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Otago Country has beaten the odds to earn a rare Hawke Cup challenge.
Co-captain Tim McCormick will lead the side out against Canterbury Country in Rangiora today, in the hope the tiny association can wrest away the biggest prize in district cricket.
It has been nine years since Otago Country last challenged for the Hawke Cup — it beat North Otago on that occasion to claim the trophy. But securing another challenge this season seemed unlikely early on, McCormick suggested.
Otago Country lost its opening zone 4 match to North Otago at Molyneux Park. But it produced a good chase to defeat Mid Canterbury to keep its prospects alive.
It then prevailed in a tense win against Southland and turned around a first innings deficit to beat South Canterbury.
Top order batsman Sukhdev Singh has been consistent with the bat and has chipped in with some handy overs of spin.
McCormick scored a hundred against Mid Canterbury and the all-rounder is Otago Country’s leading scorer this season.
Batsman Steve Hobson has been solid and is another key performer.
But it is with the ball that the team hopes to make inroads. Co-captain Sam Blakely has represented Otago and remains a threat.
Taieri’s Tom Myles made a big impact in the last match with a six-wicket bag, and left-armer Marcus Frost and seamer Angus Herron complete a very decent bowling unit.
"We’ve got a good bowling attack and we’re pretty confident they can do the damage, really," McCormick said.
"Tom Myles has only been available for one game ... but he got six wickets by swinging the ball and has shown the benefits of playing Dunedin club cricket and being under Vaughn Johnson’s wing at Taieri.
"We’re excited and we’re confident. But we know it is not going to be easy up there.
"But we’ve won from some tricky spots and I think that sets us up pretty well for the next three days."
Canterbury Country took the Hawke Cup off Hamilton earlier this month.
Canterbury all-rounder Henry Shipley took nine wickets in the match and former Black Caps player Shanan Stewart’s classy first-innings century helped set up the win.
Rupert Young, brother of Central Districts batsman Will Young, scored a composed half-century in the second innings.
Former Dutch international Tim Gruijters also took crucial wickets at the end of the second day’s play, including the scalp of former Black Caps top-order batsman Anton Devcich for 39.
Canterbury Country is expected to field a new-look bowling attack. Shipley is on provincial duty for Canterbury and strike bowler Arafat Bhuiyan is returning to the United Kingdom. Jed Roberts is also out with an injury.
Otago Country v Canterbury Country
Otago Country: Taylor Cumberland, Sam Pimm, Sukhdev Singh, Steve Hobson, Cameron Jackson, Tim McCormick, Sam Bastin, Barry White, Tim Cotter, Marcus Frost, Angus Herron, Sam Blakely, Tom Myles.