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“We had shot, but I didn’t think we could win it,” admits Jack Parker, captain of the New Plymouth Boys’ High School Junior cricket team that won the National Junior title in Palmerston North last week.
It’s the first National cricket title won by the school and New Plymouth was unique because of their four-pronged spin attack of Jason McGrath, Liam Carr, Ethan Dower and Sebastian Lauderdale-Smith.
“We were really well prepared. We started training last year and had whiteboard sessions designed to help us understand how to get different batsmen out.” Parker reveals.
In slow Manawatu conditions, New Plymouth’s thorough planning reaped rich rewards. On the fifth and final day of the tourney, New Plymouth faced St Bede’s College with Hamilton Boys’ High School meeting Auckland Grammar School. If both teams won then the tournament winner was be judged on best net run rate as the New Plymouth v Hamilton match was washed out.
St. Bede’s were bowled out for 45 with Jason McGrath taking 6-22, and Jack Parker chiming in with 2-10. New Plymouth then made a mockery of the target, hitting the winning runs in just 6.1 overs as Sebastian Lauderdale-Smith raced through to 24 not out.
New Plymouth batted strongly in reaching 180 in 40 overs to beat Wellington College by 26 runs on Day One, but their bowling was the major source of stress for opponents.
On Day Two, King’s High School was skittled out for 70 as Ethan Dower took 5-14 and Jason McGrath 3-7 from eight overs.
A valuable lesson was learnt in the chase.
“I think we believed we had it won and got complacent. We lost too many wickets early and had to battle to win by two wickets.” Parker concedes.
Batting first on the same pitch against Auckland Grammar School, New Plymouth learned their lesson, making 174-9 off their 40 overs. Parker led from the front top scoring with 49.
New Plymouth pressured Grammar from the outset of their chase and Grammar faltered losing four wickets inside the first 15 overs as they fell 56 runs short. Dower was again the pick of the bowlers, taking 3-21.
“I am the type of captain who seeks guidance from others. This was a team effort. I think the future of cricket at this school is in good shape because a few of us are in the First XI already.” Parker enthuses.
“I would like to thank our coach Ben Sapwell-West. He is real positive. We run singles hard, back each other up in the field and try and enjoy each other’s company.” Parker concludes.
From sixth in Super 8 to top six in New Zealand. In less than three months the reversal of form by the Tauranga Boys’ College First XI cricket team has been nothing short of remarkable. Captain Mikaere Leef is at a loss to explain his teams’ revival.
“It’s pretty interesting. I have always thought we had a team that was capable of winning Super 8, but we didn’t play well. I guess there’s been a huge attitude change. We had to harden up.” Leef theorises.
It’s the first time since 2011 Tauranga have qualified for Nationals and to accomplish that feat they had to win four matches on the trot against stiff opposition in the Northern Districts qualifiers in Hamilton.
In the first game Whangarei Boys’ High School won the toss and elected to bat on an artificial wicket but were shot out for 46. Rhys Mischewski took a wicket with the first ball of the tournament and stole the show with 6/12. He was well backed up by Finn Sears who took 2/7 off six overs and Ben Pomare who took four catches. Leef also took a great catch at gully and Scott Ellerington’s pinpoint boundary throw accounted for the last batsman. Tauranga chased down the target with 38 overs to spare.
In the second game Hillcrest High School asked Tauranga to bat first and Tauranga responded with 232/6 in a match reduced to 45 overs. Leef top-scored with 67 and then took three wickets as Tauranga achieved a crushing 156-run victory. Mischewski was to the fore again with 3/5 off six overs.
“Our fielding was a big part of our success. We really lifted our intensity and accuracy there, took our catches and put a lot of pressure on the batsmen.” Leef believes.
St. Paul’s Collegiate upset Hamilton Boys’ High School and had beaten Tauranga in their previous outing meaning they presented a tough assignment at home. Tauranga produced their best performance of the season to achieve a surprise win.
Leef finally won a toss and decided to bat first. Tauranga posted a reasonable 217 with Marcel Collett again top scoring with 63, adding 50 for the first wicket with Leaf (20) and 84 with Dominic Crombie (46). St Paul’s was bundled out for 161. Tas Carsons (whose brother Paddy was a rep cricketer at Hamilton BHS) took 3/29 off ten overs and removed a key batsman with an excellent boundary catch. He was well supported by Iman Singh who dried up the runs with 2/21 off 10 overs. St Paul’s at one stage were 95/4 but collapsed to 126/9 and a last wicket partnership of 35 was of little consequence.
The weather was consequential in the final fixture against Hamilton Boys’ High School. Typically foggy conditions made batting tough, but at least initially Tauranga started well adding 72 for the first wicket with Finn Sears belting 51. However Tauranga staggered and limped 189 off 50 overs.
Hamilton needed to make the target in 42 overs due to run rate considerations to eliminate Tauranga and qualify for a sixth consecutive Nationals. Hamilton started slowly, but responsibly to reach 47-1 after 17 overs at the drinks break. What happened next was dramatic.
“A Marcel Collett direct hit run out the Hamilton opener short of his ground. It was a great bit of fielding and triggered a collapse.” Leef recalls.
After 25 overs Hamilton was suddenly 68/6. Craig Baldry finished his spell with 2/30 from 10 overs and run outs by Leef and Collett had Hamilton on the ropes, a position from which they never recovered. Another run out by Mascall and 2/6 by Brad Howard wrapped up the match for Tauranga.
Leef regards himself as a batsman who “bowls a little pace or off spin. His highest score is 116 against Aquinas College and he has taken “a couple of four wicket bags.” He was a member of the Bay Coastland Under-19 team that won the Northern Districts regional competition in 2015/16.
In the winter he plays rugby and basketball. In September the First XI will make an historic tour to South Africa for three weeks, ideal preparation for Nationals in September when Tauranga will be looking to win their second National title. The last was in 2005 when New Zealand captain Kane Williamson was part of the squad. He was player of the tournament the next year.
In 2013 there were only four cricket teams at Rosmini College. Today there are 14, which bucks the trend of falling participation numbers nationwide. Zakk Finlay attempts to explain why.
“We had a change of headmaster a couple of years ago and there was more support for the sport. There are a lot of great volunteers who love the game helping out and that’s created a whole lot of interest,” he says.
Almost the entire Rosmini First XI has been together for four years and recently in the Auckland Super 8 final they sent the city’s cricketing fraternity into a tailspin by defeating St. Kentigern College to earn a place at the National Finals in Christchurch in December.
“It was great to knock them off their pedestal. They had a lot of pressure on them to win because they are a big school and we’re just a team of battlers. They pumped us the first time we played them. We were bowled out for 96.” Finlay acclaims.
Typically Finlay is a pace bowler but a stress fracture has prevented him from bowling for eight months. He has been forced to improve his batting. His highest score for the First XI is 89, but a score half that tally proved vitally important for Rosmini in the Auckland decider.
Rosmini did well to dismiss St. Kentigern for 159 at the Eden Park Outer Oval. Auckland Under-17 rep Ryan Harrison claimed 3/11 off 6.2 overs and opening bowlers Giles La Ville and Niko Weerakoon both took two wickets. Weerakoon had taken four wickets in the semi-final win against Westlake Boys’ High School.
Rosmini’s chase for 160 faulted from the outset and at one stage they were 39/4.
“I didn’t expect all the recognised batsman to get out early so it was tough initially. I was dropped in the gully on 15, but I knew as one of the better batters I had to be responsible, but try and score at the same time.” Finlay recalls.
Rosmini was 30 short of the target when Finlay reached 44. What happened next?
“I thought we could win by the 38th over when we were about 50 runs short. That was a manageable run rate. After 116 balls I got a bit carried away and tried to hit a six, usually I like to get on with it, but I held out at the wrong time. It was pretty stupid,” Finlay rues.
Fortunately the tail kept their composure and La Ville hit the winning runs as Rosmini won the R H Marryatt Cup for the first time, an achievement Director of cricket Amita Weerakoon, who is leaving the role after four years, described as “the greatest day of Rosmini cricketing history”.
Rosmini’s first XI have been coached by Hamish Buxton and Paul Brajkovich during their breakout season and join Otago BHS, Tauranga BC and Palmerston North BHS as having so far qualified for the six-team National finals.
In the winter Finlay is a fullback in the First XV. Rosmini are seven times North Harbour champions and Finlay believes under the coaching of old boys George Stowers and Wayne Rooney, Rosmini will have a decent tilt at the title again.
“As usual we’re not the biggest team, but we’re really fit. Our season starts in three weeks against Birkenhead College. I am confident we will do well.”
Finlay says his favourite moment in rugby was when Rosmini beat Westlake Boys’ on Land Rover First XV rugby last year. Taine Waitte, now with the North Shore club, kicked all five penalties in an upset triumph against the eventual North Harbour champions.
“I wouldn’t know what it was like to bat on, I only faced two balls,” Ben O’ Connor from the Palmerston North Boys’ High School First XI cricket team laughs.
Last week the perennial contenders confirmed their place at the National finals in Christchurch in December by bowling Nelson College out for 56 in the Central Districts Regional final.
Dire weather turned the Manawaroa Park pitch into a formidable assignment for batsmen.
“We were all out for 124 in the 49th over. The weather definitely helped the seamers, but it wasn’t so much the pitch was impossible to bat on, we just put the ball in good places and the fieldsmen backed it up,” captain O’Connor recalls.
Jack Harris, Bryn Wilson and off spinner O’Connor each sneered two wickets in the 68-run victory, a definite highlight of the season.
“The standard of the local competition has been really high. Black Cap Adam Milne has played a couple of games returning from injury. Every side has been competitive,” O’Connor (on strike/Photo Supplied) says.
O’Connor has managed two, five wicket bags this season. His decision to abort pace has been a fruitful one for the Manawatu age group rep.
“I used to bowl pace, but I found it difficult running in all the time. I started bowling spin a few years ago and found myself enjoying it and having a bit of a success.” O’Connor explains.
Slowing things down is a virtue that O’Connor is learning as captain. Palmerston North lost a thrilling Super 8 final to Hamilton Boys’ High School in January when Hamilton’s final pair shared a last wicket stand of 27 runs in a low scoring affair.
“The Super 8 final was a great game of cricket and we were gutted to lose. As a captain I learned I needed to slow the game down more and not panic in my decision making to get a better result,” O’Connor reflects.
Palmerston North will be hoping to make the right decisions in December. They will be joined at Nationals by Otago Boys’ High School, Rosmini College, who upset St. Kentigern College in the Auckland decider, either one of Hutt International Boys’ School or Wellington College and the winners of Canterbury section to be determined last this year.
“We don’t play any of those schools during the season so I don’t really know what their strengths and weakness are, but I am confident we have a well balanced team and if we play well it should be pretty wide open.” O’Connor anticipates.
In the winter O’Connor plays First XI hockey. Palmerston North are the defending India Shield Champions. They missed the Rankin Cup finals by a solitary goal, despite winning six out of seven games.
“We also lost the Super 8 final which we won the year before. Our goal is to definitely make Rankin this year and win Super 8.” O’Connor concludes.
College Sport Media is dedicated to telling the story of successful young sportspeople in New Zealand