Tomorrow marks the return of Plunket Shield cricket and after the plodding Super Smash, some Plunket Shield rhythm couldn't come soon enough. Auckland Aces host Otago Volts, Wellington Firebirds host Northern Districts Knights and Canterbury host Central Districts Stags, with the Stags (57 points), Knights (46), Aces (46) and Firebirds (40) still in the mix for the Championship.
Before updating your brains with the best performers from the first stanza of Plunket Shield, we've also had an Aotearoa 11 named to face Bangladesh in two-dayer prior to their Test series vs Aotearoa. This team features Adam Milne, yet it also features players who will not be involved in Plunket Shield cricket and this suggests that we'll be seeing a range of Blackcaps Test players, as well as those Blackcaps not in the ODI series vs Bangladesh, playing in the Plunket Shield return.
Milne should be in the Stags team as he is definitely a member of their best bowling unit, however I reckon Milne is being eased back into a consistent workload. Instead of playing a Plunket Shield four-dayer, Milne will move from Super Smash to a two-dayer, where the number of overs he bowls will most likely have a cap on it.
The major underground narrative for Domestic Cricket Daily readers is that Wellington Firebirds batsman Devon Conway is currently dominating kiwi cricket. Conway leads all Plunket Shield run-scorers, with 100 runs more than his Firebirds comrade Michael Bracewell who is 2nd. Conway is the only batsman with 400+ runs and has scored those runs with a strike-rate of 49.48, which is always impressive when you consider how Conway has flowed between the formats.
Bracewell is also enjoying a strong summer and gets back into the whites with 335 runs @ 67avg. After the Firebirds pair in 1st and 2nd, are the Stags duo of Greg Hay and Dane Cleaver. Hay joins Bracewell and Conway as the only batsmen who have scored 300+ runs (315r @ 52.50avg), while Cleaver's 278 runs @ 55.60avg is especially interesting as he leads the wicket-keepers for runs.
Weird batting note: bowling prospect Kyle Jamieson (Canterbury) is averaging 44.33 in 3inns, while Ish Sodhi (ND) is averaging 39.33 in 5inns.
For the bowling, there's a typically kiwi vibe to the leading wicket-taking list led by Hamish Bennett who is picking up from his 15w @ 15.20avg/2.56rpo. Then we've got the kiwi mediums; Auckland's Matt McEwan (15w @ 19.53avg/2.45rpo), ND's James Baker (14w @ 22.14avg/2.98rpo) and Wellington's Iain McPeake (13w @ 23.69avg/3rpo.
Things get a wee bit funky, with CD's Dean Foxcroft 5th in wickets via his offies. Obviously there are a whole lot of factors in play here, but on a basic level that makes Foxcroft the best spinner in Plunket Shield this summer ... just two games into his Plunket Shield career.
Regular readers will know that I just wrote about Foxcroft's Super Smash antics in helping the Stags win the Super Smash Championship. Foxcroft also averaged 51.80 through six Ford Trophy games and currently happens 12w @ 11avg/1.89rpo, which amounts to similar all-format dominance to that of Conway.
Both Conway and Foxcroft just happen to be kiwi-Africans, as I continue to blabble on about. Foxcroft makes up for the disparity in their numbers (Conway is nek level) via the fact that this is his first summer of domestic cricket, which makes his work almost as impressive as Conway's.
Foxcroft has the best bowling average of the 15 bowlers with 10+ wickets, next best is his Stages homie Seth Rance with 10w @ 14.30avg/3.30rpo. Kyle Jamieson is a smidge behind Bennett with 10w @ 15.30ag/2.28rpo and given that Jamieson is dominating via wickets in all formats himself, how Jamieson wraps up the summer in Plunket Shield stanza two, will be one of my key narratives to follow.
Lastly, there was some weird talk around Neil Wagner when the Blackcaps were playing Test cricket which led to Wagner making his feelings known when he did take a few wickets for the Test team vs Sri Lanka. Obviously it's a bit weird that Wagner pays so much attention to the mainstream media, especially when he knows that he took 12w in 4inns @ 18.66avg/2.86rpo in his debut season for ND Knights.
That was good enough for Wagner to be ranked 6th in Plunket Shield bowling. Of the bowlers with 12+ wickets (eight bowlers), only Bennett and Foxcroft have better averages than Wagner. Wagner is still going hard and only fools would over-react to lack of wickets from bowlers on Wagner's level in Aotearoa.
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Peace and love 27.