The unusual sight of cricket being played at the BOP Cricket Oval in Mount Maunganui in September had a real purpose for a team bound for an International T20 tournament in South Africa.
The Auckland Aces, who won the NZ Cricket HRV Cup last season, have come to the Bay of Plenty as part of their preparation for the 2012 Champions League Twenty 20, to be played in South Africa from October 9 to 28.
Auckland head coach Paul Strang said the overriding reason to bring their Champions League preparation to the Western Bay was the ability to train and play preparatory matches on the grass wicket at the Bay Cricket Oval.
Bay of Plenty Cricket Oval turf manager Jared Carter has prepared a wicket block that coupled with the grounds outstanding drainage, is available for training outside the regular cricket season.
"The ability to bowl, field and bat on a grass wicket is several steps above indoor training.
"We brought six bowlers down to the oval prior to departure for the Champions League in India last year. This season we have brought the full squad, minus our six players on international duty," Strang said.
Auckland arrived last Monday and on Thursday and Friday had two limited over hit-outs against a Northern Districts XI.
"The outstanding cooperation and support from Jared Carter and Bay of Plenty Cricket has made the Bay of Plenty camp easy to organise.
"Today [Friday] is the second game of a seven-month season for the Auckland Aces, with the ability to prepare on grass extremely useful to the team".
The Champions League Twenty20 is an annual International Twenty 20 cricket competition, played between the top domestic teams from the eight major cricket countries in the world.
Included in the line-up are teams from the Indian Premier League and the Australian Big Bash.
While the Champions League is extremely lucrative in the later phases of the competition, the Auckland team has to play a round of death just to make the main draw. They will play one of the England representatives - the Hampshire Royals - and the Sialkot Stallions, from Pakistan, with just the winner progressing.
The New Zealand representatives in the Champions League leave the country for South Africa on September 22. The team will train at University of Pretoria before moving to the venues four days before the tournament starts.
First up, the Aces meet Sialkot on the October 9, before backing up the following day against the Royals. Their first game will create a small piece of Champions League history, with a Pakistani side playing in the competition for the first time since the tournament started in India in 2009.