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Stellar trio back for Central Stags

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media

Good news for the Central Stags comes in threes - Ajaz Patel, Doug Bracewell and Ben Wheeler.

The talented trio returns for tomorrow’s sixth-round Plunket Shield match against the Otago Volts in Dunedin, allrounders Bracewell and Wheeler back from injury and pre-eminent spinner Patel back from the BLACKCAPS following a memorable Test series win against India.

The experienced reinforcements couldn’t arrive at a better time for the first-class squad with just three clutch rounds to go in the championship - and, coming off a hard loss against the Wellington Firebirds at the Basin Reserve that saw the Stags slip from first to third on the table.

After recovering from preseason keyhole knee surgery, Bracewell has played just one match this season, in the Stags’ Ford Trophy campaign at Pukekura Park. He then sustained a right groin strain during team training at the Basin Reserve on 4 February - sending him back to the injury rehab grind.

While it’s been a frustrating summer, after flying through club cricket on Saturday the quality competitor is raring to go for the business end of the season.

"Usually your body is feeling a bit tired at this point in the season, but I’ve had a good break and I have that fresh feeling of getting back out there, mentally and physically, which is a bit different for March," said Bracewell en route to Dunedin this morning.

"I’m definitely very excited to be back and we’re in a good position with three huge games to make our season. To go three in a row in the Plunket Shield will be very special if we can do it. We’ve got the squad to do it - if we play well in these games, and we’re all very motivated to push forward."

While Bracewell’s groin strain "came out of nowhere", it didn’t take him long to park the frustration and head back to start the journey back at Snap Fitness.

"You can’t get down, it’s sport and you’re going to get injured at some point and have a little bit of bad luck. You’ve just got to think positively, push on and focus on what you have to do."

With 3,436 first-class runs and 308 wickets to his name, Bracewell’s all-round class strengthens the lower middle order while Wheeler adds another left-arm option to the squad - both men bringing considerable experience as the Stags look to get back on the horse quickly.

Wheeler has played just one Plunket Shield match this summer, claiming three wickets against the Aces in October’s opening round, but was heavily involved in the white-ball Ford Trophy and Dream11 Super Smash campaigns before a groin injury. He sits on a first-class career tally of 110 wickets and, like Bracewell, flew through a round of Hawke’s Bay club cricket on Saturday.

After a first-class appearance for New Zealand A, busy Patel’s BLACKCAPS recall saw him miss last month’s fourth and fifth rounds. The left-armer comes back into the championship with seven wickets from the three Plunket Shield rounds before Christmas while young pace all-rounder Willem Ludick has taken up the mantle of leading Plunket Shield wicket-taker this season.

Ludick’s form has helped ease the absence of Bracewell with 21 victims from five matches - one ahead of Volts captain Jacob Duffy nationally, and, taking on the challenge from fourth change.

Making way for the returnees are Tom Bruce (currently in action for Central Districts A in Wellington), uncapped allrounder Joey Field (also in action for Central Districts A) and 24-year-old emerging allrounder Stefan Hook who made his first-class debut in last week’s nine-wicket loss against a good Firebirds side.

The Stags occupy third on the ladder by virtue of net run rate differential, but are otherwise equal on points with the second-placed Auckland Aces - who jumped up the ladder from fourth after picking up an astounding one-wicket win against Northern Districts in the previous round, with just one ball to spare.

Both sides now sit on 52 points, trailing the Firebirds by 13. The Firebirds now head on the road for the remainder of their campaign, including next week’s key rematch against the Stags in Napier - while the Stags will be at home for the last two rounds following this week’s southern sojourn, and will finish by hosting the Volts in the final round.

A maximum of 20 points is available to each team per round. This week’s hosts the Volts are fresh off their first Plunket Shield win of the season - winning against Canterbury in Invercargill. The Aces will be looking to overtake the Firebirds on the volatile table, the two sides meeting each other at Auckland’s Colin Maiden Park. The Stags meanwhile head into Round Six with two wins, two losses and a draw behind them.


Round 6 v Otago Volts

University of Otago Oval, Dunedin

10.30am, Tuesday 10 - Friday 13 March 2020

Greg Hay - captain - Nelson

Doug Bracewell - Hawke's Bay

Dane Cleaver - wicketkeeper - Manawatū

Willem Ludick - Nelson

Ajaz Patel - Hawke's Bay

Brad Schmulian - Hawke's Bay

Ben Smith - Whanganui

Blair Tickner - Hawke's Bay

Ray Toole - Manawatū

Ben Wheeler - Marlborough

George Worker - Manawatū

Will Young - Taranaki

Coach - Aldin Smith

Unavailable for selection - injury

Adam Milne, Seth Rance, Bevan Small, Ben Stoyanoff

Unavailable for selection

Ross Taylor (BLACKCAPS), Kieran Noema-Barnett

Points table after Round 5

Wellington Firebirds 65

Auckland Aces 52

Central Stags 52

Canterbury 40

Otago Volts 37

Northern Districts 24

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