A youthful-looking NSW Country side has the ability to end a three-year drought and win the Australian Country Cricket Championships.
But coach Jeff Cook is adamant a “total team effort’’ is needed to win the “gruelling’’ carnival being played in Wollongong on January 3-11.
The home side opens its campaign against Western Australia Country at North Dalton Park on January 3.
The six-team carnival also features Victoria Country, Queensland Country, East Asia Pacific and reigning champions South Australia Country.
Each team will play each other twice, with 30 one-day and T20 fixtures to be played during the carnival at Figtree Oval, Keira Oval, King George V Oval, University No 1 Oval and Hollymount Park East.
NSW Country won the inaugural event back in the 1984-85 season but hasn’t captured the title since claiming its 11th championship back in 2012-13.
Cook feels his team, which features six debutantes, has just as good a chance as any team of being crowned 2016-17 champions.
“We go into every competition to try and win it. Being played in our own state, we will be keen to do well,’’ he said.
NSW captain Peter Gallichan is playing his first country championships, as is Southern ACT fast bowler Djali Bloomfield, who impressed earlier this year against Illawarra in a representative fixture at Keith Gray Oval.
Former Oak Flats batsman Keiran Gray is part of the squad for a second straight year. Gray will be hoping to see more action on the field this time round. He didn’t bat in the one game he played last season.
Cook is confident his young team will rise up to the occasion.
“It’s exciting we have a number of new players into our system who want to play. They are all extremely keen and honoured to be selected for NSW Country,’’ he said.
“We have a sprinkling of experience as well. There will be no two-day cricket this year so we’ve chosen a squad who play the one-day and T20 formats well.
“We can’t rely on one or two guys, we need everyone playing well. It is a long and gruelling tournament. There is only one rest day out of 10 days of cricket.’’
The coach was hopeful experienced campaigners Pat Derwen, Tom Groth and Kaine Harmsworth would lead from the front.
‘’We’re looking forward to playing in Wollongong. Hopefully the locals come out in force and support NSW Country,’’ Cook said.