Women's cricket is in line for a renaissance in Hawke's Bay if the age-group representative teams' performances are anything to go by at the start of the new year.
The Bay under-15 girls stamped their supremacy with an unblemished record at Whanganui Festival of Cricket early this month to claim back-to-back crowns for the province in the Central Districts competition before four of the players combined their collective skills to help CD claim the national age-group bragging rights also on the trot last week.
"I guess I was just bowling the right line and length," said Aniela Apperley after she was named the player of tournament and received a bat, sponsorship and voucher.
Apperley had claimed 11 scalps, averaging 5.73 and an economy rate of 2.19 with her right-arm medium deliveries. It included a five-wicket bag at the Whanganui Collegiate School grounds.
The 15-year-old from Hastings also contributed 114 runs in her three innings as a top order batsman for the Jess Watkin and Kate Baxter co-coached CD side against the other five major association flag fliers.
Fellow Bay left-hand batsman Reese Drager, a Taradale club member, had contributed 76 runs, averaging 38, while Gretell Fairbrother added 75 runs in her only outing at the batting crease while wicketkeeper Aimee Kay offered 55, averaging 27.50.
Fairbrother, who was named in the tourney team with fellow Cornwall club member Apperley, claimed seven wickets at an average of 10 and an economy rate of 4.12. The medium pacer also was named the most improved CD cricketer at the 30-over tourney.
Kay gloved four batsmen was at the end of the sticks to help execute five run-outs.
"We didn't know each other that well at the start but then we had these chats and we're kind of close friends now," says Apperley of the CD outfit that Lottie Fuller, of Nelson, captained.
CD had registered compelling victories — Otago by eight wickets, Auckland by seven before handing Northern Districts a 122-run flogging before overwhelming Wellington by eight wickets and the Christchurch XI by a similar margin.
The two-time champions gave Christchurch Xl a seven-wicket reminder of their supremacy in the final.
CD had skittled Christchurch XI for 87 with three overs to spare.
At one stage in CD's run chase, it seemed as if Apperley (53no from 77 balls) and Drager (25/46) may have been lagging with none for 39 at the 10-over mark as the required run rate crept into the mid-fives.
However, the pair persevered with Fairbrother, eventually, taking an aerial route to seal the match after tying the scores in the 27th over.
During the Central region tourney in Palmerston North earlier in the month, the Sean Davies-coached Bay U15s had unhinged Wairarapa by 109 runs in the final of the unbeaten sides.
In the dead-rubber dress rehearsal a day before, Bay won in a close encounter, managing to chase down Wairarapa's 154/5 with just nine balls left to bowl. Hawke's Bay reached 157/4 after 28.3 overs.
"I guess we were like well together so when we were batting our partnerships were really good and we were supporting each other in bowling and stuff so there's always like that energy to keep us going," says Apperley of the side Charlotte Wakefield, of Cornwall, had skippered.
Bay left-handed allrounder, Flora Devonshire, had claimed the tournament's MVP award after topping the batting, bowling and fielding leadership boards as well as making the tournament dream paper team. Apperley was fourth on the MVP table.
Combine the efforts of the Bay schoolgirls from their 100 per cent record from 12 matches in eight days and you start getting the picture of why the province may start yielding more talent to represent at the CD level.
Apperley's love for the game began when she was attending Parkvale Primary School in Hastings.
"I started playing when I was about 4 or 5 with Milo cricket," says the year 11-bound Napier Girls' High School student.
The sound of leather on willow was still sounding sweet when she had started attending Havelock North Intermediate where the country's No 1 sport was entrenched, thanks to the ground work of the likes of Peter Hensman more than a decade ago.
"There was a girls' team there so it was quite of a new [thing] and we won this school competition to go down to Christchurch," she says of a team that were the CD qualifiers in 2016 for the NZ Post Shield National Tournament.
NGHS doesn't have a first XI team nowadays so Apperley is making the most of her time with the Cornwall club in the quest to become a CD Hinds representative some day to try to carve a nice in the domestic arena for higher honours.
So what will it take for her to go all the way?
"If I just train hard and keep doing what I'm doing and stay focused."
Apperley singles out Craig Ross, the high performance operations manager of Hawke's Bay Cricket, for helping hone her skills with the indoor sessions he conducts pre-season over winter.