruce and Ajaz Patel helped calm me down both times that I batted as well; they were good batting partners. With the ball, I was very happy I did what I had been asked to do, and helped to create and keep the pressure on ND.
"My dad was over from Australia watching, too, he'd come over for my birthday expecting to see me playing in an A game for CD and then I got to tell him he needed to change his plans and head to Bay Oval which was pretty cool."
Toole is geared up for another challenge against an unchanged Canterbury side featuring Black Caps Tom Latham, coming off a double century at the Basin, and Henry Nicholls, as well as Matt Henry, with Canterbury yet to get a win this season.
"It may be that we have to work really hard for wickets, similar to last week, but I can't wait, it will be another exciting test," Toole added.
The Plunket Shield will take its traditional summer break at the conclusion of this round, with attention turning to the Ford Trophy one-day campaign and Dream 11 Super Smash T20 title defence, before the crunch final five rounds of Plunket Shield resume in late February.
The Stags team is: Greg Hay (captain, Nelson), Tom Bruce (Taranaki), Dane Cleaver (wicketkeeper, Manawatū), Willem Ludick (Nelson), Jarrod McKay (Nelson), Ajaz Patel (Hawke's Bay), Raymond Toole (Manawatū), Seth Rance (Wairarapa), Brad Schmulian (Hawke's Bay), Ben Smith (Whanganui), Ben Stoyanoff (Hawke's Bay), George Worker (Manawatū).