Rutherford optimistic about shield

Otago batsman Anaru Kitchen plays a defensive shot to a delivery from Michael Rippon on the...
Otago batsman Anaru Kitchen plays a defensive shot to a delivery from Michael Rippon on the artificial turf at Logan Park yesterday. PHOTO: GREGOR RICHARDSON
Otago opener Hamish Rutherford might have some making up to do with his father, Ken Rutherford.

But then, he was coming to the end of a two-week stint in managed isolation when he described his dad as "ancient".

Rutherford, who recently returned from the United Kingdom where he was playing for Worcestershire in the Vitality Blast, is out of isolation now. But before he emerged he told the Cricket Nation Cast programme he was optimistic about Otago’s Plunket Shield campaign.

The first-class competition starts next week. Otago has not won the tournament since the 1987-88 season.

"The last time we won it was when my father played so that’s how long ago it was because he is ancient now," Rutherford responded when asked what the Plunket Shield means to him.

"It means a lot. It is obviously the hardest format to win.

"I don’t know the feeling. But I’m sure if you are sitting, at the end of the season, in your whites and you’ve got a shield in the middle of the shed with a beer in your hand, then I think that must be pretty rewarding because there is obviously a lot of hard work that goes into winning that comp."

Otago has struggled in the four-day format in recent seasons but made some progress last summer.

The Volts finished in third but had won their last two games before the season was cut short due to Covid-19.

They were a long way behind Wellington, which won the competition. But the Volts could have easily slipped past Central Districts and into second place.

That late surge has boosted the confidence of what is a relatively young side.

"I guess we haven’t really found our method like in years back. And on top of that we have a young shed.

"Maybe going into last year only a couple of people had played more than 20 games ... and that is not a lot of cricket for the guys."

That said, Otago made a "step in the right direction" before Covid-19 intervened.

"Hopefully, we can build on that and make a few tweaks here and there and put in some good performances and see where we finish come April."

The Volts have one new face in the contracted group. Central Districts seamer Jarrod McKay has made his way south in search of more playing opportunities.

The 20-year-old right-armer made his debut at the beginning of last season and grabbed a couple of wickets.

But on the other side of the ledger the Volts have lost the services of South African all-rounder Dean Foxcroft.

He is contracted for the season but went home during the off-season and is unable to return to New Zealand due to the border restrictions.

Rutherford described Foxcroft’s absence as a "big loss" but it was also an opportunity for someone like Nathan Smith to demonstrate his skills as an all-rounder.

He highlighted the 22-year-old as "a player to watch this season".

Smith made his debut while he was still at school and Rutherford said "I think the time is probably right now for him to put his hand up".

Smith scored his maiden first-class century last season and shapes as a key bowler, particularly in the white-ball formats.

Jacob Duffy was the competition’s leading wicket-taker last year and the Volts will lean on him heavily again.

"He has been quite remarkable the last couple of seasons with his performances and hopefully he can continue that this season as well."

Otago’s opening Plunket Shield fixture is against Auckland at Eden Park beginning next Tuesday.

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