IF YOUTH was the buzzword last summer then "stepping up" seems to be the catchcry of premier men's club teams this season.
All teams, bar Complete Flooring Napier Technical Old Boys (NTOB), have the services of Central Districts Stags players but that will be only for a couple of games when the 2012-13 season starts today from 10.30am with the 120-over, English-style one-day competition.
However, the attitude of some of the young charges was sobering as they went about handling their business with aplomb.
Defending champions The Station Napier Old Boys' Marist begin their campaign by hosting Ruahine Motors Central Hawke's Bay at Nelson Park, Napier, while on the adjacent pitch Complete Flooring Napier Technical Old Boys (NTOB) host Taradale Cricket Club.
In Hastings, overall champions Heretaunga Building Society Cornwall Cricket Club host Havelock North Cricket Club at Cornwall Park.
CHB have become the first club to have sight screens at the picturesque Ongaonga Domain, near Waipukurau, with a revamp of their changing rooms and pavilion.
That aside, the Scott Schaw-led CHB are employing the services of former county club cricketer Paul Hindmarsh.
"He was on the Durham roster for a season and then he got injured so they let him go," says rookie captain Scha,w emphasising Leceister Cricket Club are keeping tabs on the allrounder.
CD batsman Jamie How, who was playing in Hindmarsh's county, put the Englishman on to CHB veteran James Mackie.
CHB coach Colin Schaw caught up with Hindmarsh on a trip to England - and the rest , as they say, is history.
Stags pair Ben Smith, a wicketkeeper/batsman, and Black Caps test wicketkeeper/batsman Kruger van Wyk's input will be invaluable to the CHB youngsters.
Youngsters stepping up from last summer include Toby Richardson, 18, a bat maker with Laver and Wood, and Schaw's younger brother, Angus, 18, who is a former Lindisfarne College pupil.
"We've also worked hard off season in preparing our wickets," Scott Schaw said, adding a lot of time went into indoor preparation.
After leading CHB to the final of the annual HBCA Twenty/20 tournament last weekend, Schaw is delighted to assume the mantle of captaincy although it is more demanding than what he had to do at the helm of the Lindisfarne College first XI team three years ago.
"We were at the bottom of the table last season ... so we want to be at the top echelon this season and fight for the title," he says, mindful seasoned campaigners such as Mackie and Daniel Drepaul will be at hand for consultation.
They have also inherited Henry Hunter from Havelock North and Driaan Lubbe from Taradale.
Cornwall have made the ideal start, mentally speaking, when they became the first Bay team to clinch the bragging rights to the annual HBCA Twenty20 competition in its second year last weekend.
"We won the [overall] championship last season so we'll be out to back it up this season," says new captain Jacob Smith of the team who also were the 50-over champions. He is looking forward to students returning from tertiary institutions around December/January to bolster their the ranks of a predominantly youthful side.
Allrounder Carl Cachopa is the CD batsman although the Black Caps this week released fellow Auckland legspinner Tarun Nethula from their international tour of Sri Lanka.
The other key players are wicketkeeper/batsmen Michael Taiaroa and Seb Langridge, while Jayden Waters, who opens with Smith, is returning from a stint with the family hotel business in Picton.
While Smith and several others are in the mix of Hawke's Bay representative coach Lincoln Doull, vice-captain and last summer's club MVP, Jonathon Hall, will assume the mantle of captaincy once the Chapple Cup and Hawke Cup campaigns begin from next month.
Cornwall won't be shy of youngsters, such as allrounder Jayden Wiggins, who will be keen to fill that vacuum.
Havelock North Cricket Club are still seeking a naming sponsor but they have inherited the services of stalwart Todd Astill who returns after a stellar season with Napier Old Boys' Marist (NOBM) where he led them to the English style one-day title despite grappling with player numbers.
For at least two games they will also have the prowess of CD pair Jeet Raval and Ben Wheeler.
"I guess we'll pretty much be just trying to get a team on the field each week," says Astill, 33, who starts his new job as sports co-ordinator at Napier Intermediate School from Monday.
Injecting youth will be part of a major rebuilding programme for Havelock North as new HBCA chief executive officer Craig Findlay will be involved with helping the club lay down a solid foundation of home-grown talent.
Astill, who played for CHB for a summer after moving to the region to work, says he returned to the villagers because it's where he started his playing career.
"For the last two years Havelock North haven't taken a step forward and are, in fact, floundering so I'm returning to lead and coach them to get them back on track," the 33-year-old says, taking over from fellow stalwart and mate Jared Priest, who has opted to go down to the senior grades to help rebuild there.
"JP's also taking a step back from cricket because his personal circumstances have changed, too."
For NOBM coach Tony Pothan the return of ex-Bay rep Nick Phelps solves the pivotal problem of wicketkeeper and top-order batsman.
Batsman Jaspreet Singh epitomises the type of players NOBM are relying on to do the hard yards for them this summer.
"He's a senior player from last year so we'll see if he can make a step up," says Pothan, keen on rebuilding junior cricket at the a club who will, with Havelock North, receive help from new HBCA chief executive Craig Findlay to become a force in numbers and strength again in the premier ranks.
"Our development hasn't happened for four to five years.
"It's a hard road this summer so our goal is to get two to three junior teams and get some school leavers," he says, adding he and Glenn Walkin had been through that process when he was coaching at the club in his first stint.
They had developed players such as Bay rep Kurt Richards (Havelock North), Phelps and Daniel Swindells who had moved on between seasons.
The prems have lost eight players to work commitments or defections.
"It's a big loss from anyone's term.
"Club loyalty these days is just shocking," Pothan laments after losing Astill and Sri Lankan Indika Senarathne to Taradale.
"We helped Todd and Indi [Senarathne] and they just up and left us.
"We have three cricket teams in Napier, mate, so getting the cream of the crop can be very hard," he says, bemoaning the loss of coaching at schools.
He hopes to secure a few key players when university exams are over.
Veteran Napier Tech skipper George Diack is mindful last summer was the first official season the men in red hadn't won any silverware for 14 years.
With Liam Rukuwai and Bronson Meehan in Doull's equation, Diack says his maiden spell as fulltime captain is timely.
"All the boys put in my name up before I even knew and I was just told I was it.
"I always wanted to it so it felt right and this year's pretty good," says the 31-year-old who runs his Diack Lawn Care business.
Ex-Bay rep batsman Morton Freer has retired amid a rebuilding process that began last summer of a club which is fiercely proud of its predominantly home-grown talent.
"I'm the oldest by six years so there'll be a lot of youth who will be dangerous so we should be competitive unit," says George who will have the services of Gloucestershire pair of Matt Taylor and Christian Purchass honing their skills at the Brendon Bracewell Academy after arriving here on the recommendation of former New Zealand coach John Bracewell in England.
Last summer's CD squad member, Stevie Smidt, has also returned from a stint in England and the Bay rep should prove a handful as his allround skills are becoming more defined in a bid to get back into the Stags' habitat.
Taradale Cricket Club's new vice-captain, Toby Doyle, is no stranger to assuming the mantle of authority.
He led Suburbs Cricket Club premier side in Hamilton while studying for his double degree at Waikato University.
Doyle, 22, who graduates next week, is working part-time for HBCA.
While Taradale were tipped to win the T20 tourney last weekend they had a Dad's Army look about them with the unavailability of CD skipper Kieran Noema-Barnett (injured) and Black Caps allrounder Doug Bracewell.
"We gave a couple of school guys a go on Sunday and the older guys came to training yesterday," he says, hoping to secure the services of Napier Boys' High School paceman Ben Stoyanoff on Sundays and after Christmas when college cricket ends.
Callum Hewetson is also another exciting youngster but captain James De Terte, fellow Bay rep Harshil Pandya and Jamie Cotter will provide some stability.
Dale also have the Bracewell Academy pair of Englishman Eddie Torr and Australian Robert Wheatley.