The HK Bears have returned home from the 2018 edition of the Chapple Cup feeling positive about their progress despite three losses in a tightly contested competition at Nelson Park in Napier.
First up was a tough assignment in the form of defending champions and eventual finalists Hawke's Bay, who were keen to get their defence underway in comprehensive fashion. They were able to do just that with a commanding nine-wicket victory which saw them announce themselves as title contenders once again.
All was not lost for an HK side who were unable to put a large enough total on the board having been inserted on a new wicket. Regular wickets fell but it was senior batsman Dion Sanson who stood tall to hold the innings together for HK, batting with class and control in a masterful display.
Sanson looked on course for a century but fell desperately short, bowled by a good Todd Watson delivery to leave him on 99. Liam Rukuwai was chief destroyer for Hawke's Bay, recording 4-32 off his 10 overs. He received good support from Jayden Lennox' 3-21 off 9 and Watson's 2-37 off 8.4.
Ryan Taylor was the only other HK batsman to get past the 20 mark (24).
Any hopes the Bears had of creating a difficult run chase were dismissed relatively quickly despite an early breakthrough to Carter Andrews. Aggressive batting from Jake Smith (49*) and Matt Edmondson (108*) resulted in a dominant partnership that snuffed out HK's hopes and sent the Bay through to the top four in emphatic fashion.
Day two dawned for HK with Marlborough lying in wait and anticipation high for an evenly fought match. The Bears went about setting a total having won the toss, and got off to the best of starts courtesy of a 75-run partnership for the first wicket between Jamie Pinfold (22) and Dion Sanson (64), who picked up where he left off the previous day.
Matt Good continued the good work with a very important contribution of 61 to show he is nearing his best form, while Keegan MacLachlan (27), Andre Halbert (28), Chad Law (21) and Bailey Te Tomo (17) chipped in to ensure the HK total reached in excess of 250 as they finished on 278.
In response, Marlborough took a cautious approach that was well rewarded through the mid to late stages as they gradually hauled in HK's total. Their innings was built around Prabodha Arthavidu's brilliant knock of 107*, an innings that was timed to perfection from a man who looked in control.
Young opener Tom Sutherland batted well for his 80 and Josh Poole (48) played a key hand to accelerate the innings and propel Marlborough to their total of 280 for the loss of three wickets with 3.2 overs remaining. HK were brave and willing in the field, with their bowlers toiling hard, but it was to no avail as they were ultimately unable to contain the Marlborough batsmen. Spinner Conor Beleski bowled superbly for 1- 44 off 10 and was the pick of the Bears' attack.
Day three and the Bears were facing a test of character, firstly to field a side with numerous injuries hampering them and secondly to put the disappointment of the previous days' results behind them as they sought their first win of the tournament.
In their way lay a Whanganui side who would prove to be a challenging prospect with a number of talented young players in their midst. Once again Andre Halbert won the toss and seized the initiative to bat first and put a total on the board.
This time it was Jamie Pinfold who responded with a run-a-ball knock of 53 in a sign of growing maturity for HK's talented wicketkeeper-batsman. With Chad Law out of the side due to injury there was a reshuffle of the order and it was Te Tomo (18), Halbert (28) and the promoted Keegan MacLachlan (17) who kept things ticking over.
Regular wickets hampered HK's progress, however, and it was left to Carter Andrews to deliver on his immense potential with the bat to score an outstanding 55 batting at number eight. Andrews' knock ensured HK got past the 200 mark and finished on 228, a potentially tricky total on what was effectively a day three pitch.
Like HK, Whanganui had a number of men making contributions and despite regular wickets and scoreboard pressure they were able to build on a solid platform laid by opener Sam Sheriff (54) and their middle order to eventually overtake HK's total with 3.5 overs to spare.
Carter Andrews had a fine all-round game, recording 2-37 off 8 overs and was joined by Dion Sanson's 2-47 off 10 and Conor Beleski's 1-52 off 10 in the wicket-taking column.
To conclude, it was a challenging but highly enjoyable tournament for the Bears, who headed home with some immense positives and key learnings that will stand them in good stead for their next assignment and beyond.
Hawke's Bay lie in wait on December 1 and 2 and the Bears know they will be better for the experience with player-coach Chad Law excited about the direction his side is headed in, knowing the potential of his players and the rapid progress his unit is making under the leadership of inspirational skipper Andre Halbert and his deputies Dion Sanson, Matt Good and Carter Andrews.