Plunket Shield cricket is almost upon us, so here are a few notes about the best batsmen from last season…
Devon Conway - Wellington Firebirds
7 games, 12 innings, 659 runs @ 82.37avg, 2 x 100, 2 x 50.
The best batsman from last summer, meaning that Devon Conway performed strongly across all three formats. Conway has been part of the Firebirds set up for a couple years but last summer saw him tap into the potential that was evident upon arrival to Aotearoa - carrying a hefty First Class record from South Africa with him - which will lure in more attention as to how to snare his wicket. Whether Conway can back up last summer, or struggle under the microscope will set up a juicy narrative of him as a Blackcaps option.
Greg Hay - Central Districts Stags
8 games, 13inns, 633 runs @ 48.69avg, 2 x 100, 3 x 50.
Matua Hay always finds himself near the top of Plunket Shield runs, even though the Stags have an extremely stacked batting line up. That CD talent has fringe-Blackcaps coming and going, with Hay being the constant at the top of the order and Hay is a classic domestic cricket nerd favourite who doesn't get much attention from more casual cricket fans. Higher honours would come if Hay can jack up another strong summer and either Jeet Raval or Tom Latham are injured in the Test opening slots; Hay is a solid option for a Test or two.
Glenn Phillips - Auckland Aces
6 games, 10inns, 610 runs @ 76.25avg, 1 x 100, 5 x 50.
Fresh off another strong Caribbean Premier League, Phillips will return to Aotearoa and slide straight into Plunket Shield cricket. Having wrote about Phillips specifically a few weeks back, I'm fizzing to see what Phillips can do in the four-day format and whether he can show that he has more to offer that being pigeon-holed into T20 cricket. All your mates will assume that Phillips is only good in white ball cricket, so be sure to hype up any Plunket Shield runs that come in the near future.
Hamish Rutherford - Otago Volts
7 games, 13inns, 535 runs @ 41.15avg, 1 x 100, 3 x 50.
Stuck in a odd wee spot, Hamish Rutherford wiggled his way into a Blackcaps T20I call up recently and that opportunity came after earning selection in a wider Blackcaps pre-World Cup squad. Rutherford worked his way back into contention thanks to strong domestic performances and he was one of the few domestic troopers to play County cricket in England this winter. Expect another solid campaign from Rutherford and it will be up to him to take any Blackcaps opportunities.
Dane Cleaver - Central Districts Stags
8 games, 13inns, 527 runs @ 43.91avg, 1 x 100, 5 x 50.
Both Conway and Phillips can operate as wicket-keeper/batsmen, although Dane Cleaver is the highest-ranked legit wicket-keeper from last summer. Cleaver cruises under the radar with the Stags, partly thanks to the talent in his team and partly thanks to the abundance of wicket-keepers around Aotearoa. Don't sleep on Cleavers four-day run-scoring though as he has a First Class average of 39.68 and has emerged as a steady cog in the Stags machine.
Mitch Renwick - Otago Volts
8 games, 15inns, 499 runs @ 33.26avg, 1 x 100, 1 x 50.
Having moved down from Central Districts a year or two back, Mitch Renwick is part of a rejuvenated Otago Volts squad and will looking to add on to a solid outing last summer. Renwick could play as the Volts wicket-keeper, although the presence of youngster Max Chu could see Renwick stick to batting things this season. Renwick scored his century and half-century in a fabulous run to finish last season with scores of 46, 66 and 131 in his last 3inns; scores which came with Renwick batting #3.
Michael Bracewell - Wellington Firebirds
7 games, 12inns, 475 runs @ 47.50avg, 4 x 50.
Michael Bracewell is someone who has always looked like they could crack a bit of Blackcaps lovin', yet not quite commaded that opportunity and will again be out to showcase his powerful lefty antics. A First Class average of 33.92 reflects that, which in fairness to Bracewell has come through 75 games and anyone averaging over 30 in 70-odd games is fairly solid. Whether or not Bracewell can hit a couple centuries for Wellington, set the tone with his batting and leadership could determine how we view Bracewell moving forward. Either a fringe-Blackcaps prospect, or a domestic battler.
Henry Cooper - Northern Districts Knights
8 games, 15inns, 471 runs @ 36.23avg, 4 x 50.
Another batsman for the domestic nerds to appreciate and as I don't think Henry Cooper will be an unknown quantity for much longer, enjoy this emerging period. Cooper is a young opener for the Knights, who has primarily stuck to Plunket Shield cricket and did pump out a fair bit of Ford Trophy stuff last summer. With a career FC average of 35.84, Cooper has quietly gone about his business without much fuss and if he can start this season with consistent runs, many more folks will know all about him.
Stephen Murdoch - Canterbury
5 games, 9inns, 443 runs @ 73.83avg, 1 x 100, 4 x 50.
Andrew Ellis is Canterbury's leader, while Stephen Murdoch is Canterbury's batting rock. Leaving Wellington to join Canterbury a few years ago, Murdoch finished last season as the only batsman to score 400+ runs in five or fewer games. The 36-year-old hit scores of 56, 47, 60, 62*, 130* and 11* in his last three games of the Plunket Shield last season and such experience will be crucial for Canterbury this time around. The weird thing is that if Murdoch is again Canterbury's best batsmen, that means that younger lads haven't quite stepped up and it'll be interesting to see if anyone from that younger group can surpass Murdoch ... or if Murdoch simply adds to his 10,155 FC runs.
Joe Carter - Northern Districts Knights
6 games, 10inns, 423 runs @ 42.30avg, 1 x 100, 3 x 50.
When I look through Joe Carter's stuff from last summer, I get a rather scattered vibe as he dabbled in all formats and chimed in with runs when given a crack. Carter tended to be the one moving through the batting line up to make room for others and while he exploded with sixes in a Ford Trophy game, that didn't translate into Super Smash success for example. What Carter did do, was pass 50 in four of his six Plunket Shield games and the key for Carter in the coming weeks will be to settle into the Knights line up and pounce on consistent opportunities. With a couple of Knights departures, Carter will be eager to join Cooper as key Knights batsmen to watch out for.
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