Shield Fever!

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New Zealand’s women’s Domestic summer begins this weekend with the opening two rounds of the 2020/21 Hallyburton Johnstone Shield in New Plymouth, at the Basin Reserve and at Oamaru’s Centennial Park.

It’s been nearly eight months since the last one-day match — the epic 2019/20 Grand Final at Seddon Park. No one knew it at the time, but that national Final turned out to be the final act of the NZC summer before COVID-19 measures cut the season schedule short by several weeks.

But if last season was ever to go out with a bang….this was a match for the ages. See what we mean in the Grand Final video, below.

Emotional sights at both ends of the spectrum as Northern Districts captain Felicity Leydon-Davis put up an epic fight with the bat — leading the way for her team as she valiantly tried to chase down the Auckland Hearts’ mammoth 322 for five.

The Hearts are a consistent side with a lot of history in the books, but that was their equal highest one-day total ever — in a Final, no less.

But seasons seldom go by without the Hearts in the top tier: this was to be their third title in five years, and the Hearts not turning up in the one-day Final is like Santa not turning up at Christmas.

Leydon-Davis, a veteran for the Spirit at 26, meanwhile faced the challenge of chasing down 323 whilst playing in her very first Final, Northern never having made a grand final in either format before.

The side was coming off its best ever season of Domestic cricket. They were the top qualifiers - unprecedented. For years they had been the cellar-dwellers, now they had gone in as the frontrunners on their home deck. If they could notch just one more win, the fairytale season would come true.

The Central Hinds are out to reclaim the Shield | PHOTOSPORT

The Hearts meanwhile were itching to get their hands back on the big piece of wood (quirky fact: the heaviest national trophy in New Zealand sport) that they had lost the previous season in the Final against the Central Hinds.

Northern put in a display worthy of any Final, but the Hearts were about to be crowned queens of the one-day scene yet again, with a 67-run victory in one of the best matches of the New Zealand Domestic summer.

Hearts did it best | PHOTOSPORT

So this weekend, it all begins again. The Hearts begin their defence away to their old mates the Central Hinds at Pukekura Park — although without their winning captain, WHITE FERN Anna Peterson, and their Grand Final heroine Arlene Kelly (nursing an injured knee), who are among those on the injury bench.

Kelly scored her maiden century in that Grand Final — remarkably, never having scored so much as a 50 in all her previous seasons, when she was down the order in the allrounders’ department. After Natasha van Tilburg headed to the UK, Kelly moved up the order and the rest is history.

The Sparks start at home in Oamaru | PHOTOSPORT

So the absence of both senior players at the top is a big loss, but the Hearts have a history of producing top young talents, Regina Lili’i is an experienced skipper and the weekend in New Plymouth against another talented young line-up in the Hinds should be a cracker.

Marginally the most successful side of the past two decades, the Canterbury Magicians have meanwhile hit the road, driving down the highway to Oamaru to meet the Otago Sparks at Centennial Park.

Kate Ebrahim returns | PHOTOSPORT

Both teams will miss their WHITE FERNS stars who are still in action in the WBBL across the Tassie, but Canterbury have scored a big bonus in the return of former WHITE FERN and all-round powerhouse Kate Ebrahim, who returns to the side after the birth of her first child.

No side has offered up more players to the WBBL and (in the case of Leigh Kasperek, who has wintered outside New Zealand) Women’s IPL than Wellington Blaze, however, who are out to make a fresh start under new captain and former WHITE FERN Thamsyn Newton.

Thamsyn Newton | PHOTOSPORT

Despite dominating the Dream11 Super Smash in recent seasons, surprisingly the Blaze has never lifted the Shield outright — although they were joint title winners with Canterbury in 2003/04 after the Final that season was washed out. They are out to correct that this summer.

They will also be missing WHITE FERN Jess Kerr (injury) and like a number of sides, have a potential couple of debutantes tomorrow.

Blaze will host Northern Districts at the Basin with the visitors also missing a clutch of regulars. Kate Anderson, Meddy Hyde, Lily Mulivai & Holly Topp are all unavailable due to niggles, but last season’s dark horse will no longer fly under the radar and should be a good match for the capital’s mix of youth and experience.

Image: MARGOT BUTCHER

With Thanks To

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