Premier Preview: Can Grafton shake up the top flight?

The Premier club cricket season is back for the 2017/18 season with the first round of Jeff Crowe Cup action getting underway this Saturday October 7th.

Teams have been working hard over the winter, with a bit of movement around the traps in both coaching and playing personal.

In our first edition of ‘Premier Preview’ we look at how Howick Pakuranga, Grafton, University, Waitakere and North Shore are shaping up for 2017/18.


Howick Pakuranga CC

Noteworthy: Beaten T20 finalists last season. Pace attack to watch.

While there’s been a change of coach at Howick Pakuranga, one man remains a constant – Bill Walsh, who is back for another season to lead from the front for the men in maroon.

Ben Williams takes over from Hayden Gardner as coach and says the boys have been working hard in the off-season.

“[We’ve been] down in the indoor dungeon but you can’t read too much into indoor nets,” Williams says.

“The boys are a tight group and have played a lot together for several years. They are pretty thirsty for success because it’s been a while between drinks.”

There have been a few departures from Lloyd Elsmore with Paddy Cairns and Cody Andrews leaving but they have acquired former Wellington Firebird Matt McEwan to add to the already impressive fast bowling ranks at the club.

“We’ve been preparing for all formats so we haven’t targeted any one [format] in particular, we want to fare well in all three,” says Williams.

And if you wanted ‘one to watch’ from the young brigade out east?

“Young Adam Jones. He’s coming through and I’d probably say he’s one to keep an eye on,” says Williams.

MAN IN THE STANDS SAYS: Some solid acquisitions at Howick Pakuranga including the fiery Matt McEwan. Make no mistake this man Ben Williams will have the boys firing come round-one, the only question, how big is the loss of Paddy Cairns?


Grafton United CC

Noteworthy: 2016/17 Tom Hellaby champions. Plenty of experience has left the building.

Last season’s Tom Hellaby champions are playing up with the big boys in 2017/18 and new captain Nick Hendrie is setting realistic goals for his new look side.

Grafton lose a bit of experience with old heads Alan Burton and Dilan Peris going out on top last season, however they have brought in Sachin Variath from Waitakere while Michael Snedden joins them from Otago which will go someway to filling the void.

“Some of the players are moving over because they enjoy [coach] Ian West and the aura he brings to the team, they want to join the culture we have built here,” says Hendrie.

Newly contracted Auckland Ace Aniket Parikh has also made the move to Grafton this season, shifting from Cornwall in the hope of more time at the crease.

“He’s going to fill Alan Burton’s role in an all-round capacity but obviously with off-spin instead,” says Hendrie.

The city slickers are realistic about their chances this season but have put an emphasis on improving their one-day form after a couple of years of perceived underperformance in the 50-over format.

“It’s just about a bit of belief, feeling we deserve to be there, that will be the factor this season.”

MAN IN THE STANDS SAYS: There’s an air of confidence around Victoria Park and you get the feeling if these boys get on a roll, anything can happen. One to watch.


University CC

Noteworthy: Second in 2016/17 Jeff Crowe Cup pool play. Englishman Tom Wells joins from Leicestershire.

Hayden Gardner makes the shift from Howick Pakuranga this season to coach a University side brimming with young talent.

By their own admission, University underperformed last season, especially in the two-day format, something Gardner says the team have addressed.

“It’s been a really positive start to the season and the boys are looking to improve their two-day form from last year. The goal is to make the top four and with the change of the points system we think we can play some positive, attacking cricket.,” Gardner says.

It’s no secret the University side has some of the most exciting young talent in Auckland Cricket right now with Finn Allen and Ben Beecroft involved in the Under-19 New Zealand setup.

“The young guys are big parts of the club and we’ll be looking to give them a bit more responsibility this season,” says Gardner.

“Both Finn and Ben are part of the Under-19 setup and they bring some good ideas back from there. They may be missing for some of this season so we just need to make the most of them while they are here.”

All eyes will be on round three of the Hedley Howard Championship when University host Garnder’s old side Howick Pakuranga, but the old coach wouldn’t be drawn into a war of words.

“Really looking forward to playing Howick, we’ll prepare as any other game but we have them at home so it should be good fun.”

MAN IN THE STANDS SAYS: On paper this side has the potential to tip up anyone on their day. Unfortunately, cricket isn’t played on paper. If the young guns fire, Colin Maiden could become a bit of a fortress in 2017/18.


Waitakere CC

Noteworthy: Third place in Tom Hellaby 2016/17. New coach, new feel out west.

Part of the new coach brigade this season is former Auckland Aces wicketkeeper Brad Cachopa who joins the club for the upcoming season.

Cachopa is no stranger to the Auckland Cricket scene and is hoping his recent First-Class experience can help the boys from out west.

“It’s probably good timing in that regard, I still have good relationship in the professional setup,” Cachopa says.

“Before I took the role, the word on the street was we had some good players and hopefully with a bit of direction we can convert that into some performances. I’ve been really impressed so far with the players especially our seam attack and I think we have some potential to go well.”

Waitakere will be without the Hira brothers this season as well as Sachin Variath who moves to Grafton but the coach says he’s working on getting his players in the right frame of mind for the season ahead.

“It’s sort of a rebuilding phase for us and a chance to give an opportunity to new players. We are approaching our attitude towards the game and how we want to compete on Saturday and apply that to all formats,” he says.

“Whether we get promoted in two-day or success in white ball will be a result of how we apply ourselves so we’re not targeting anything specific.”

Ben Lister will once again be charging in for Waitakere this season but funnily enough Cachopa is making it his mission to see as little as possible of the big left-armer.

“My goal is to have him not playing much club cricket because I think he has the skill set to have some success at the higher level.”

A coach with a plan and a reasonably blank canvas could make Waitakere hard to handle in all formats this season.

MAN IN THE STANDS SAYS: West is best? We shall see. Brad Cachopa will be whipping these boys into shape and is sure to have some out of the box tactics come white ball time. Unknown quantity.


North Shore CC

Noteworthy: Beaten semi-finalists in T20 and Jeff Crowe Cup. Second in Tom Hellaby for 2016/17.

Favourite son Graeme Beghin is back as player/coach for North Shore this season and the plucky South African is hoping to finally crack into the top flight of the two-day competition.

Like many sides, there has been some player movement for the Shore with Akash Choudhary heading back to India and Matt Selby focusing on his career, the two notable omissions from this season’s team.

While Beghin is lamenting the loss of two quality cricketers, he says the side still has plenty of experience to call on.

“We have Michael Olsen, Tim Duncraft and Carl Brungar all with 100 Premier games behind them. Ben Wall been there a few years too so that makes up the senior core of our side,” Beghin says.

Gus McKenzie will again be turning out for the Shore boys as part of the younger brigade coming through at Devonport Domain, Beghin well aware that having some old heads around is key to developing the youngsters.

“It takes the pressure off the younger guys, gives them some enjoyment and they can express themselves and find their game. We are a well-balanced team at the moment.”

It’s that balance and experience that helps Beghin wear his multiple hats at the club.

“That’s a real challenge, with a strong leadership group, the boys take a lot of pressure off me. I sometimes just take five minutes between warm-ups and going out to bat just to get in the right head space.”

Devonport Domain will be a tricky place to visit if the Shore get their tail up this season.

MAN IN THE STANDS SAYS: The bridesmaids in all three formats last season will be looking to go one better. Young Gus McKenzie is one to watch this season – the Shore’s blend of youth and experience could be a dangerous mix. My pick to gain promotion.