Focus of Sparks all on Hearts

Do not even think about trying to bait Craig Cumming into talking about the immense challenge that faces either the Otago Sparks or the Auckland Hearts on Saturday.

The Super Smash rivals clash in the elimination final at the University Oval tomorrow afternoon.

There will be excitement for the winning team but there will also be a date with a juggernaut in the form of the Wellington Blaze — 10 wins from 10 — in the final.

"You can only worry about what’s in front of you," Sparks coach Cumming said yesterday.

"As a coach, you’ve always done a little bit of preparation for potential opponents down the track, but sometimes it’s nice to walk into the fire with not a lot of time to think about it.

"Our focus is very much on Thursday. You’ve got to earn the right to be in a final, and you’ve got to do a whole lot of things right before you turn your attention to that."

The Sparks will start, in the public’s eye anyway, as the favourites tomorrow.

Home advantage is one factor, and they also have recent history on their side, having posted two comfortable wins over the Hearts in the round robin.

Cumming is confident the Sparks, led by a core of veterans including Suzie Bates and Katey Martin, will not have nerves to blame if they do not win tomorrow.

"Playoff games are interesting.

"You’ve got to acknowledge that you will feel slightly different, potentially. If you look at the end result, that can make you feel that way.

"But this group is really good. They play cricket because they enjoy it, and they enjoy being around each other, and that’s one of the values within the team.

"We will talk about making sure we focus on our processes, but we do that anyway. Enjoy every moment, work hard, be prepared to play for 40 overs — that doesn’t change."

Cumming said the Sparks were eager to get cracking as they had played only three T20 games in nearly a month.

"We’re really pleased and excited to be here. We’re playing nice cricket, working really hard and getting the reward for that."

Due to the shift to a Red light setting, there will be no public ticket sales for tomorrow’s elimination final, which follows the men’s game at the same venue.

"That’s usually one of the exciting things about getting a game like this at home," Cumming said.

"You get to play on your home ground but it’s the people around you that make it so special.

"There will still be some family and friends there, but it’s the wider community that you really love to see the support from, and we have really felt that support.

"It’s a real shame but it’s still a chance to walk out for a big game at home, and that’s a nice reward for playing good cricket."

The Sparks will effectively be at full strength. Young Otago bowler Molly Loe is all but cleared after hurting her back at the national under-19 tournament but is unlikely to play as she is short of match fitness.

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