Max finals provide unexpected scene setter for summer
New Zealand's domestic summer kicks into full bloom at the weekend with the staging of the Shell Super Max finals in Auckland.
It wasn't always intended to be a three-team extravaganza but last week's cancellation of the semi-finals resulted in two weekends being crammed into one and two of the teams facing three Super Max games in two days.
While Wellington, in particular, was annoyed that its plans were upset, the conditions in Auckland over the past week have meant that Eden Park's outer oval will be in much better shape.
Wellington coach Vaughn Johnson said, "As a group we are annoyed that we will possibly be playing three games of Max a week out from the Shell Trophy starting.
"It was interesting that it was still dry enough to play club cricket in Auckland last weekend. Eden Park is supposed to be an international cricket ground. Wednesday was very early to call off last weekend and having it all this weekend puts it all out of kilter," he said.
Wellington as defending champion, has had its team boosted with the return of internationals Roger Twose and Chris Nevin from South Africa.
"We're in pretty good nick but it is hard to predict a result in Max, it is a bit hit and miss.
"Auckland, on paper, looks the team to beat but we know Otago have done well to get past Canterbury to qualify," he said.
Auckland coach Tony Sail said the extra week would mean the pitch would be in much better condition.
"It was unplayable last Friday and on Saturday it was marginal.
"It has been a long time to wait for us after we had the good feeling of doing well against Northern Districts when playing five games in seven days.
"To a certain extent having so many games this weekend has been an irritation because we have warm-up games before the Trophy starts," he said.
The Max had actually interrupted the side's build-up.
Sail wasn't prepared to discount either of Auckland's two rivals.
"In Max, everyone is the main problem. Otago has some very dangerous batting with Chris Gaffaney and Andrew Hore while it will be interesting to see how Craig Pryor goes coming back to his home territory.
"We know Wellington takes the Max very seriously and their stats show their bowlers have been doing very well and with Twose and Nevin back in they will be strong.
"But I always say that Auckland is our main danger. We have to look after our own processes.
"In Max, if you play your best you can still be beaten. One over can turn it all around.
"We think we are well-prepared and we are looking forward to the weekend," he said.
Otago, which looked in trouble on the only grass pitch used in the series with Canterbury at Ashburton, has been getting practice on grass since qualifying.
It had a game in Oamaru at the weekend and has been on the grass at Carisbrook during the week.
Coach Dennis Aberhart said: "We had a good round-robin series against Canterbury and there wasn't too much between us. I was quite pleased the way the guys came through in the last round at Westport.
"We want to do well, that's our focus for this weekend. Auckland absolutely dominated its opposition in its games while Wellington are the playing through champions and will be even stronger now that Roger Twose has been added to the side.
"If we perform to our best we can be there," he said.
The first game starts at 10.30am on Saturday with the second at 3pm and games will be played at the same time on Sunday with the final at 3pm.
The teams are:
Wellington: Scott Golder, Matthew Bell, Richard Petrie, Chris Nevin, Roger Twose, Mayu Pasupati, Paul Hitchcock, Regan West, Matthew Walker, James Franklin, Grant Donaldson, Carl Bulfin.
Auckland: Llorne Howell, Aaron Barnes, Lou Vincent, Tama Canning, Andre Adams, Dion Nash, Blair Pocock, Richard King, Richard Morgan, Tane Topia, Chris Drum, Heath Davis.
Otago: Andrew Hore, Craig Cumming, Chris Gaffaney, Lee Germon, Scott Waide, Craig Pryor, Karl O'Dowda, Mark Billcliff, Warren McSkimming, Neil Rushton, David Sewell, Brendon McCullum, Simon Forde.