Uni-Grange set to make a comeback

Matiu Workman.
Matiu Workman.
University-Grange is back in the top grade - well, almost.

Its return to the senior grade was expected to be rubber stamped at a Dunedin Cricket Association meeting last night.

The club dropped out of the grade four years ago but signalled its intention to return earlier this year.

Club president Matiu Workman said the committee met earlier in the week to re-confirm its commitment ''and we've all decided that we are going to push forward with this''.

''We are going to be that little club that could and really push to give it a good go,'' he said.

''We just need to make sure we get the go-ahead by the DCA and the clubs, but I'm pretty confident about that.''

It would be a much-needed good news story for the sport's grassroots. Dunedin club cricket has been in a long decline, dropping from 52 teams in 1985 to 26 teams in 2015.

University-Grange's return would be a boost for a game which has been struggling to remain relevant among the younger generation.

Nationally, youth cricket has been declining at twice the rate of other comparable team sports during the past 10 years.

A recent New Zealand Cricket report suggested an average of 32 youth teams drop out each year.

Workman was well aware it was a demanding time to be making a comeback and highlighted player numbers as a serious challenge.

The club plans to field three teams this season and already has a roster of 42 players, which it hopes to grow to 50. Only about ''eight or nine'' of them are senior quality ''so there is a bit of work to do'', he said.

The plan is to provide opportunities for second grade players to make the step up as well as attracting some former players back to the club.

Former Otago player Sam Wells is at the top of the wish list. Workman is still chipping away and hoping to entice the all-rounder out of retirement.

He suggested a coaching or management role may work for Wells.

The club is also dangling some lines in overseas waters in the hope of luring some talent to New Zealand for the summer.

Workman said Otago Cricket's Andrew Petrie had provided a lot of support in terms of governance and, alongside vice-president Cam Meads, helped develop a new constitution for the club which was adopted ''a couple of months ago''.

The club started to struggle about five or six years ago when the university holidays started to bite. It was unable to take a full part in the 2014-15 season and was excluded from the grade on that basis.

''We are very wary that, with the amount of students that we do have, we need to ensure we have depth. That is why we won't push for any more than three teams.

''Last season we struggled a lot and had to basically door knock, so we are trying to avoid that this year by playing it safe with player numbers.''

University-Grange had two teams last year but started the season with about 25 players.

''To be able to double our numbers within a year is pretty exciting for us.

''We are pretty realistic about what we want to achieve this year in terms of results but that does not stop us dreaming.''

The University and Grange clubs merged in 1986-87 and won the banner that year. Its only other title as a combined club came in 2003-04.

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