Since taking charge of the Canterbury men's team in 2020, Peter Fulton has coached them to Plunket Shield and Ford Trophy title victories, but the Super Smash trophy is the one that keeps getting away from him. Canterbury last won the 20-over competition in 2006, the inaugural edition of the tournament, when Fulton, Brendon McCullum, Chris Cairns and Craig McMillian were still active players.
Fulton has since lost two 20-over finals as a player [in 2009 and 2012] and two more finals as Canterbury's coach [in 2021 and 2022].
Despite the absence of a number of senior players who were on tour with the New Zealand side in Pakistan and India, Canterbury have made it to their third successive Super Smash final. They will also be without the likes of Tom Latham, Daryl Mitchell, Ish Sodhi, and Matt Henry for their home final on Saturday, but Fulton is hopeful that they can break the jinx this time.
"I've played in a couple of losing finals since we won that first one back in 2005-06, I think it was," Fulton recalls, speaking to ESPNcricinfo. "So, I've lost a couple as a player and I've lost two now as a coach. So, let's hope the third time's the charm.
"I think it probably starts with the players, as it does with most cricket teams. You have to have good cricket players [to have such sustained success] and we're lucky in Canterbury...on the last Black Caps tour of Pakistan and India, I think we had six Canterbury players. That's a good start, but our T20 success this season has been while all those Black Caps have been away. So, we obviously have some good depth in Canterbury and some good young players coming through."
With Henry Shipley being called up to New Zealand's tours of Pakistan and India, Matt Henry on the sidelines, and Will Williams ending his Canterbury career to join Lancashire in 2022, Canterbury's pace stocks appeared particularly thin at the start of the season. But Zakary Foulkes, William O'Rourke and Angus McKenzie have emerged as unlikely match-winners, picking up 12 wickets each. Among seamers, only Otago's pair of Michael Rae (16) and Matthew Bacon (13) has got more wickets than them in this Super Smash. Even Fulton is surprised by the rapid progress of his raw, inexperienced seam attack.
"I think probably at the start of this T20 campaign, if I'd have been completely honest, I'd have said that we would struggle in the bowling department by virtue of those guys being very young and inexperienced," Fulton says. "Zak Foulkes is only 20, Will O'Rourke only 21 and Angus McKenzie 23. A lot of inexperience there, but they've really progressed quickly. They're fast learners and they've embraced the challenge of T20 cricket, which is not quite easy as a bowler. Sometimes, the ball disappears to all parts of the ground, but they've shown a lot of maturity and they've probably progressed a little bit quicker than I thought they might.
Peter Fulton hopes to produce more players for New Zealand from Canterbury's talent pool•Getty Images
"I guess, as a coach, we knew that those [senior] guys would be away [in Pakistan and India] or very likely to be away. In our planning, we sort of identified guys who might be playing at this time of the season. But, as I said, you can plan for what might happen, but the players still have to take the opportunity themselves and they have to, I guess, step up and take some responsibility. The fact that Zak and Will O'Rourke have opened the bowling as young players... and they have also bowled at the death. And they've been outstanding, so that's quite uncommon for young guys to do that. Like I said, you can have all the planning in the world, but the players have to go out and do the job themselves."
Fulton also believes that the swing-friendly conditions and the bigger boundaries at the Hagley Oval will work in the favour of his seam attack in the final.
"Really looking to the home final," Fulton says. "The last two times we played the final we lost and that was away. So, I hope the home advantage will be good for us. The boundaries are bigger, and the wicket generally has good pace and bounce, which will hopefully assist our bowlers. And the ball generally swings at Hagley. On the day, we got to play some good cricket."
Fulton: 'Having a short memory is important in T20 cricket'
Canterbury's progress to the final didn't look as likely, especially when they started their home leg with three successive defeats. However, they overcame the early setbacks and pressed on to win five of their next six matches to storm into the final. Their thumping eight-wicket victory against Otago in Dunedin on Monday saw them leap from third to the top spot in the league phase.
"I think having a short memory is really important in T20 cricket - whether you have success or maybe struggling a little bit as individuals or as a team," Fulton says. "The game can change pretty quickly and we had three games in a row, where we lost, and we didn't necessarily play great cricket. But in two of those games, we came up against an opposition that performed really well on the day. So, that can happen in T20 cricket and I guess it's [about] encouraging the guys to go out and play each game like a new game and not to carry the baggage from potentially previous failures or previous losses."
Chad Bowes was part of the New Zealand A team that toured India in 2022•Manoj Bookanakere/KSCA
Chad Bowes - a future New Zealand player?
Opening batter Chad Bowes, 30, has been central to Canterbury's success this season, rattling up 342 runs in ten innings at an average of 42.75 and strike rate of 156.88. A former South Africa Under-19 captain, Bowes has done his time at Canterbury and recently in 2022, he was even part of the New Zealand A team that had toured India.
Fulton reckons that Bowes has the tools to be part of the senior team later this year for the home series against Sri Lanka in March-April, when a number of New Zealand's first-choice players will be in India for IPL 2023.
"Look, he's been outstanding this season," Fulton says of Bowes. "When you watch domestic cricket, you try to identify players who can play at the next level. Watching them play here, you look for that extra little bit of class or the extra little bit of time [to play shots]. He's certainly got that and to be fair, he has always had that ability.
"I think he's been a bit more consistent this season, in terms of the scores he has been putting on the board. He's really standing out amongst the other players at this level. So, the Black Caps have been away, but he has really stood out this season and at times shown that he's a class above the other guys on display."