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Otago Bouyed By Triumph Last Summer

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Fuseworks Media
Otago Bouyed By Triumph Last Summer

By Daniel Gilhooly of NZPA

Wellington, Jan 27 NZPA - Otago are taking heart from a sense of deja vu ahead of tomorrow's State Shield cricket semifinal against Canterbury.

At this time last year they had also qualified third through 10 rounds before outgunning second-placed Canterbury at QEII Village Green -- tomorrow's venue -- and thumping Auckland in the final.

Little wonder coach Mike Hesson is unflustered about losing home advantage for the semifinal in Sunday's dramatic final round of matches.

"We've got very good memories of the ground last year, that (semifinal) was a good win for us," Hesson told NZPA.

"This is a one-off game and QEII's a quality surface so I'm sure the best team will win."

A major difference from last summer is that Otago will be without matchwinner Brendon McCullum -- the dashing opener going from his surprise appearance for New South Wales to New Zealand duty in Australia.

McCullum scored 108 not out in the six-wicket semifinal win last summer then memorably walloped 170 off 108 balls a week later against Auckland.

"We've played in the semifinals four years in a row now and last year was the first time Brendon was available," Hesson said.

"Most of our guys have had plenty of finals experience and there are other matchwinners in our side."

McCullum and Neil Broom are both lost to national duty while Canterbury will be without batsman Peter Fulton for the match to decide who faces Northern Districts in the final at Hamilton on Sunday.

Hesson said former New Zealand opener Craig Cumming was in the "form of his life", the Otago captain relishing the challenge this summer of shifting from the top of the order to No 4.

His average of 63.8 is the third best in the competition and his 383 runs well clear of any of his teammates.

English import Dimitri Mascarenhas tops two key State Shield fields.

His varied medium pacers have him the most economical bowler in the competition, conceding just 3.75 runs per over.

And his batting strike rate of 143.8 is streets ahead of anyone else, having scored his 161 runs off just 112 balls.

He has largely batted at seven this summer but with McCullum and Broom missing, could float higher.

"He's destructive with the bat but very sensible in doing so as well and gives the boys a lot of confidence," Hesson said.

Pace bowler Neil Wagner, 22, has taken the competition by surprise, the South African left-armer effective at both the top of most innings and at the death.

His bowling average of 18.1 is the best in the competition and his 20 scalps leaves him second behind another import, Wellington's Graham Napier, and three ahead of Canterbury kingpin Shane Bond.

Hesson suggested the battle of the new ball would be crucial.

"Neil and Shane both look to take wickets at the top and set the momentum of the day. They've both done that consistently through the campaign and they both bowl well at the end," he said.

"Obviously Shane's a lot more experienced but Neil's a bowler for the future.

"He bowls with genuine pace and makes it uncomfortable for the opening batsmen."

Hesson confirmed Wagner's long-term goal was to fulfil residency criteria and represent New Zealand.

Otago will keep a wary eye on former international Bond, who has been dynamic in recent weeks.

"But You don't want to get carried away by one player," Hesson said.

"Shane's obviously a high-quality bowler but we won't spend all our pre-match plans and practise just on him."

Canterbury's batting has a better all-round feel, with patient opener Michael Papps having scored 411 runs this year, South African Johann Myburgh always a threat and Shanan Stewart striking a rich vein of form this month. Stewart has scored 371 at better than a run-a-ball, boosted by his 120 off 90 against Northern on Sunday.

The South Island rivals have met just once this summer, with their first-round match in Christchurch abandoned.

They met in Dunedin on January 14, resulting in a massive 125-run win for Otago.

That result dropped Canterbury before rattling off three straight wins.

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