Shuffle a pack of cards no matter how you wish, but once they have been dealt out on the table nothing excites the players more than receiving the jokers.

Sport teams are no different. Just ask the Central Districts Stags when it comes to the roles Seth Rance plays for the table-topping domestic men's cricket team who are on the cusp of defending the Plunket Shield in Hamilton tomorrow.

No doubt, just as some formats of the game omit the jokers entirely, some codes have zero tolerance for the Seth Rances of the world because they see them as a distraction.

Jokers are often used as informal substitutes for lost or damaged cards in a deck when players jot down the missing card's rank and suit on the joker.

Advertisement

Does the Wairarapa swing bowler see himself as that joker — the one who is sporting an expansive smile no matter how long a day it has been?

"I've always been a big believer of enjoying the game no matter what's happening on the field," says the 31-year-old Black Caps seamer before they play Northern Districts Knights in the final round of the four-day competition at Seddon Park.

"If you can come off with a smile on your face, then it shows what you've done for the team you're putting your heart into it.

"I thoroughly love being able to play cricket, which is my job and to go out there to play for my [district] makes me proud every time I go out there."

Rance, who must see that as an attribute in his job as the Greytown Fire Brigade station officer, does his utmost to ensure the morale of the collective is high for the Heinrich Malan-mentored side, a portfolio he relishes.

That effervescent energy, he likes to think, rubs off on everyone and adds value to what is already a vibrant culture in the changing room on the back of several robust summers.

Rance says the 15-point buffer is ideal and something that hasn't happened by chance.

"We'll have to have an extremely poor game and Canterbury will have to play extremely well for us to lose, so we're a fantastic squad," says the Stags' highest wicket taker in the red-ball format, although he's quick to emphasise CD are adopting a mindset of becoming the architects of their own success rather than relying on another outcome.

"We're definitely going up there to win," he says of the threat of rain tomorrow and Wednesday, although the two days in between seem safe.

Chalking up five points or the Canterbury Kings losing to the Wellington Firebirds at the Basin Reserve over that duration will see the Greg Hay-captained Stags agitate the champagne out of the bottle next week.

"They [Kings] have to play out of their skins against a Wellington team who will be farewelling their coach, Bruce Edgar, so the Firebirds will be up for it on their home ground with their coach retiring," says Rance, although they have a forecast of some rain every day, bar Tuesday.

However, he says the Cantabrians have the mental fortitude to prevail, mindful the Kings are the only side to burst their bubble this summer in ending a 21-match winning streak two rounds ago.

Rance factors in the Stags were suffering from a Burger King Super Smash hangover, after beating ND in the Twenty20 final at Seddon Park, and were late in adapting to the first-class format in the two-day turnaround time.

Just as vital is the recognition that the Knights will be smarting after coming second best again, albeit by a wicket at McLean Park in the penultimate shield round this week.

"They've got international players throughout their side, including the spin twins in [Ish] Sodhi and [Mitchell] Santner as well as [Scott] Kuggeleijn, who has played for the Black Caps this year as a fast bowler," he says. "Then there's Tim Seifert and Daryl Mitchell who are very good batsmen so they're a very good side who have pushed us right to the limit."

Nevertheless, Rance says to close a tight game, akin to the previous round, requires quality so that is an endorsement of the Stags' class despite another strong challenge from tomorrow.

He lauds McLean Park curator Phil Stoyanoff and his working bee for creating a result wicket that also offered traction to all facets of play from seam to spin bowling and demanded attention to batting.

CD medium pacer Ryan McCone's left-arm variations have added immense value to the Stags' quest to bowl out oppositions twice this summer. Photo/Photosport
CD medium pacer Ryan McCone's left-arm variations have added immense value to the Stags' quest to bowl out oppositions twice this summer. Photo/Photosport

Even CD medium pacer Ryan McCone became the bolt from the blue and now sits on 23 first-class scalps for the season, one below Rance.

"Most of us have played international cricket so for Ryan to step up when you need him to means he bowled fantastically well to claim five wickets on a relatively flat track so he offers us something with his left-arm variations and it's a bonus for us," he says of the change merchant who can swing the ball and possesses a mature attitude to his role.

Rance says CD are expecting the prime real estate strip at Seddon Park to turn so, consequently, You Travel Taradale CC allrounder Dean Foxcroft becomes a spin option.

The Stags believe the block is spent and should offer some reverse swing, which their attack is adept at, especially McCone and Black Caps newbie Blair Tickner.

At a personal level, Rance would have loved to have added to his tally of two ODIs and five T20 internationals for his country this summer.

"I went to Dubai with the team and played one game so I think I did reasonably well," he says of the tour last November where he got 0-21 in his four allotted overs. "I was the pick of the bowlers against the No 1 team, Pakistan, in the world at the time but, unfortunately, I haven't had the number of opportunities."

While it's been frustrating, Rance says it's pleasing to see so many CD players tasting international cricket.

The Stags also will be wanting to send off Malan on a high note amid as the South African's contract expires.

"It's his last game with us so we're actually trying to get him in the nets because he claims to be quite a good batsman," says a grinning Rance who deserves a stint in the New Zealand coaching stable, after missing out to incumbent Gary Stead last year although he has been helping out the Black Caps on an ad hoc basis.

"We certainly want to send him off with another trophy with the Stags because he's very well regarded."

Ditto William Young, who makes his Black Caps debut in the third test starting at Hagley Oval, Christchurch, after captain Kane Williamson failed to recover from a left pectoral muscle injury. Veteran seamer Tim Southee will ebcome the 30th skipper.

"It's certainly been a long time coming and he [Young] deserves [selection]," says Rance as Ben Smith is likely to replace him. "If he can get out there and, hopefully, the weather plays ball he can get a few runs under his belt and push for selection later on in the year when they travel to Sri Lanka."

For the record, the Stags enjoy a lively card game of 500 when weather dictates terms so they'll have a few packs within reach tomorrow.

Stags vice-captain Seth Rance (left) with coach Heinrich Malan and T20 captain Tom Bruce with the Super Smash Trophy but they will want to defend Plunket Shield too. Photo/Photosport
Stags vice-captain Seth Rance (left) with coach Heinrich Malan and T20 captain Tom Bruce with the Super Smash Trophy but they will want to defend Plunket Shield too. Photo/Photosport

BOTH TEAMS

CD STAGS: Greg Hay (c), Doug Bracewell, Tom Bruce, Dane Cleaver (wk), Dean Foxcroft, Kieran Noema-Barnett, Ryan McCone, Ajaz Patel, Seth Rance, Ben Smith, Blair Tickner, Ben Wheeler, George Worker.
Coach: Heinrich Malan. Ast coach: Aldin Smith.

ND KNIGHTS: Daniel Flynn (c), James Baker, Dean Brownlie, Joe Carter, Henry Cooper, Zak Gibson, Brett Hampton, Scott Kuggeleijn, Daryl Mitchell, Bharat Popli, Mitchell Santner, Tim Seifert (wk), Ish Sodhi.
Coach: John Bracewell. Ast coaches: Matt Horne, Graeme Aldridge.

MILESTONE METER

Doug Bracewell: Requires one more wicket to reach 300 first-class overall career scalps.

Blair Tickner: Four more wickets will see him reach 100 first-class career scalps (85 for Stags, 11 for NZ teams).

Ajaz Patel: Two more batsmen to reach 200 first-class wickets for the CD Stags alone (13 other first-class scalps for NZ teams).

Greg Hay: Needs 30 runs to tally first-class 5000 first-class for CD alone (98 runs for NZ A previously, 5000 overall made during his first-half century against Northern Districts Knights in Napier last weekend).