Changes provide impetus to give Otago energy lift

Otago skipper Jacob Duffy celebrates a wicket against Wellington in a Plunket Shield game at the...
Otago skipper Jacob Duffy celebrates a wicket against Wellington in a Plunket Shield game at the Basin Reserve last summer. PHOTO: GETTY IMAGES
New coach. New assistant coach. New all-rounder. New results?

Otago will get its Plunket Shield campaign under way against Wellington at the Basin Reserve tomorrow.

Dion Ebrahim will be making his debut as a head coach at that level. His assistant, Ben McCord, is a newbie as well.

All-rounder Jake Gibson has been named in the 13 and if he makes the playing XI, he will also be on first-class debut.

There is another significant change the Volts would like to make.

They would like to reverse their fortunes.

Otago has not won the first-class competition since 1987-88. It is closing in on 34 years since Warren Lees led the team to victory in the Shell Trophy with a 146-run win over Wellington at the Basin Reserve in the final game of the season.

Spinner John Lindsay took a 10-wicket bag in the match.

That was a long time ago. Perms have gone out of fashion. So have Stubbie shorts. The world is much better place as a result except the Plunket Shield is still missing from the trophy cabinet in the Longroom at the University Oval.

It is Ebrahim’s role to change that.

He was feeling nervous heading into the campaign but mostly excited.

The former Zimbabwe opener was drawing a lot of confidence from his team’s build-up.

Otago has been jetting around the country so it could prepare on grass. The Volts have been to Lincoln, Alexandra and Tauranga.

If they do not start well against Wellington, they will not be able to blame the preparation.

"Feeling very confident and very well prepared," Ebrahim said.

"The chance to prepare on grass has been outstanding."

Ebrahim puts a lot of stock in the first-class competition despite it dropping down the batting order with the rise of T20.

The longer format is still the best test of a player and a team, and Ebrahim is hopeful Otago can build on its third placing last year.

The Volts have been a stronger limited-overs team, though.

They made back-to-back one-day finals in 2018-19 and 2019-20, and also made the playoffs of the Super Smash in 2019-20.

"Obviously, the team has had success in limited-over cricket. But, in saying that, the focus around winning the Plunket Shield is very much paramount in the group.

"It is the competition that the group feels over the last couple of years they have made good strides in terms of identifying how best to play and win.

"So the focus has been around how best to prepare how to win the Plunket Shield."

With that goal in mind, Ebrahim will lean on Black Cap Jacob Duffy to spearhead the attack. He made his international debut last summer and is a reliable source of wickets.

Michael Rae (29 at 34.31) was Otago’s leading wicket-taker in the first-class competition, and wrist spinner Michael Rippon is another key figure in the bowling unit.

He took 22 wickets at 34.86 and also scored 497 runs at 45.18. He was the best all-rounder in the first-class competition last season.

Veteran left-hander Hamish Rutherford will captain the side in all three formats this season.

Fellow left-hander Nick Kelly is another important player in the batting line-up, while Dale Phillips is set to get more opportunities in white clothing and shapes as one to watch.

Experienced right-hander Anaru Kitchen has popped up just about everywhere in the batting order but he looks set to get a consistent run in the middle order.

The left-arm spinner will be leaned on to shuffle through some overs as well.

Gibson impressed with a five-wicket haul during an intrasquad game last week. He has played five list A games for Northern Districts and taken 12 wickets at 14.83.

That is an excellent start and he looks to be a good pick-up. The Volts have lost the services of all-rounder Nathan Smith, off to play for Wellington.

The Plunket Shield looks poised for disruption. With Auckland and Waikato in Covid-19 Alert level 3, their chances of participating in the early part of the summer look slim.

The eight-game format could end up being trimmed to five games.

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