The Central Districts Stags are reeling from a double blow following a freakish training session that has robbed them of key bowler Blair Tickner and middle-order batsman Joshua Clarkson for the domestic Twenty20 elimination final in Auckland tomorrow.
"Obviously you can't do anything about them because they were freak accidents but Ticks pretty much tripped up over himself and Clarkey's just done his groin bowling," Stags captain Tom Bruce said today before the game against the Auckland Aces at Eden Park outer oval from 4.10pm tomorrow in the televised Burger King Super Smash semifinal.
CD physiotherapist Nate Manu had whistled Tickner to a health centre in Napier about 4pm yesterday after the seamer had twisted his ankle while playing in a mini-soccer match as a warm-up drill before the net session at Nelson Park, Napier.
The 25-year-old right-arm medium/fast bowler said he was still sore but felt he would recover, albeit not in time for the T20 playoffs.
"They thought of the worst at the start but I didn't break my ankle," said Tickner of the mishap as he ran to fetch the ball but heard a cracking noise as he tripped. "I just have ligament damage to my left ankle."
He hoped CD would make the final on Sunday. Veteran Kieran Noema-Barnett, who made a century for CD A against Auckland A this week, comes in for Clarkson while Bevan Small, also on CD A duties, is Tickner's back up.
Tickner, who made his Black Caps debut in the third and final match of the ANZ Twenty20 international series against India with a wicket in Hamilton last Sunday, was always going to be a pivotal part of the CD attack. The winners will face leaders and defending champions Northern Districts Knights at Seddon Park on Sunday.
The Ruahine Motors Central Hawke's Bay CC premier club cricketer, who hits the deck with venom in using his height and mixes it up to tickle the unsuspecting batsmen in the ribs from an uncomfortable length, didn't play in the eight-wicket loss to the Aces last Friday for a home-venue advantage to tomorrow's playoff because of Black Caps duties.
Neither did Black Caps allrounder Doug Bracewell.
Tickner was gungho about taking that spring in his step from the New Zealand men's squad environment back to the Stags' fold.
He's disappointed to have helped CD throughout the campaign and not see them through the business end.
Bruce said Clarkson had missed a fair chunk of the domestic season through injury but CD had the depth to see through the Plunket Shield campaign as well as defending champions.
Worryingly only Black Caps opener George Worker (52 runs) fired in the top order before Joshua Clarkson, scoring 42 at No 6, save some blushes for a pedestrian 174-9 on a tennis-ball wicket.
Auckland had comfortably eclipsed their target with 176-2 and still had 17 balls in the bank. Fast bowler Adam Milne, returning from an injury layoff just before Christmas, claimed both the scalps.
Worker echoed the sentiments of Bruce in stressing that "it isn't a train wreck", considering the lucky dip nature of the most abbreviated format of white-ball cricket in the domestic arena so when they reload tomorrow CD have just as good an opportunity to make amends as the hosts have of retaining their status.
"It wasn't great performance from us but it certainly wasn't a train smash so we spoke about it and there were probably a few key areas we didn't nail," he says.
The 29-year-old left-hand batsman from Manawatu believes the Heinrich Malan-coached Stags have more clarity on what the Aces will bring back to the park.
"We'll just need to be a little bit smarter in our decision making and stick to what's worked out for us this season."
Worker says there's a modicum of familiarity about the way Auckland's bowling attack operates although it's more about what the Stags are going to do rather than dwell on the opposition tactics.
"Twenty20 is about playing with freedom so that's what we're all thinking about leading into [tomorrow]."
Auckland tweakers Roneel Hira (3-22) and Will Somerville (2-30) were the chief destroyers and pack international experience between them. In fact, Hira is in the Aces' equation, having assumed the mantle from another former Black Cap Tarun Nethula, who has moved to the Knights to back up Ish Sodhi and Mitchell Santner as they find themselves in and out of the revolving door of the New Zealand selection panel.
"He's a smart Twenty20 bowler and they rely on him a little bit," he says of Hira's dexterity but stresses CD batsmen are equally adept at playing spinners to find the boundaries.
Worker says the nature of the T20 beast often means players can make the right decisions but in a haste to execute they tend to come up shy sometimes.
"It's part of Twenty20 cricket [because] you're always playing a high-risk game at a park where you're trying to score 220 runs from 20 overs so you're going to have some poor executions when you're trying to clear the ropes."
Those "smarts" also apply to the Stags bowlers.
"Our confidence won't be damaged because the boys are all right and they're full of confidence because we have Dougie back so it's a nice bonus for us," he says.
Worker doesn't think winning the toss will have much bearing on the result tomorrow on a strip that offers high returns.
Tom Bruce (c, Taranaki), Doug Bracewell (HB), Dane Cleaver (wk, Manawatū), Dean Foxcroft (HB), Adam Milne (Manawatū), Kieran Noema-Barnett (HB), Ajaz Patel (HB), Seth Rance (Wairarapa), Bevan Small (Manawatū), Ben Wheeler (Marlborough), George Worker (Manawatū), William Young (Taranaki).
Coach: Heinrich Malan.