If you want to know how cruel sport can be then look no farther then the hapless Central Districts Stags cricket team.

You almost feel guilty using the domestic men's cricketers as an example because they have stamped their supremacy in all three formats of competition this summer.

"So what's the problem then?" you may well ask.

The Heinrich Malan-coached Stags have nothing to show for in the trophy cabinet at the headquarters of the major association offices here.


CD this season missed out on the Burger King Super Smash Twenty20 grand final as well as the one-day Ford Trophy decider.

But it need not be that way because captain William Young and his troops have a glorious opportunity to plant the majestic Plunket Shield on their mantelpiece if they beat the Northern Districts Knights in the final round of the first-class competition starting at Nelson Park, Napier, from Monday.

Young says for the Stags to claim the top rung of the shield table in the penultimate round at McLean Park, Napier, by four points this week means an outright victory next week will give them a huge advantage based on the way the bonus-points system is set up.

"We've just got to clear one last hurdle in ND so you never know this time next week we could be lifting the Plunket Shield," says the 25-year-old Taranaki rep who is based in Napier.

Traditionally the Stags finish their campaign here with an end-of-season prizegiving so the symbol of red-ball supremacy will go down really well at the dinner with their wives, partners and girlfriends.

Young says CD have played consistently this summer compared to previous seasons.

"To win the Plunket Shield would be a wonderful touch to what has been a very successful Stags season."

Nevertheless, just don't say the word "final" because that is where they have come unstuck in the white-ball campaign.


"In a way, I suppose, [it is a final] but the only thing is if we lose to ND then they aren't going to win the shield," says the former New Zealand age-group captain.

But the intensity of finality in the round 10 game from Monday isn't lost on the season's bridesmaids.

"I think we have to take that out of our mind and our equation and go with the old cliche of 'It's just another game' but this is an added incentive for playing for four more days of positive and clinical cricket."

The McLean Park wicket has been kind to the green machine for a few summers but the Hurricanes-Sharks Super Rugby match there next Friday night means the four-dayer had to be shifted across to the road to the adjacent Nelson Park.

"We've played at Nelson Park probably just once this summer so it'll have a fresher wicket than McLean Park but, hopefully, if it's green on day one we should have the seamers to come out and do a good job to take some wickets.

"If it goes the other way and it looks a little drier then the likes of Ajaz [Patel] will come into the game a little later on days 3 and 4," he says of the competition's leading wicket taker who is on track to claim a three peat if he maintains his prowess.

ND have lost the services of Black Caps leg spinner Ish Sodhi to the second test against England, thus robbing fans of a tweaking showdown here.

"He's a great man and a great bowler so we're all very happy for him to be called up to the Black Caps because he thoroughly deserves it."

While it's a reassuring knowing the Stags batsmen won't have to face the leggie he says it would have been nice to have a chance to face him to add some zest.

"It will be very interesting to see how someone like Ish bowls and how he goes in the exact same wicket that Jazz will bowl on. "However, we'll have to wait because I'm sure there'll be some showdowns in the future after this round."

The same 12 will play from the previous round with Willem Ludick likely to carry the drinks again. The notable omission is No 3 batsman Jesse Ryder whose season started 11 runs shy of four consecutive tons but his form has since dipped.

Young says it's up to the batsmen to do their thing because the bowlers have enough spread to cover variations.

"We have a solid top three of Hay, Worker and Smudge. In the middle order there's myself, [Tom] Bruce and Cleaver. If you look at the runs chart for the season you'll find we've all been consistent performers this season so nothing changes going into the final game.

"We'll look to occupy the crease and get the ND bowlers tired and then cash in later on."

Wicketkeeper Dane Cleaver, after returning from a back injury, took seven catches behind the sticks and a stumping to boot.

"Having Dane back with the gloves on is really nice because he's a good keeper. He misses very few chances but in the [one-day Ford Trophy final his back flared up so that's why Ben Smith is in the playing XI."

Young says Smith was a great back up for Cleaver as well as an adept top-order batsman.

The Knights at a gutsy outfit with international experience and first-class cricketers who just won't roll over.

"It'll be a real challenge but it's one we'll certainly be up for and coming back at them with the same amount of guts and determination and will to win," he says.


For rd 10 and the final round of the first-class, four-day Plunket Shield match between the central Districts Stags and the Northern Districts Knights at Nelson Park, Napier, from 10am on Monday:

CD STAGS: Greg Hay, George Worker, Ben Smith, William Young (c), Tom Bruce, Dane Cleaver (wk), Adam Milne, Blair Tickner, Doug Bracewell, Ajaz Patel, Seth Rance and Willem Ludick.
Coach: Heinrich Malan.

ND KNIGHTS: Henry Cooper, Daniel Flynn (c), Corey Anderson, Anton Devcich, Tim Seifert (wk), Daryl Mitchell, Bharat Popli, Nick Kelly, Scott Kuggeleijn, James Baker, Zak Gibson, Brent Arnel.
Coach: Graeme Aldridge.