Otago players (L-R) Jacob Duffy, Ian Butler and Nick Beard celebrate after winning the HRV T20 final against the Wellington Firebirds at University Oval in Dunedin on Sunday. (Photo by Teaukura Moetaua/Getty Images)
What a thrill it was to watch Otago complete a near-perfect
twenty/20 season with a four-wicket win against Wellington in
the final on Sunday.
The University Oval final lacked spark compared with some of
the other games in the campaign but to win 10 games in a row
was a remarkable achievement.
Wind the clock back two years and Otago, with more or less
the same group of players, could not even manage a single
Set the time machine to 2008-09 and Otago was at the top of
the pile. That's twenty/20 for you - it is a fickle game.
So, to achieve the consistency Otago produced this summer was
a credit to everyone involved.
The bar goes up another notch now, though. The Volts have
earned the right to contest the qualifying round of the
Champions League later this year and thoughts immediately
turn to how they might perform.
Otago's last appearance at the Champions League, in 2009, was
a humbling experience. Despite high hopes, the side was well
beaten in both its group games and returned feeling deflated.
From that 15-man squad, Craig Cumming and Warren McSkimming
have retired, English professional Dimitri Mascarenhas played
two matches for Wellington this season, Greg Todd has moved
on and Matt Harvie had serious back problems which put an end
to his career.
The rest are still available, should they be selected, so the
team has a fairly settled look. Arguably, the 2012-13 squad
is much stronger.
The Volts have qualified three imports for the two available
slots. All-rounder Ryan ten Doeschate was the second-highest
scorer in the tournament with 401 runs at an average of
50.12. If he is available, he is a certain starter.
James Fuller took four for 24 in the final and his ability to
strike at the top was one of the keys to Otago's success.
Unfortunately, he will probably miss the cut if Australian
fast bowler Brett Lee is available.
Lee played one match for Otago and was impressive, taking one
for 19 from four overs in a dead rubber against Canterbury.
He is a world-class performer and too good to leave out.
Fuller would not be the only unlucky player. There would be
plenty of other genuine selection dilemmas.
When you consider the likes of Black Caps Brendon and Nathan
McCullum, Neil Wagner and Jimmy Neesham would come back into
the side, the Volts team which took the park for the final
would take on a very different complexion for the Champions
Imagine this for a starting XI: Hamish Rutherford, Brendon
McCullum (wk), Neil Broom, Aaron Redmond, Ryan ten Doeschate,
Nathan McCullum, Jimmy Neesham, Neil Wagner, Brett Lee, Nick
Beard, Jacob Duffy.
In that side, there would not be room for the captain, Derek
de Boorder. He is a great man to have padded up and coming in
when there is a crisis. He also gaps the ball perhaps better
than anyone else in the team. But Otago would be a stronger
side if Brendon McCullum took the gloves.
You could not possibly leave out Jacob Duffy after the season
he has had, while Neil Wagner can be expensive but he also
has the handy knack of picking up wickets.
They would take the new ball with Lee, so that means one of
the all-rounders would have to miss out. Nathan McCullum's
economic offspin, explosive batting and experience would be a
huge asset, so either Ian Butler or Jimmy Neesham would have
to carry the drinks.
Both performed with distinction for Otago during the
campaign, so you might have to toss a coin to separate them.
Left-arm spinner Nick Beard was Otago's best-performed bowler
and the joint competition leading wicket-taker with 15
wickets at an average of 12.73 and the excellent economy rate
of 5.96. Duffy also took 15 wickets.
Beard should be among the first few names scribbled down on
the team sheet.
Punishing middle-order batsman Michael Bracewell and
offspinner Mark Craig would be handy back up alongside Butler
and de Boorder.