THE Southland Cricket Association is searching the English county ranks for a player to bolster the south’s chances of holding on to the Hawke Cup.
Southland broke a 26-year drought in March when it beat Counties Manukau by 10 wickets to claim the Hawke Cup for the first time since 1992.
The focus has switched to early February, when Southland will host its first Hawke Cup defence at Queens Park in Invercargill.
Cricket association general manager Jason Domigan, who doubles as a key player in the team, said the Hawke Cup had created a busy off-season as the organisation mapped out a plan to try and retain the cup.
That has included looking into the prospect of bringing in a professional player from England for the duration of the season.
Domigan said initially he was reluctant to go down the track of signing a professional player, because it was something the organisation had not previously done. But he felt if they could lock-in the right player it would provide a big boost in the quest to retain the Hawke Cup, and that was the focus this season.
Southland did look to have an established county level player sorted, but he has since pulled out.
Southland is in talks with another English county player, but Domigan was not in a rush to get a signing sorted.
“We don’t want to sign someone for the sake of signing someone. We want to get the right player who is the right fit for us,” he said.
The English county recruit will come as part of an Invercargill Licensing Trust funding package to the cricket association to help its quest to retain the Hawke Cup.
The funding will also go towards a preseason camp, as well as improved video analysis technology, and increased outdoor practice nets to help provide more training time on grass pitches
Domigan has put together an intense schedule this season, with Southland effectively playing preseason fixtures from the start of December through to the first defence in February.
It will include playing its traditional four southern zone fixtures against North Otago, Otago Country, South Canterbury and Mid Canterbury.
Southland will also play a three-day game against Otago A at Queens Park, while the Southland development team will take on Canterbury Country Emerging Players in a two-day and a 50-over fixture.
Domigan said the squad had just started to assemble, with fitness the key focus at the moment. The cricket-focused preparation would start to creep in as the season drew closer.
With the first defence not until February, Southland had time on its side, Domigan said.
“We need to make sure we are peaking at the right time. It’s going to be a long season.
“I’m also wary that we have an amateur team and the guys have got jobs and other commitments.”
From last season’s Hawke Cup winning team, Southland has lost just Alex Tait, who has shifted to Christchurch.
Domigan predicted there would be plenty of competition in the batting department this season, but depth in the pace bowling stocks was limited.
There would need to be some juggling to not overload the bowlers given the jam-packed playing schedule.