What a difference four months can make in Furlong Cup cricket for Air Chathams Wanganui.

If you broke it down purely on numbers, there would be some concern for the final representative game of the season against Wairarapa at Victoria Park, which has been scheduled later in the summer than previous seasons.

As a result, the old chestnut of other commitments and requirements of prestige schoolboy cricket has taken away nearly half of the successful team that upended Taranaki by first innings points on their own track three weeks ago.

But instead, there is an undercurrent of optimism given all of the replacements are the form players of the Coastal Challenge Cup, including a number of first line players who back in November signaled their unavailablity due to an acriminous relationship with then player-coach Charlie Hartley.

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Hartley's departure for family reasons in January saw respected Property Brokers United player Tom Lance given the role of team selector.

Through Lance and the return of veteran Dominic Rayner, who stood apart from much of the drama after arriving back later from his North American holiday, it would appear through discussion and encouragement that the fires on several bridges have been doused.

Having guided their team to the Coastal Challenge Cup final, Wanganui Vet Services Marist's Mark Fraser and Chris Stewart have only played club cricket all season and are among the competition's form batsmen – Fraser especially, having stroked a century and three 50's at a strike rate of over 100.

Also back is double Wanganui rugby-cricket rep Nick Harding, joined by clubmate Zak O'Keefe for this one off match in an acknowledgement of his solid batting form since January, while professional Ben Smith recovered from injury to retake his place in a side which now has seven Marist players.

The noteworthy newcomer is Lance elevating young spinner Dylan Martin, who has for the past two seasons been one of the most consistent trundlers for United amongst their spinners group – consistently picking up 2-3 wickets for only 30-odd from his ten over spells – yet seemingly flying under the radar when representative teams were chosen.

Dylan Martin comes in as the new spinner.
Dylan Martin comes in as the new spinner.

Accurate spin and tight bowling will be crucial on the Victoria Park's No1 pitch this weekend.

It has received another seven days of baking sun since it yielded 617 runs in 97 overs last Saturday, when Marist's top order calmly chased down 307 to beat Levin Old Boys by seven wickets.

O'Keefe was the only bowler who didn't get hammered, conceeding just 31 runs from his ten overs, while Smith showed his versatility with 6-52.

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"I think it's the same track as Marist's game last week," said manager Andrew Lock.

"They seem to be the team with the form at the moment.

"We bat all the way down."

Form is sorely needed given Wanganui were going to miss Chris Sharrock, overseas on badminton commitments, while pace bowler Connor O'Leary has departed for Europe and pace bowler Ross Kinnerley, who took 6-for in Taranaki's collapse, has the bugbear of Cricket Wanganui's existence – a wedding commitment.

"Well, we all get one, do we?" Lock laughed.

"It's always difficult when there are six unavailable from the previous winning side."

The veterans coming in has also led to a big spike in the average age of the team given all their Whanganui Collegiate players – Sam Sheriff, Hadleigh O'Leary, Joel Clark and wider-squad member Kashish Nauhria – are required for the two-day Traditionals fixture against CS Hutt International Boys' School, which starts on Sunday.

Allrounder Akash Gill has resumed bowling after his shoulder injury, as he and Smith got some quality buildup to this game when the latter captained Central Districts A in their drawn three-day match with Auckland A on another batsmen's wicket at Lloyd Elsmore Park this week.

Smith (35) and Gill (52) were among the runs in CD A's 449-9 declared, while Gill took 1-51 as Auckland batted through for 515-9.

Coming off his first two-day victory against Taranaki, Dominic Lock will retain the captaincy.

Logic dictates that winning the toss and batting first will be paramount on Saturday although Wanganui has struggled with their first innings all Furlong Cup, only exceeding 200 runs once.

However, they did not have a batting lineup like they do now either, while three of the previous four games were played away from home.

What started as a season of considerable promise, such as they enjoyed last year, has gone downhill somewhat for Wairarapa.

After comfortably beating Horowhenua-Kapiti in Masterton on first innings in November, their December game with Taranaki was washed out without a ball bowled, and after losing on first innings at home to Manawatu on January 12, they were hammered by an innings and 55 runs away to Hawke's Bay three weeks ago.

Andrew Lock said the visitors also appear to be struggling for numbers.

"I talked to the guy over there and he wasn't sure [who will play] on Thursday.

"We just play with what's going in front of us."

The Wanganui team is
Dominic Lock (c), Akash Gill, Dominic Rayner, Matthew Simes, John McIlraith, Ben Smith, Zak O'Keefe, Mark Fraser, Nick Harding, Chris Stewart, Dylan Martin, Akhil Kumar.


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It is understood, though not official, that Mark Fraser's return to the Air Chathams Wanganui lineup on Saturday could see him click over a significant personal milestone.

Fraser, on the honours board at Victoria Park a number of times for Furlong and Chapple Cup centuries, could well be playing his 100th game for Wanganui.

The uncertainty comes from the fact Cricket Wanganui does not keep a significant track of such records, lacking an astute historian the likes of which JB Phillips has been for the Wanganui Rugby Football Union, where statistics tracking first class caps for the 50 and 100-game representatives are meticulously recorded.

Friend and team mate Dominic Rayner had approached the Whanganui Chronicle before the start of the season to find the best way to get information on both himself and Fraser's Wanganui careers, which started back in the late 1990's.

"We should find someone to go through the newspapers and CriqHQ," said Wanganui manager Andrew Lock.

Another factor in the uncertainty is whether or not it is only the two-day Furlong Cup/Hawke Cup matches which count for such caps, given Fraser and other Wanganui players can also play up to three Chapple Cup 50-over games per season.

"All those Wanganui games at Chapple, that represent Wanganui at the highest format, should be included as well," said Lock.

"We'd have a lot more players close to that milestone, and especially over 50 games."