A growing contingent of Black Caps is behind a continued focus on developing the next generation of Central Districts Stags, said CD Cricket Association CEO Pete de Wet as the first round of professional domestic contracts was offered today.
No fewer than seven Stags players represented their country in the 2017-18 season - Ross Taylor, Adam Milne, George Worker (all centrally contracted by NZC last summer), Seth Rance, Tom Bruce, Ben Wheeler and Doug Bracewell.
Seven Stags were also called up for NZ A and/or NZ XI selections (Rance, Bracewell, Bruce, captain William Young, Ajaz Patel and Worker - who teammate Greg Hay replaced after an injury).
With the likes of off-spinner Patel, New Zealand's leading first-class wicket-taker for three consecutive seasons, and young paceman Blair Tickner pressing hard for higher honours with consistent and impressive domestic results, de Wet said it would be remiss of the organisation not to continue to prepare for the future.
Fifteen of 16 available 2018-19 contracts on offer were announced yesterday and de Wet said it was exciting to offer two competitive young allrounders, Willem Ludick, 21, and Christian Leopard, 20, professional contracts for the first time.
Along with Josh Clarkson, 21, the pair form an exciting trio of up-and-comers who have all represented their country at ICC Under-19 World Cup level (Nelson-based Ludick for South Africa).
Big-hitting Clarkson, who burst on to the scene in all three formats as a teenager three seasons ago, took another stride forward last season with a well-constructed maiden List A century against the Auckland Aces, while allrounder Ludick fought his way into the squad via a string of outstanding performances for CD A, then made a promising start to his first-class career in a high pressure, top-of-the-table Plunket Shield battle with the Wellington Firebirds at the Basin Reserve.
Leopard, of Napier, first stepped into the Stags' squad in November 2016, a few weeks after his 19th birthday, to make his Plunket Shield debut.
The dynamic youngster returned this summer to make white-ball debuts in both formats, impressing with a maiden T20 half century (52 off 22 balls) against the Otago Volts in just his fourth appearance and showing composure with both bat and ball in a tense one-day Ford Trophy thriller against Canterbury on List A debut.
"We have been very open over the past few years that we look first to foster the talent from within our own region before looking elsewhere," said CD high performance manager Lance Hamilton.
"That philosophy has been very successful for us in developing a strong team culture and exciting crop of players pulling on the Stags jersey - and Black Caps jersey - over the past few seasons," Hamilton said.
"It's important that we now keep planning ahead by giving our emerging talent opportunities to step up and learn from the established players at this level.
"With this core group we are confident we will retain the balance, strength and depth in our squad that we will need going forward and, importantly, across all formats," he said.
De Wet paid tribute to Jesse Ryder who has not been offered a contract for the coming season, making way for emerging talent, with one further contracted player yet to be confirmed.
"Jesse began his professional career for us way back in 2002-03 when he was a promising youngster himself at just 18. Later, after nine seasons representing the Wellington Firebirds and two season with the Otago Volts, we were delighted when his career came full circle in 2015-16 when we welcomed Jesse back to our squad as a seasoned player."
Ryder has scored 25 first-class centuries and 11 List A ones.
"Jesse has been a valuable member of our squad for the past few summers and he started strongly for us last season. Notably he achieved a century in each innings of a first-class match for the second time in his career; and later made a solid contribution to our Ford Trophy campaign," de Wet said. "It was a very difficult decision not to offer Jesse a new contract as we have appreciated his contribution to the team for the past three summers.
"However, ultimately we have considered the balance of our squad and have elected to take a long-range view, planning for the continued success of the Central Stags."
Major associations are able to offer up to 15 spots in the first round of the annual contracting process. This is followed by a 10-day transfer window before the 16th and final contracted player is named, and the full list of contracted players is confirmed.
■ 2018-19 first-round domestic contracts offered: Doug Bracewell (HB), Tom Bruce (Taranaki), Joshua Clarkson (Nelson), Dane Cleaver (Manawatu), Greg Hay (Nelson), Christian Leopard (HB), Willem Ludick (Nelson), Ryan McCone (Horowhenua-Kapiti), Ajaz Patel (HB), Seth Rance (Wairarapa), Bevan Small (Manawatu), Ben Smith (Whanganui), Blair Tickner (HB), Ben Wheeler (Marlborough), William Young (Taranaki).