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Cann confident of ending St George’s rut

Forever young: when Lionel Cann leads out St George’s at Wellington Oval tomorrow at age 46, he will be comfortably the eldest amd most experienced player in the Annual Classic

St George’s face a tough task of trying to end an eight-year wait without a Cup Match win when Somerset, the holders and favourites, travel to Wellington Oval tomorrow and Friday.

The West Enders are still smiling after last year’s crushing victory by an innings and 34 runs, with Wendell Smith, the St George’s coach, sharing this week how a female fan told him “we’re going to give you a three-to-one this time!”

Not possible in a two-innings cricket match, but no doubt Smith got the message that Somerset clearly intend to make it another convincing victory.

The last St George’s victory was back in 2011 when Lionel Cann and Stefan Kelly carried them to a thrilling two-wicket win. Four of the five players who played in that team have been recalled, with Cann back as captain after being dropped last year.

Also recalled are Justin Pitcher and OJ Pitcher, a former captain, and veteran all-rounder Rodney Trott. The only other surviving member from that 2011 team is Allan Douglas Jr. “I feel very confident with the team,” Cann said yesterday. “We’ve learnt our lessons from the rout we took last year.

“We picked the team based on guys who were on form and who put the work in. The team is mixed with a lot of experience as well as the future players, a well-balanced team.

“In the bowling, Justin will be leading. He’s having a good season and has stepped up to the plate as a leader as the captain of St David’s. Cup Match is a long two days and everybody will have to step up and play a role.

“The key will be to get into Somerset’s middle order, which I don’t think has been tested the last few years. We have to make sure we get a good score in the first innings just to keep us in the match. The most critical thing is we take our catches, that we’re not giving a batsman two or three chances.

“I feel very confident with my team. Somerset will have to be on their ‘A’ game, but obviously we respect them as champions.”

Cann remembers that victory eight years ago, smashing a six and a four before reaching the target of 148 and then dropping to his knees to celebrate the win. St George’s are desperate for another victory like that.

“For me, I would love to win the game at home,” Cann said. “It has been too long. Obviously, the St George’s fans want to win back the cup, but, for cricket’s sake, I think people want to earn back the respect of cricket and to make sure the game is good and played in a good spirit.

“We lost our way a bit last year, but we have brought back our senior players — guys who understand what Cup Match means to the fans. We’re geared up and ready to go.

“When I got the call, I wasn’t really surprised but ready for it. The chairman of selectors [Damon Walker] asked me to come in for an interview. I still think that cricket needs the older guys to be around to show the youth how to play the game in good spirits and understand the skills of cricket. I’m happy to still be a part of it.

“It’s two well-balanced teams, I’ve even heard from Somerset people that you have picked a good team. I’ve had phone calls saying it’s a brilliant team, one that can win the cup. The team that shows up on those two days will definitely conquer.”

Treadwell Gibbons Jr and Temiko Wilson, who have both seen limited action this year because of work commitments, are two key players in the early-order batting, with Gibbons one of the openers.

The other opener will be Rodney Trott, who has been at the top of the order for Bay all season and opened the batting with Gibbons in the final trial match on Saturday.

The home side’s batting will rely also on Macai Simmons, their former captain, Onias Bascome, who scored a first Cup Match century last season, OJ Pitcher and the explosive Douglas. Coach Smith is cautiously optimistic about his team’s chances of winning back the cup off a Somerset team that they will have to bowl out twice. Colt Mackih McGowan makes up a three-prong seam attack that also includes Zeko Burgess and Justin Pitcher, with Trott and Douglas the two spinners.

“I’m quite pleased with the team,’ Smith said. “What we have to do is play to our ability. We have some talented players.

“I must say I’m impressed with the preparations the club has done for the match; the grounds are spectacular. I’ll tell the players on the day to try to play to your full potential because this is a game where the spectators will remember your performance.

“We have a number of players who, I’m sure, will want to do just that, scoring their first fifty or their first century. All we looked to do was pick a balanced squad. Hopefully, we have batsmen who will give us a good start. But I don’t want to give away anything to do with our game plan or batting order.

“I’ve been keeping a low profile; the match isn’t about the coaches or the administrators, it’s about the players and I want them to be the ones to express themselves and then get the due credit. No matter who you pick, there are going to be some people who are dissatisfied with the team, but only 11 can play.”

Smith believes the experience of OJ Pitcher and Rodney Trott could be vital to the team who contain just one colt this year in McGowan, the Cleveland fast bowler.

“OJ Pitcher and Rodney both demonstrated their ability during the Eastern Counties match and it is pleasing to see them both back in the line-up,” the coach said.

“St George’s fans, I’m sure, are tired of seeing us underperform and that’s what we want — our players to perform to their true talent. I want the players to be mentally ready for two days of positive cricket.”

Somerset have 38 wins overall with 32 by St George’s and 47 draws. This is the 117th anniversary, but the 118th match.

Cann has 1,168 runs in Cup Match since making his debut in 1993, the third highest aggregate scorer behind Janeiro Tucker and Charlie Marshall. OJ Pitcher is the next high aggregate run scorer among the present-day players, with 560 runs from 19 innings.

However, the next four players are all from Somerset, with Stephen Outerbridge, Chris Douglas and Terryn Fray close to 500 runs in the classic. Outerbridge has 491 from 15 innings with a highest score of 92, while Douglas had 436 runs, also from 15 innings, and Fray 422 from 12 innings with a best score of 121 not out.

Tre Manders, sidelined this year after a bike accident, has 366 runs since making his debut in 2012.