The sight of Rob Nicol emptying out drinks bottles on the fringes of the McLean Park outfield was enough to make anyone do a double take in Napier yesterday.

It wouldn't have mattered much if it was some rookie or injured player but Nicol is the regular captain and batsman at first drop for the hapless Otago Volts who can't seem to buy a trick in any format this summer.

Clad in a fluorescent vest to denote his 12th man status, the 34-year-old cut a forlorn figure as he parked his lithe torso in a seat in front of the visitors' changing room during the past four days of the round six, first-class Plunket Shield match against the rampant Central Districts Stags.

Opening batsman Brad Wilson said he had never been in a position where he had to assume the mantle of captaincy while the incumbent wore the fluorescent vest for four days in the six-wicket loss.


"I think we made the right call. We had to drop a batter and he was probably the one who needed to get out," said Wilson, a former Northern Districts Knights cricketer, of the former Black Caps and Auckland Aces batsman.

"He sort of put his hand up. It's not something that comes up every day but it's a good thing and I think the right call was made to play a spinner so, yeah, it's just one of those things."

Nicol, who played 22 ODIs, 21 T20Is and two tests for New Zealand between 2010 and 2013, debuted for Auckland in the 2001-02 season and also had a stint with the Canterbury Kings.

So how were the Otago fans supposed to construe Nicol's gesture after the six-wicket loss here?

"No one has the right to skipper a team. You still have to have the currency in terms of runs or wickets if that's your trade and I haven't," he explained as Otago retained their perch on the fifth rung of shield table after the Kings slumped as well.

Looking at the balance of his returns, Nicol felt Shawn Hicks deserved his break. Hicks was run out on seven runs in the first innings here on Thursday and then top scored with 49 runs on Saturday in the second dig although Wilson said he was unlucky to be run out again off a deflection of CD bowler Adam Milne's hand.

"Shawn Hicks has brought some runs and consistency around his fixture and we needed him to carry that on, looking forward to the future of Otago."

Hicks, 21, a traditionally middle-lower order batsman and right-arm medium-fast bowler, has played at New Zealand selection and under-19 level.

Otago captain Rob Nicol says the Volts players are constantly challenging each other to rectify problems to find winning ways. Photo/Photosport
Otago captain Rob Nicol says the Volts players are constantly challenging each other to rectify problems to find winning ways. Photo/Photosport

On the flip side, he said Mark Craig had bowled "reasonably well" with his right-arm offbreaks in the last round.

"With the balance of the side, we were umming and aahing about it and didn't feel comfortable going in with a spinner.

"Personally, if it was up to me and I was sitting there in the second innings and they would have said, 'Geez, we need a spinner and I was playing', so it just didn't sit right with us to go down that route."

The righthander, who can bowl right-arm offbreaks, said he headed down to Dunedin because he wanted a challenge.

"Things didn't work out in Auckland so I was gravitating towards the Otago set up to give it a whirl," said Nicol who was captain of the Aces for the three previous summers.

Otago coach Rob Walter, in signing the pair, had considered them crucial to reviving the Volts' fortunes after they finish last in all three formats last season.

Walter saw Nicol as a veteran the young talent in his squad could look up to.

The Volts were out of the playoffs in the seventh round of the one-day Ford Trophy campaign in Invercargill a fortnight ago.

At the crux of the matter, Nicol felt, was Otago's inability to make a switch between white ball and red-ball formats.

"We've just lacked urgency around critical situations. We haven't read it right at any point in time so if you do that it'll cost you in first-class cricket."

Rob Nicol says there's nothing he enjoys more than helping out his teammates. Photo/Photosport
Rob Nicol says there's nothing he enjoys more than helping out his teammates. Photo/Photosport

Nicol said all it took was a bad hour or so in first-class cricket for the outcome to become second class.

He felt they had had a couple of 50-run partnerships at McLean Park last Thursday, batting first, but had a batsman gone on to make a ton the game would have had a different look about it, especially after they had skittled CD for 188.

"That's just something we've done constantly and it's not through any lack of effort from the guys but just more a case of we're not reading the situation right.

"We're not potentially asking ourselves what the team needs at this point in time so, basically, that's where we're going wrong," said Nicol who switched to Otago last winter with Hicks.

Asked what he could bring to the Volts' equation, Nicol felt he needed to find the enjoyment factor again and that went hand-in-hand with eking out wins.

"I enjoy the process and I would have left the trade if I didn't but it gets tough when you're sitting [at the bottom] of all the competitions and we've won just five games.

"You can perform poorly as an individual but if you're winning you can sleep easy."

Nicol said skippers tended to go through a reflection process to review their tactical decisions and whether they were correct.

"Again, was the decision to leave myself out the right one? I don't know but you start trying numerous things to find that sort of space where you start getting some consistency around those processes and that currency of winning."

He and Walter had had numerous brainstorming sessions around those processes throughout the season.

"We all, wholeheartedly, want Otago to do way better and challenge for those trophies because at the end of the day that's what our big bosses want, you know, through our boards and CEO and we're just not doing that."

Nicol said the team members were constantly challenging each other, through constant discussions, to rectify the problems.

He was hoping that if he was injected back into the line up he would resume captaining the side.

"In the context of that, I probably would live vicariously through other people now to see if I was going well or not.

"That's the part of the process that I probably love most — to help people and try to learn off other people but also try to implement some knowledge across to other people and try to get them to mitigate the mistakes I have made and fix them earlier."

Nicol said he made more headway when running those processes with the younger brigade in the squad such as Hicks.

"I don't think anyone survives now in a dictatorship in sport or in anything. You have to run a ship and ask people what's going on."

He said Otago had gone through a phase where just about every player had been left out, regardless of their seniority or experience.

"We've left out James [Jimmy] Neesham, we've left out Neil Broom and Neil Wagner. These guys are big names, you know, so we're just trying to find our way and we're battling a little bit," he said of the former and current Black Caps.