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Strong Central Stags Squad Named For New Season Opener

A strong Central Stags squad has been named for the opening match of the 2023/24 New Zealand cricket season as the team's defence of the 116-year-old Plunket Shield gets underway this Friday in Auckland.

Stags captain Greg Hay has no qualms about beginning the season on the road - against the team his men beat so soundly and dramatically at the tail of last season to clinch the precious first-class silverware for the third time in six years.

Left-arm swing bowler Ray Toole was outstanding leading the attack on that final day of 2022/23, bagging his first-class career best of 7/57 in just 13 and a half pinpoint overs to demolish the Auckland Aces at Saxton Oval, Nelson, and consign archrivals Canterbury to runners up for the summer.

After having made his County debut in the 2023 off-season for Durham, Toole has already taken his first bag for this season: a six-for in the Stags' intersquad warm-up friendly last week, and has been joined by the big guns for the upcoming round one encounter with Test bowlers Blair Tickner, Doug Bracewell and spinner Ajaz Patel, as well as dangerous New Zealand A representative Brett Randell, all at the captain's disposal for the attack.

The classy Bracewell will head in needing just two more wickets to claim his 400th first-class scalp, and when he does so, it will also seal an elite 400 wickets/4000 runs double for the first-class allrounder.

There are also some significant milestones looming for the skipper this year. Starting the season on 6,499 first-class runs and 96 matches for the Stags (their second most capped player, behind Mathew Sinclair), Hay's dilemma will be who to leave out of the twelve, against a handy Aces squad to start off the season.

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The match begins at 10.30am this Friday at Kennards Hire Community Oval on the Sandringham side of Eden Park, with new Head Coach Glenn Pocknall heading in for his first match in his new role.

Pocknall is no stranger to winning a Plunket Shield campaign himself, having been head coach of the Wellington Firebirds when they won the title in the COVID-shortened 2019/20 season - edging the Stags whom they had been about to play.

With a maximum of 20 points available from each match, including eight first innings points for reaching batting and bowling targets inside 110 overs, the Stags will be concious of making a healthy start on this season's leaderboard, but may have to bat away some pesky Auckland weather with some showers forecast across the four days.

Follow the match with livescores and our free livestream here at cdcricket.co.nz (just click on the livescoring to access) or head to the park at your leisure in Auckland to see us over the long weekend, if you're in the big smoke.

Following this opening Plunket Shield round, the Stags head to their happy hunting round of Nelson for their first home game of the summer, with all welcome to a free admission four-dayer against the Firebirds beginning on Saturday, 28 October.

The Stags and Central Hinds will also be hosting a free admission Super Smash Open Day at Mitre 10 Park, Hastings on 20 November 2023.

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