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Six to watch in the Plunket Shield

The Plunket Shield, New Zealand’s first-class competition, gets underway on Monday as the season kicks into gear. Here are six players to keep an eye on during the first part of competition

Conway, the South African-born batsman who has been prolific in recent seasons, officially completed his qualification period in August although how soon he slots into any of the national sides remains to be seen. There is due to be an extensive New Zealand A programme this season so he can expect to be given a run in that. During the 2019-2020 season he topped the averages across all three tournaments – the Plunket Shield, One-Day Trophy and Super Smash – and his returns included a career-best, unbeaten 327 against Canterbury.

Last season was a forgettable one for Raval, who lost his Test spot after being worked over by the England and Australia attacks and then dropped off the NZC contracts list. He has moved from Auckland to Northern Districts in the off-season so will hope that a change of scenery can bring a change of fortunes. “A few issues started creeping into my game and then it sort of turned into a battle of the mind.” he told ESPNcricinfo during the winter. “But look, I’m content with the career I’ve had so far, and I’m determined to get back to where I was through the lessons I’ve learnt.”

Left-arm spinner Patel has been a very consistent performer in the Plunket Shield and now holds a NZC central contract following the retirement of Todd Astle. Since he made his first-class debut in 2012, he is far and away the best spinner in the competition with 215 wickets at 30.42. However, it’s a tough gig being New Zealand’s Test spin bowler on home soil. Patel has played three home matches out his eight Tests and has yet to take a wicket – in his most recent outing against India, in Wellington, he was needed for a grand total of six overs.

One of the more significant off-season moves was Mitchell heading from Northern Districts to Canterbury. The allrounder made his Test last season, scoring 73 against England in Hamilton, but did not make the tour of Australia or series against India although he hit a century for New Zealand A against India A. He only made two Plunket Shield appearances but scored 197 runs without being dismissed including a career-best 170 not out. He will be a key component to the Canterbury side as they look to improve on just one win in six games last season.

The 22-year-old pace bowler, who was part of the Under-19 World Cup in 2016, took 14 wickets in four matches at 18.57 last season and is highly regarded in the Wellington set-up, capable of pushing the speed fun towards 140kph. His returns included 6 for 43 against Auckland during which he took three wickets in seven balls. His father, Michael, had a four-year first-class career with Wellington in the early 1990s.

More well-known for his exploits in T20 cricket, Phillips made a dash across the Tasman in early January to answer an SOS from the New Zealand Test squad and less than 24 hours later was making his debut at the SCG. He produced an excellent half-century in the first innings with a batting style that quickly drew comparisons with Steven Smith. He has a solid first-class record under his belt which included a century against England last year in a warm-up match.

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