Development feel to Sparks one-day team

Stand-in coach Nathan King. Photo by ODT.
Nathan King. Photo by ODT.
Leigh Kasperek - gone to Wellington.

Polly Inglis - gone overseas.

Kate Heffernan - gone to netball.

Suzie Bates and Katey Martin will be back but they are gone for the first part of the season as well.

The White Ferns duo are playing in the Women's Big Bash League in Australia.

What the Otago Sparks are left with is an awfully young and inexperienced squad.

The Hallyburton Johnstone Shield gets under way today and it could be a tough campaign for the Sparks.

Otago has been unlucky enough to draw the defending champion in the opening round. It will play back-to-back games against Central Districts in Levin.

The Sparks are missing all of the above mentioned players and have filled their spots, for the large part, with the best of the St Hilda's Collegiate team.

It has the feel of a development team.

White Ferns all-rounder Hayley Jensen has transferred south from Canterbury and will bolster the batting and bowling stocks.

She will be making her debut alongside Sophie Gray and Bhagya Herath.

The Sparks twenty20 side will look a lot different. Bates and Martin will be back and there is talk Otago will contract a couple of imports. That team should be much more competitive.

But, in the meantime, Otago has three rounds (six games) of one-day cricket to get through.

The Sparks had to make do without their experienced core towards the back end of last season and it was not pretty.

They were smashed by Central Districts by 247 runs in the last game of the season. They had a nine-wicket loss the day before against the same opponent.

But coach Nathan King said his side had shown some promising signs during the pre-season.

"The pre-season has been good," he said.

"It has been extremely long. We started back in June, so we've been building up for a long time now."

Otago played a warm-up match against Canterbury at Pleasant Point three weeks ago and was competitive.

"It was a fairly close game. They got about 180 and we got about 170, so we were about 10 runs off.

"We had a few players missing but so did they as well."

In the absence of Bates and Martin, Bella James will captain the side. She made her debut for the Sparks in December 2014 and has played 26 one-day games and 10 T20 matches.

James has a high score of just 36 and averages under 10 in both formats. It is an underwhelming record but King said she was a "deep thinker of the game with a good cricket brain".

Jensen's arrival will help offset some of the losses.

"She is just a good all-round cricketer and will add a great deal of performance to the team.

"And I'm sure she'll add a lot to the team in terms of giving the girls confidence."

King is realistic about his side's prospects, though.

"Our expectations are that we improve. If we can do that then we will just see what happens in terms of the results.

"We do have a lot of inexperienced players and some of those who have been around for a little bit longer have not enjoyed a lot of success.

"So first and foremost it is about getting these girls to play at a better standard."

Otago v Central Districts

Levin, today and tomorrow

Otago: Olivia Gain, Caitlin Blakely, Bella James (c), Hayley Jensen, Sophie Gray,
Bhagya Herath, Ella Brown, Emma Black, Georgia Clarke, Eden Carson, Marina
Lamplough, Sophie Oldershaw.

Central Districts: Anlo van Deventer, Hannah Rowe (co-c), Georgia Atkinson, Kate
Baxter, Natalie Dodd, Mikaela Greig, Melissa Hansen, Esther Lanser, Rosemary Mair,
Monique Rees, Kerry Tomlinson, Jess Watkin (co-c).

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