Cricket: Hesson, Otago primed for new season

Otago coach Mike Hesson relaxes at the University Oval in Dunedin this week after returning from...
Otago coach Mike Hesson relaxes at the University Oval in Dunedin this week after returning from a stint coaching New Zealand A in India. Photo by Linda Robertson.
Otago coach Mike Hesson is back from India sporting a tan, some fresh ideas and probably a business card or two tucked in his back pocket.

Hesson led New Zealand A in four one-dayers and two tests in India during the past month.

The team had mixed results. It opened with a win over Australia A but lost the next three one-dayers. It then lost the first test against India A but bounced back to level the series.

Hesson described the experience as a "great learning curve" for both the players and himself but has quickly turned his attention to the forthcoming domestic season.

He arrived back in the country on Thursday, reacquainted himself with his wife Kate and 18-month-old daughter Holly, and then spent the weekend watching club and districts cricket.

It is early in the summer and Hesson has only had a few days to examine his charges but is pleased with what he has seen.

Otago has recruited well over the winter, signing English all-rounder Dimitri Mascarenhas for the one-dayers and twenty/20 tournament.

South African left-arm swing bowler Neil Wagner has signed for the season and hopes to become a regular feature in the side.

He plans to make New Zealand his home and has the aim of playing for the Black Caps.

Former Black Caps speedster Ian Butler joins the campaign as well. He switched places with Bradley Scott, who has moved to Hamilton and will play his cricket for Northern.

And with destructive Black Caps wicketkeeper-batsman Brendon McCullum in the squad, Otago shapes as a favourite to repeat its historic win in the State Shield last summer - its first national banner in 20 years.

"I think we will certainly be right up there in terms of the squad we have," Hesson said, trying to dampen expectations.

"But I think all the other squads have improved and have also imported pretty well."

Winning back-to-back titles is huge motivation for Otago but there is an even a bigger incentive offered for the winner of the twenty/20 tournament.

The winner will be invited to play in the lucrative Indian Champions League. This year's competition is offering a US$6 million ($NZ10.2 million) prize and the purse is expected to grow next year.

"It is certainly something that everyone is aware of and something that obviously gives the players an incentive. It is one of the biggest carrots you can get."

While the Otago one-day side looks to have a good mix the four-day team also has potential. The province has struggled to take 20 wickets in recent seasons.

But the inclusion of Wagner and Butler strengthens the attack, and with Mat Harvie back from a serious back injury and James McMillan looking fit, having shed 14kg over winter, the Volts have a threatening pace quartet.

Also jostling for starting spots are medium pacer Warren McSkimming and fast-improving left armer Craig Smith.

"We've got a very good attack. We've got seven or eight seamers who could easily fit into a first-class side. But I think we can look at the way we play the game and take a few more punts here and there."

Otago often dominated sides by scoring heavily in the first innings, but could not convert the good starts into outright wins, Hesson explained.

Otago has an experienced top order with Craig Cumming, Aaron Redmond, Greg Todd and Neil Broom, but there is a spot up for grabs at No 5.

Happily, there are plenty of contenders, Hesson said.

"There are a number of people who have done well over the past three weeks, which is exciting. We hoped that two or three guys would stand up but four or five have."

Shaun Haig has made a bright start to the summer with two hundreds last weekend and Hamish Rutherford has also chalked up three figures this season.

Sam Wells, Jordan Sheed and Marcel McKenzie all played a part for Otago in 2007/08 and Sean Eathorne is back from Australia and putting pressure on by scoring runs.

Hesson enjoyed his first trip to India. You can read about it but until you go there you cannot truly understand how crazy about cricket the country really is, he said.

It is also a very lucrative time to be involved in the sport. The advent of twenty/20 and Indian Premier League has seen some players become very rich.

With the sort of money being offered to players and coaches you would be mad not to make a few inquires, Hesson suggested without elaborating further.


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