In previewing this season's Plunket Shield, there were a bunch of cricketers who sat in the 'these blokes intrigue me' bucket for the opening few rounds. This was because they all offered something interesting in the past 12 months and how they started the 2019/20 Plunket Shield campaign was going to either reinforce or shut down a few narratives for the time being.
The back-story, or what these lads had done previous is important as they have already earned stripes. Rachin Ravindra blasted in Aotearoa 'A' cricket last year, Devon Conway finished as the best overall batsman last summer, Tom Blundell's wiggled his way to the numero rua spot wicket-keeper/batsman spot behind BJ Watling in the Blackcaps Test group, Tim Seifert moved into the Blackcaps frame after an excellent 2017/18 Plunket Shield and Glenn Phillips was great in last season's Plunket Shield before another strong Caribbean Premier League. All these lads went 50+, in the opening round of Plunket Shield and have laid hefty foundations for the summer.
Phillips (51) and Martin Guptill (69) were the only Auckland Aces batsmen to pass the fiddy-run mark in their first innings vs Central Districts Stags. As of Wednesday morning, the Stags are batting in their first innings on 144/8 chasing 210; Brad Schmulian's not-out on 66. I covered Phillips a fair bit prior to the season starting, so no need to regurgitate all of that and I'll keep it simple for youz...
First Class average: 41.73.
2018/19 Plunket Shield average: 76.25.
2019 Caribbean Premier League: 37.40avg @ 144.96sr.
Now Phillips has his first 50+ score in his first crack of the summer. This feels ominous, although that's not any different to the other blokes mentioned as well and the general perception of Phillips being a T20-whacker, without his long-form stuff getting praise, flows nicely into Seifert's innings for Northern Districts Knights.
After Canterbury put up 390 in their first innings, Seifert opened the batting for Knights and finished day two on 85* with ND on 156/3. Last season I got a vibe that Canterbury's seam bowling attack didn't quite have the firepower of the other seam attacks, which was alright when Matt Henry and/or Kyle Jamieson were playing. Henry was again solid for Canterbury, otherwise I've got the same vibe and I'll be interested to see how this develops in the coming rounds as they could settle in nicely and change the vibe completely. I bring this idea up because they've encountered a stacked Knights batting card and they did well to dismiss Kane Williamson and BJ Watling via Henry and Todd Astle, now we see if they can back that up and chip away at Seifert and Daryl Mitchell.
Ah, but Seifert. Look at these funky shots from Seifert, far from textbook off-side play but evidence of Seifert's ability and confidence in stroking the ball to the boundary...
Seifert's feet are planted and the ball appears to be on a good length, not over-pitched at all and Seifert gets his hands through the ball trusting his hand-eye. This feels like Seifert's hockey background coming into his batting and I find it beautiful. As for Seifert's intrigue, this is a bloke who averaged 50.21 in the 2017/18 season and along with CD's Will Young he was the only non-veteran to score over 600 runs; Michael Papps, Greg Hay, Seifert, Young, Luke Woodcock, Jesse Ryder.
With a FC average of 37.51, we have another batsman who performs best in Plunket Shield cricket as his List-A and T20 averages are in the low 20s. Like Phillips, Seifert kinda has to put up crazy-ish numbers to get more than T20I opportunities for the Blackcaps and they have both started with best-case scenarios. My advice to you would be not to pigeon-hole these two and view them as general batting prospects, because chucking them solely in the T20 cluster doesn't do them justice.
We settle in Wellington Firebirds first innings, where they put up 372 in response to Otago Volts' 199. Otago start today on 62/2 and we may find out how ruthless Wellington's bowling attack is in how they deal with Otago's salvage mission, yet I'm all about the runs from Ravindra, Conway and Blundell - plus Jacob Duffy's 7-for.
After touring United Arab Emirates vs Pakistan A, then hosting India A, Ravindra finally made his Plunket Shield debut last summer and showed signs of why he cracked Aotearoa A before Plunket Shield cricket. Playing four games to average 33, Ravindra passed 50 twice in 7 innings and then got this summer started with 76 opening for Wellington. Ravindra oozes class; quick on the pull shot, whippy off his pads and slick on the drive.
Great early signs from Ravindra and there is only so much you can say about Conway, who finished 1st in Plunket Shield runs last summer. Conway spent time with the wider Blackcaps group recently and batted #3 for the Firebirds here, snaring 96 before miss-judging a Duffy delivery. Last season Conway averaged 82.37, he has a FC average of 44.57 which includes a whole lot of South African FC cricket and he casually hit 96 in his first outing of the summer.
Blundell has had a weird ol' time from my perspective since this time last year, considering he was over-looked for Blackcaps white ball cricket and then suddenly appeared in a World Cup squad. This was confusing because of a complete lack of clarity around the back up wicket-keeping spot over the summer, but chur to Blundell for getting that nod and 82 batting #5 is exactly what Blundell would have liked in his first game this season.
Quietly averaging 48 last summer in four games, Blundell has built up a FC average of 37.74 and has been one of the steadiest Plunket Shield batsmen in recent years, let alone wicket-keeper/batsmen. I suspect this will continue and Blundell will continue to command further opportunities at the higher level.
As for Duffy, he took 7w @ 3.71rpo in 24 overs. 4 of these wickets were top-six batsmen, which is an almighty effort from the Otago stalwart and most notably, Duffy moved the ball both ways to trouble some highly skilled batsmen. Duffy moved the ball into right-handers...
And he hooped it back into lefties...
Duffy is a 25-year-old who has been playing Plunket Shield cricket since 2012. Let that simmer in your loins and he's also captaining Otago again. More efforts like this, or merely consistent wickets and a spot near the top of the wicket-taking rankings will be massive for Duffy as he tries to bump up to a nek level.
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Peace and love 27.