Black Caps wicketkeeper BJ Watling, as one would expect, will make every ball an event when Hamilton defend the Hawke Cup against Hawke's Bay from Friday.
But the Jacob Smith-skippered challengers aren't losing sleep over Watling as the cup holders make their intentions clear in naming a potent Hamilton side that boasts Northern Districts Knights experience through the likes of Anton Devcich, Peter Bocock, Joe Walker and James Baker while former NZ U19 rep Michael Dodunski enters the fray.
"It'll be a great experience so, from what I've been hearing and understand, we're going to be playing against a test batsman [Watling]," says Angus Schaw before the Bay players boarded their minibuses to throw down the gauntlet for the symbol of minor association supremacy in New Zealand at Galloway Park for the three-day, red-ball match.
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Schaw is in coach Dave Castles' equation of the Pay Excellence-sponsored team after painkiller injections to help him manage a leg injury.
"I've just got a bone infection in my [right] ankle which just doesn't seem to be going away at all," says the 25-year-old who also played with painkillers in their final match a fortnight ago to help lift the Furlong Cup to become the zone 2 qualifiers. from Central Districts
Zone 1 qualifiers Bay of Plenty had an unsuccessful first challenge.
"I'm not missing this game, that's for sure," he says, believing Bay players are eyeing stints at a higher level so cup matches tend to become good platforms for pushing their cases for Stags selection.
Watling is preparing for the first test against India — starting on Friday next week at the Basin Reserve, Wellington — but it isn't clear if he will don the gloves behind the stumps or Bocock will retain his post for Hamilton.
Bocock had grabbed the headlines in March last year when he had stepped in for an injured Watling during the second test against Bangladesh at the Basin Reserve.
Pain killers make it Schaw thing as HB lift Furlong Cup
Schaw is mindful some cricketers go on to represent their countries on a global stage but can't always lay claim to have played in a Hawke Cup defence or challenge.
The Ruahine Motors Central Hawke's Bay CC premier men's club cricketer puts it down to "luck", owing to a good core of players who have stepped up to build a level of cohesiveness — the number of cup outings endorses that.
The Bay have Central Districts Stags batsman Bradley Schmulian and Christian Leopard in their lineup, as well as newbies such as spinner Jayden Lennox, seamer Ben Stoyanoff and wicketkeeper/batsman Bayley Wiggins.
Throw in blokes in the mould of prolific run scorer Matt Edmondson, who has flirted with CD, and teenager William Clark, who missed out on the U19 ICC World Cup, and Smith is spoilt for choices in both departments with fellow veteran Luke Wright's experience and back-up skipper/batsman Dominic Thompson who also is adept at keeping wickets.
For Schaw, the love affair with Hawke Cup began with a victory over North Otago in Oamaru within two days when his father, Colin, was at the helm of the team as coach in 2015-16.
The Bay had lost the silverware in their defence to BOP and, subsequently, came up shy in their challenge against the same holders.
They regained the bragging rights early last year after flogging Nelson by 10 wickets at Saxton Oval to etch their name on the silverware for the 13th time since the inaugural match in 1910-11.
However, they had again handed it over to Hamilton in their first defence.
"We would like to defend the Hawke Cup a little bit more then we'd have wanted to but that hasn't been the case so we're trying to rectify that now," says Schaw.
The stock agent from Tikokino says Wiggins is returning from a purple patch of coming close to carving a double century for CD but the Bay campaign provides that foundation.
Ask Schaw why they seem to have clinical finishes against teams below them geographically but not so above them, he replies: "I can't put a finger on it although I don't think it's one particular thing."
The spinner rules out any suggestions of a mental swamp to reckon it's more a case of players letting themselves down.
"You know, we're going up this time with probably the most confidence we have so it's going to be a challenge and everybody is pumped up and there's no reason why we can't bring it back."
Schaw says because the Bay cricketers are good mates off the field as well it helps them cement that confidence.
"We all love to be at training because can catch up with each other and find out how everyone's week's going and all that."
Ideally, he says, they would like to play for the Bay team every week but acknowledges that sense of belonging goes another tier below to the premier club culture.
"Everyone wants everyone else to do well so that's really good."
Schaw says the prem stocks are improving with schoolboys relishing the opportunity to move up as seasoned players venture out on rep duties.
The Bay haven't played at Galloway Park before but he suspects it'll be a slow, low wicket that won't offer the bowlers much so tweakers may become pivotal.
The venue, which also is home to prem club matches, has come under intense scrutiny in the past decade with the city council opting to play bat/pad.
In 2014, Hamilton Cricket life member Richard Dodunski had reportedly stated it was "embarrassing" to hear visiting sides deplore lush outfields and yet when Hamilton travelled to other provinces they were accustomed to playing on pristine surfaces.
However, a source who was at the BOP challenge a fortnight ago says someone of the ilk of Daniel Flynn who can find the boundary with conviction and ease had struggled so it was "quite bizarre, actually".
"They got only 12 boundaries in like 101 overs on the first day," says the source, suspecting it was tied to the council's efforts to re-lay the outfield. "It has something to do with the soccer fields there and drainage."
• HAMILTON: Keir Bettley (c), Elliot Santner, Anish Desai, Freddy Walker, Josef Walker, James Baker, Josh Brown, Peter Bocock (wk), BJ Watling, Matt Wallbank, Michael Dodunski, Anton Devcich.
Coach: Brook Hatwell.
• HAWKE'S BAY: Jacob Smith (c), William Clark, Matt Edmondson, Jayden Lennox, Christian Leopard, Angus Schaw, Bradley Schmulian, Ben Stoyanoff, Dominic Thompson, Todd Watson, Bayley Wiggins (wk), Luke Wright.
Coach: Dave Castles.