Onus on Sparks to fill batting void

The Country Cricket season gets under way on Saturday, October 3. Photo: File
Photo: File
Who is going to score the 400-plus run Suzie Bates amassed last summer?

It is a huge problem for the Otago Sparks.

They launch their Super Smash campaign today with a home fixture against Auckland at Molyneux Park in Alexandra this afternoon.

Tomorrow they play Canterbury at the same venue.

Their star batswoman will be missing from the team sheet all season. Bates is recovering from shoulder surgery and will leave a cavernous hole at the top of the order.

She was the competition’s second-leading scorer in 2019-20.

Bates cracked 441 runs at an impressive strike rate of 134.04.

The 33-year-old dragged the Sparks into the playoffs with help from fellow White Ferns Katey Martin and Hayley Jensen, and Australian imports Amanda-Jane Wellington and Hannah Darling.

Covid-19 has squashed any chance of drafting in some quality imports to help fill the void Bates’ absence creates.

Jensen is available, though. She was on stand-by during the Women’s Big Bash League in Australia and it was initially thought she would not be available for the Sparks until the new year.

However she has not played any cricket recently, so that will leave Martin carrying a very heavy load early on.

You will not get more loyal or determined character than Martin. And she scored a century in her last outing for the province — a fine knock of 105 in a one-dayer against Central Districts.

But she is going to need support if the Sparks are to post and chase competitive totals.

Opener Millie Cowan is certainly capable on her day. She had a strong campaign last season and will need to lift another notch this summer.

Caitlin Blakely has been in good touch in the one-day tournament, and Polly Inglis is back after skipping last season.

But there is not a lot of depth and it is hard to see the Sparks putting together a lot of big totals unless the same players keep making big contributions.

The Sparks have had to make do without much star power in the one-day tournament for the past fews seasons and the team has strung together 17 consecutive losses.

Coach Craig Cumming accepted the province was in a rebuilding phase and that it was about "getting better every game".

"That’s the key. But if we do a whole lot of things right I still believe that will be enough to win games of cricket," he said.

"So that’s the end goal but doing a whole lot of things right and improving each game is the most important.

"You can never replace Suzie Bates... she has been the best cricketer in the world, so you can never replace that.

"But we’ve got to find someone to step into that — I don’t think one person can do that so what we’ve got to do is try to find that 400 runs from the 11 players who play."

The Hearts were well-beaten in their season opener against the defending champion the Wellington Blaze.

They could muster only a modest tally of 92 for nine at the Basin Reserve on Thursday.

Even without star batswoman Sophie Devine, the Blaze cruised to nine-wicket win with more than nine overs to spare.

Amie Hucker has been added to the Hearts squad and will boost the seam-bowling options.


Super Smash

Otago Sparks v Auckland Hearts
Molyneux Park, Alexandra, 12.30pm
Otago (possible): Gemma Adams, Caitlin Blakely, Millie Cowan, Katey Martin, Hayley Jensen, Polly Inglis, Bella James, Saffron Wilson, Eden Carson, Emma Black, Bhagya Herath, Sophie Oldershaw, Molly Loe
Auckland: Lauren Down (c), Bella Armstrong, Sarah Carnachan, Amie Hucker, Holly Huddleston, Fran Jonas, Arlene Kelly, Regina Lilii, Roz McNeill, Molly Penfold, Katie Perkins, Anna Peterson, Jesse Prasad, Saachi Shahri

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