CENTRAL North Zone selectors have taken a punt on two young Englishmen to help revive their Country Championship fortunes in Ballina next month.
After a disappointing Country Championship last season when Illawarra beat Western in the final, CNZ skipper Tom Groth has been handed a new-look side, with two Englishmen, Calum Rowe and Stuart Plante, and Australian Country paceman Andrew Maher bolstering the side.
Maher, a former long-serving Newcastle and NSW Country representative, moved to Moree in the off-season in his occupation as a nurse and has played two games for South Tamworth in club cricket with his NSW Country teammate Groth.
He will spearhead a pace attack also including South Tamworth left-armer Col Smyth, Armidale’s Karl Triebe and Maitland medium-pacer Brent Watson.
The two young Englishmen have “come from left field”, CNZ chairman Terry Psarakis said.
“The selectors have taken a bit of a punt on the two young Englishmen,” he admitted.
“It’s an awkward one,” he said of selecting the visiting overseas players in preference to local home-grown players.
“But, originally, a great young player like Harrison Kelly was unavailable for rep cricket.”
That might have changed a little after Kelly agreed to fill in for Tamworth’s Second XI against Gwydir in last Sunday’s Connolly Cup.
That enabled Rowe to go to Maitland to play for Northern Inland in place of Aaron Hazlewood, who was watching his brother, Josh, play the Ryobi Cup Final against Queensland at North Sydney Oval.
Rowe can also bowl some medium pace while his countryman Plante will bowl left-arm fingerspin.
Plante’s elevation has been meteoric, following his 7-8 haul for Tamworth against Gunnedah in its lopsided War Veterans Cup win two weeks ago.
Then on Sunday he impressed again when he claimed three more wickets for Northern Inland in the six-wicket trial win over Hunter Valley in Maitland.
Michael Rixon also bowls some off-spin but the former NSW Country Colt will spearhead a batting lineup including fellow Tamworth batsmen Simon Norvill, Kris Halloran, Adam Jones and Nick Pearson.
Rowe also fits in that top order somewhere after two good scores last weekend also earned him a berth in the Tamworth Blues side to tackle Armidale in Tamworth this Sunday in a second round Country Shield match (see Page 29).
“We should end up with a pretty handy side,” Psarakis said.
“The last couple of years have been disappointing to be honest.
“ We have expected a high standard after having some pretty good sides a few years ago when Cookie (Jeff) and Brendan Rixon were also in the team and playing for NSW Country.”
The Country Championships will be played in Ballina from Friday, November 8 to Sunday, November 10.