Sports correspondent & historian
Sideline Sid is counting down the days to the highest profile sporting event ever held in the Western Bay of Plenty.
Once considered a sporting backwater, the Western Bay will become the focus of a massive worldwide television cricket audience, when the Black Caps square off with England at the Bay Oval 21-25 November 2019.
Even the most enthusiastic Western Bay cricket fans would have found it hard to imagine when the first sod was turned at Blake Park in Mount Maunganui on March 1 2005, that the ground would host a test match against England fourteen years later.
Revenge will certainly be on the agenda of the New Zealand side, which lost the absolute thriller against England in the 2019 World Cricket Cup Final.
While many passionate Black Caps fans will argue that the big prize should have been shared because the scores were tied at the end of regular play and extra time – Sideline Sid says the count-back rules were in place before the first ball was bowled in the title decider.
No Black Caps players will be looking forward to the historic Western Bay of Plenty test match more than local heroes in skipper Kane Williamson and star bowler Trent Boult.
The two homegrown cricket stars always relish the opportunity to come home and thrill cricket fans, friends and family alike at the Bay Oval.
Bay of Plenty Cricket has produced a number of Black Cap players in the Mathew and Robbie Hart, Daniel Flynn and Graeme Aldridge in the last twenty odd years, along with our two current headline stars.
Before that, a number of New Zealand players would come to the Bay of Plenty to hone their skills in club and representative cricket.
The first was New Zealand keeper Eric Petrie in the 1960's, with bowing greats in Richard Collinge and Bob Cunis along with former captain Geoff Howarth in the following decade.
New Zealand cricket legend Lance Cairns, Andy Roberts and Bruce Blair all played for Te Puke and the Bay in the 1980's, with current New Zealand Cricket CEO David White and Brendan Bracewell wearing the Bay of Plenty strip during the same period.
One of the most prolific Bay of Plenty club and representative batsmen in Llorne Howell set a myriad of batting records in the last decade and a half.
What is not so well known, is that three All Blacks have worn the Bay of Plenty blue and gold cricket strip.
All Black legend Grant Fox and Tauranga Boys' College old boy Wayne Graham, both played for the Bay as young men before All Black selection.
There has always been some mystery about the third All Black to play cricket for the Bay. It was only last week, that this writer who is the guardian of Bay of Plenty Cricket history, unlocked the secret of Blair Furlong's short and sharp Bay representative cricket career.
Furlong was a Hawke's Bay stalwart during their Ranfurly Shield golden era of the 1960s.
The 18 year old Furlong made his first-class rugby debut for Hawke's Bay on the big stage, against England on their 1963 tour of the country.
Silky smooth skills at first five propelled Blair into the limelight, with eventual All Black selection on the tour to South Africa in 1970, where he played 11 games in the Black strip including the fourth test.
Recent email communication through a shared friend revealed that he went walkabout in 1996, first to Wellington, before moving to Kawerau for employment.
Just three games in the Bay of Plenty colours showcased the immense sporting talents of the Hawke's Bay visitor.
Seventy five runs and 12 wickets which included eight wickets (4/87 & 4/25) against Waikato, gave a glimpse of his all-round cricket skills to Bay of Plenty cricket fans.
The end of the 1966/67 cricket season saw the return of Blair Furlong to the "Other" Bay, with a short entry in Bay of Plenty Cricket history recording his stay in Bay of Plenty.