Thursday, May 23, 2024

NZC: Hay leaves big shoes to fill

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Photo Credit: Central Districts Cricket

Greg Hay announced his retirement from cricket during the final round of the 2023/24 Plunket Shield championship — then put a wonderful exclamation mark on his career.

The 39-year-old top order rock and captain of the Central Stags was in the middle, batting, when CDCA duly released his news.

The secret his teammates already knew was out and, with no distractions, he was focused on making his last match and, potentially (as it turned out, indeed), innings a good one.

Some 10 hours and 179 runs later — after having faced 434 balls, and having hit 16 fours, and having been clapped on and off the field more times than possibly anyone before him in a single innings spread over three days, Hay had set up his team for a formidable total of 580 and an innings victory over the Otago Volts to put the finishing touch on his career.

Hay departs the Domestic scene as the Central Stags’ most capped Plunket Shield skipper, having led and overseen a strong period for the Stags since he took over the reins from Will Young who had stepped down in 2018.

The Stags defended the Plunket Shield in that first season and, when they won the historic trophy again in 2022/23 — on the last day of the season, at Hay’s home ground in Nelson — he became the first Stags captain since Vic Pollard in the 1960s to twice lift the trophy.

The records will show that Hay’s career began in November 2006 and ended in March 2024, but the story is both more complicated and richer than that.

He disappeared off the scene entirely for four seasons, disillusioned by the Central selections of the time. Then-coach Dermot Reeve didn’t rate his game so he travelled, played overseas, played club cricket in Auckland, rolled the wicket back in Nelson at Saxton Oval, and generally looked around for things to do during the ages of 25 and 29 — prime years for most batters.

Up until the “career break”, Hay had played three summers for the Stags, and had made a New Zealand A tour of India in 2008/09.

His first-class debut away at the Cello Basin Reserve was memorable for the fact tailender Lance Hamilton nicked out when Hay was unbeaten on 98*, denying him a century on debut.

Starting out by plying his trade in the middle order, fate saw to it that he went on to a maiden Plunket Shield in that season anyway, along with four half tons, at an average of 45.61.

He scored another two first-class tons the next summer (including an unbeaten 164*), and another couple of half tons to average 53.73 in his second season. The young man from Waimea College had the goods.

After his return from his only NZ A tour, he added a fourth century (131 not out) in 2008/09, albeit struggling for consistency across just seven innings. That was when they dropped him.

Hay had also performed in the two white-ball formats early in his career, collecting a few early fifties, and he has a respectable List A one-day average in the 40s, with a high score of 85.

In T20s, he made an unexpected splash in the 2021/22 season when a raft of injuries to the Stags’ camp saw him recalled to the play the shorted format for the first time in seven years, in the top order.

He responded with three half tons at a 33.42 average, finishing as one of the team’s top batters that summer.

But most of all, his mix of traditional strokeplay, self-discipline and mental skills ideally suited the rigour of red-ball cricket.

When he came back in from the wilderness in 2013/14 (under a new Stags coach in Heinrich Malan at that time), it was a second chance to prove he was a serious first-class player.

He didn’t drop that ball.

Hay went on to complete 11 seasons in the ‘second act’ of his career, and twice finished a Plunket Shield summer with his season average in the 60s: 2013/14 and 2017/18, a golden season in which his consistency as an opening batter, now, played a big role in the Stags lifting the title.

Hay statistics don’t fade with age. Even at 39, when many a batter has stopped seeing the ball as well as they used to, and many of his contemporaries had walked away from the game at a much younger age, he was still strutting his stuff and averaging almost 50 in the Plunket Shield.

Admired for the technical precision of his sweep and pull shots, Hay knew his game inside out. He played the game hard, and made bowlers work hard for his wicket.

Had it not been for another remarkable and lengthy Stags career – that of erstwhile occasional BLACKCAP Mathew Sinclair, he would own a slew of Central Stags batting records.

He’ll have to settle for being just the second man to score 7,000 first-class runs for the team, and the second highest tally of Plunket Shield centuries (18), and second most Plunket Shield caps (104, in a first-class career that took in 106 matches overall, with two for NZ A).

It was in the fourth round of the latest season that he became just the second player, since Sinclair, to play 100 first-class matches for his side.

The retirement of the gritty, gutsy and canny right-hander marks the end of an era for the team who will confirm their next first-class captain when the 2024/25 summer begins later on this year.

Commented Central Districts CEO Lance Hamilton, the man who left his stranded all those years ago on debut, “I know how much his baggy green means to him, and how tough this decision to retire would have been for him.

“I also know that those internal drivers that have kept him at the top of his game over two decades don’t go away when you retire, and I’ve got no doubt Haysie will find success in whatever field he throws himself into next”

“I personally will miss having him around on a regular basis, and he will leave a big hole in the dressing room.”

Read more about Greg Hay’s career here

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