Talent spotters will again be in action as the annual Cricket Express Whanganui Festival of Cricket tees off on Friday at a new venue.
The festival will showcase the sport on the Whanganui Collegiate School grass pitches in Grey St this year, beginning with the Under-18 girls tournament running from Friday afternoon until Monday, while the main event, the national Under-15 girls competition, runs from Tuesday through to Friday next week.
Since its inception, the visiting teams have been billeted at the Whanganui Girls College hostel and games have been played at Victoria Park, but this year organiser Dilan Raj said the event was being kept all at one venue.
"We have brokered a deal for the visiting teams to stay and play at Collegiate to make things easier," Raj said.
The U18 tournament has traditionally been used as a development tournament to spot emerging talent for future Central Districts teams with the competition usually confined to CD sides. This year, however, Wellington has been included to try and topple defending champions Wairarapa.
Teams from Hawkes Bay, Manawatu, Taranaki and a combined Horowhenua-Kapiti/Whanganui side will compete this season.
Raj, who moved from Cricket Wanganui late last year to take up a position with Cricket Manawatu, has maintained his role as Festival of Cricket organiser for now, has always rated the U15 tournament as the main event.
"This is a national competition featuring representative sides from each of the country's six cricketing zones. We have teams from Northern Districts, Auckland, Central Districts, Wellington, Christchurch and Otago with Auckland the defending championships," Raj said.
"This tournament has been a nursery for future White Ferns and first class players and we traditionally have some of this country's best female players arrive through the week at some stage to mentor the younger ones.
"The U15 tournament has produced quite a few White Ferns over the years including Hannah Rowe, Amelia Kerr, Lauren Down and our very own Jess Watkin. We are lucky to have Jess back this year as coach of the Central Districts side."
Watkin has been in white hot form in recent times as co-captain for the Central Hinds in the Dream 11 Super Smash competition. Just last week Watkin led by example and help the Hinds take the scalp of the previous unbeaten Auckland Hearts.
"I have been working closely with the Hinds of late as part of my role with Cricket Manawatu and they have been in great form, especially Jess," Raj said.