There could be a few pertinent glances to the captains this afternoon with a strong northwest dancing across the Auckland isthmus. One thing’s for sure — they won’t be from the bowlers operating downwind.
Bowling into it could be another story, but with the leading wicket-taker in the competition the Central Stags are surely holding an ace there as we head into the first knockout game of Burger King Super Smash 2018.
Tall, talented, tattooed Blair Tickner’s winning fans not just for his pole-hunting abilities — he’s taken 18 wickets from nine games to lead the stats by five wickets — but gregarious celebrations and extroversion that never leaves you in doubt as to how he’s feeling out there.
Tickner’s breakthrough season was last summer when the previously part-time Stag made a big difference to a red hot campaign that swept the Stags straight into a home Grand Final, nailing his first T20 five-fa en route.
This summer they’re coming from behind and Tickner says that’s no problem either.
“We’ve said all along there’s no reason we can’t make the Grand Final. There’s still no reason we can’t make the Grand Final.”
As long as the weather behaves, but Aucklanders have woken up to an overcast day that should see action.
Tickner’s focus is on controlling the controllables and "just trying to bowl my best ball. All we can do is play good cricket, be consistent, and see how we go.”
Way back at the start of the comp, the Stags lost here at Eden Park Outer Oval — their T20 title-hunt off to a rocky start in a rare loss against the Aces.
“We talked earlier in this campaign about how we were doing the business with either the bat or the ball, but not putting the two together in the same game,” says Tickner. “That cost us then, but now we’ve brought our batting and bowling together for three good wins in a row.
“As bowlers we love seeing the batsmen taking “tens” off the early overs and the fast start Jesse [Ryder] and George [Worker] gave us in Wellington meant we could put a platform together to reach a score of close to 200 — do that and we’ve always got something to bowl at.”
Just don’t bank on “Ticks” contributing to those tallies himself — incredibly, from 17 games in his Stags career the big 24-year-old tailender has only had to face three balls.
That’s a pointer to a team in which players know their roles and perform them, an all-star batting line-up featuring not only the fearsome combo of Ryder and Worker, but the quick-scoring ability of BLACKCAP Tom Bruce, the class of leading runmaker Will Young, and confident allrounders Dane Cleaver (the punchy keeper-batsman with a big straight drive), former BLACKCAP Ben Wheeler, Bevan Small and BLACKCAP Seth Rance who’s shown this summer he can also slap the ball around for some quick big runs if needed.
All this potency even without their injured BLACKCAPS Doug Bracewell and Adam Milne who were in the mix last time the Stags hit town.
Like Rance, Ben Wheeler has also blasted his Burger King Super Smash best with the bat in recent games — hitting a new PB twice — and says the team is confident and “in pretty good stead.”
“Everyone talks about momentum in T20 cricket and we’ve got that heading into the playoffs,” says Wheeler. “It’s where we want to be, all the team has been contributing and we’ve been getting the little things right.”
Both teams trained yesterday at Eden Park Outer Oval with the Stags managing a full session outdoors after early showers moved on.
Eden Park Outer Oval gates open at 3pm, get set for a cracker against the Auckland Aces, 4.10pm LIVE on SKY Sport and Radio Sport this afternoon!