After eight victories, one loss, 1825 runs scored and 1549 conceded, 81 wickets taken and 52 lost, the biggest day of the summer has arrived for Wanganui Vet Services Marist on Saturday at Kena Kena Park.
The club, which folded up their Premier 2 side to focus now considerable player resources on running just a 1st XI this campaign, have qualified for their first Bullocks Coastal Challenge Cup final in the competition's fourth season against two-time defending champions Paraparaumu.
Even with certain players having departed back to university in recent weeks, a full squad of 14 have made themselves available for the match, with several of them holding an extra training session this week before captain John McIlraith announces his side tomorrow morning.
After considerable encouragement and promises of helping to pay plane fare on Sunday evening, it is likely that professional Ben Smith, coming off 122 for Air Chathams Wanganui last weekend, will be available for the match after not being selected for Central District's Plunket Shield game, which started today.
This further bolsters the batting stocks as McIlraith, Chris Stewart, Mark Fraser, Dominic Rayner and Zac O'Keefe will likely fill out a top order that has been in excellent form for most of the campaign.
Marist like to prefer a five bowler, five batsmen specialist group in their lineups this summer, getting players to focus on their specific role rather than trying to be allrounders who think about doing everything.
This moves the likes of Nick Harding, Sam Beard, and Angus Dinwiddie – handy with the bat – over onto the bowlers side of the ledger.
The key will handling the added pressure of the occasion, as Paraparaumu have a strong bowling contingent, who time and again have been able to defend low or barely par totals, as Wanganui United painfully discovered in the last three years of playoffs.
And after a balmy second half of the summer with blue skies every Saturday, the Met Service is predicting conditions tomorrow will return to their October status, when two rounds were washed out.
Rain, possibly heavy overnight, easing to a few showers in the morning, with winds changing southerly, is what is expected for the Horowhenua-Kapiti region.
As top qualifier ahead of Marist on run rate, Paraparaumu will get the nod if the match is called off.
Thanks to those October rain outs and a modification of the draw where the Horowhenua-Kapiti teams started the Coastal Challenge a week earlier than the Whanganui and Wairarapa clubs, Paraparaumu have not had to play away from home in this competition since November.
However, it remains to be seen what the mental state of the home side will be after the controversy of a local senior club match with Weraroa last Saturday, which saw police called after a shocking brawl broke out.
NZ Cricket has launched an investigation that focuses on two players from Paraparaumu and three from Weraroa, after a fight alleged to have started with Weraroa's anger at a Paraparaumu player-umpire decision.
The wider Marist squad is
Chris Stewart, Dominic Rayner, Zak O'Keefe, John McIlraith, Ben Smith, Mark Fraser, Craig Thorpe, Thomas Redpath, Nick Harding, Sam Beard, Sam O'Leary, Raponi Tofa, Michael O'Leary, Angus Dinwiddie.