Cricket: Crucial time for Otago Sparks

Talk of season-defining games may be premature but these could certainly be a big few days for the Otago women's team.

The resurgent Sparks have a major opportunity to push for a place in a final when they meet the Wellington Blaze in a series on neutral ground at Lincoln's Bert Sutcliffe Oval.

A twenty/20 clash today is followed by two one-day games.

The sides have identical records: three wins in six games (14 points) in the one-day competition, and two wins in three games (eight points) in the T20 competition.

They are second-equal in both competitions, both of which end in a straight 1 v 2 final - so the results over the next three days could be crucial.

The Sparks should head north with confidence, coming off a dominant performance against Central Districts.

They will also be boosted by the arrival of Australian all-rounder Nicole Bolton, who is meeting the team in Christchurch.

Bolton, an exciting top-order batsman and offspin bowler, captains the Western Fury team and is effectively participating in a player exchange with Sparks captain Suzie Bates, who will also play for the Fury.

Bates is in a super run of form. She cracked her third international century in Australia, and has scored 398 runs (at 99.50) in the domestic one-day competition this summer.

A new face in the Sparks this week is St Hilda's schoolgirl Caitlin Blakely, named top player at the recent NZCT tournament.

Wellington has, at this stage, lost its best player. All-rounder Sophie Devine injured a foot and was forced to come home from the White Ferns' tour of Australia.

Devine, who has scored 324 runs (average 81.00) and taken seven wickets (28.71) for Wellington in the one-day competition, actually lives in Christchurch, and there is a suggestion she may play in one of the one-dayers if she feels she is up to it.

The Blaze has also recruited an import, with South Australian representative Lauren Ebsary set to join the side.

Wellington's most recent game, a 30-run win over Canterbury, featured a 97-run partnership for the ninth wicket between Andrea Stockwell and Michelle Bunkall.

Women's cricket
Lincoln, starting today
Otago Sparks: Suzie Bates (captain), Katey Martin, Sarah Tsukigawa, Nicole Bolton, Lisa Grant, Victoria Abbott, Millie Cowan, Sarah Osborne, Polly Inglis, Kylie Crowley, Emma Campbell, Caitlin Blakely.
Wellington Blaze: Lucy Doolan (captain), Michelle Bunkall, Rebecca Burns, Deeana Doughty, Allex Evans, Leigh Kasperek, Suzie McDonald, Renee Moffitt, Thamsyn Newton, Sian Ruck, Andrea Stockwell, Lauren Ebsary.

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