The origins of the Hawke Cup stretch back to the 7th Baron Hawke and the 19th century. The English Baron had a missionary-like zeal to develop cricket overseas and undertook nine tours as a player between 1887-88 and 1911-12, leading teams to Australia, New Zealand, India (twice), North America (twice), South Africa (twice), the West Indies and Argentina. His favourite parts of these tours was playing against the smaller local sides saying that 'they played the game in right spirit'.
It was with this in mind when in 1910, a cup arrived from England being described by the New Zealand Herald at that time as "in the shape of a handsome double-handed silver urn, of simple but striking design, mounted on an ebony pedestal and engraved with the coat-of-arms of Lord Hawke, the doner. It is inscribed - 'Presented by Lord Hawke to the New Zealand Cricket Council, to be played for by the minor provinces and associations affiliated". A tournament was held with a final played at Lancaster Park in Christchurch between Southland and Rangitikei, winners of the South and North Islands parts of the tournament respectively. Southland would win the game and become the first holders of the cup.
Now that a holder had been found, it was to be played for in a challenge format. However, having Southland as the holder proved to be problematic for the New Zealand Cricket Council at that time. Challengers found the travel to bottom of the South Island to be very costly and time consuming, which meant South Canterbury was the only team to challenge for the 1911-1912 season. This led to the New Zealand Cricket Council having to take the Hawke Cup of Southland and a new tournament was held the following season. South Auckland were the winners of the tournament, the challenge format resuming at its completion.
At that time any district could ask the holder for a challenge and with the Hawke Cup now growing in popularity, it was starting to become difficult to fit all the challenges into the cricket season. To help alleviate this and limit the number of challenges a zone system was introduced in 1924. Going forward teams would be placed in a zone depending on their location, with the winner of each zone then earning the right to challenge for the Hawke Cup. As it is currently a four-zone system, there are four challenges each year played over three days each fortnight during February and March. Up to the late 2000s the challenger had to defeat the holder outright to take possession of the cup, but now if there is no outright winner it then is decided on who had a first innings lead.
Whilst the challenge system has remained relatively the same since its early days, there have been times when the format has changed for short time periods. In a repeat of 1912, New Zealand Cricket in 2000 took the Hawke Cup of then holder Dunedin Metropolitan and held a knockout tournament during the 2000-2001 season. Hamilton won the tournament, thereby becoming the new holder of the Hawke Cup, after which it once again reverted to the challenge format. While there is currently a challenge for each of the two zone winners in the South Island, during a brief period there was only one. After successfully winning their zones, the two would then face off in a South Island final, with the winner then being able to challenge for the Cup.
With the reforming of the association in 1919, cricket was starting to make a comeback in the district. It was with this in mind at the start of the 1922-1923 season North Otago cricket announced its intentions to challenge for the cup, sending letters to the New Zealand Cricket Council and the then current holder Nelson. A date was agreed upon in February 1923 for the match and plans were starting to put in place with selectors being appointed. This match wasn't to be played however as the district was unable to form a team, it is assumed that the time involved for the travel, costs and because of this a lack of players availably led to the match being cancelled.
Twelve years later, with the introduction of zones, a default from Southland led North Otago another chance to challenge for the Hawke Cup. Unfortunately, the result was the same as the first one, travelling to Nelson proved to be too far to go for the players and North Otago had to pull out again. It would be several years before this opportunity would come again.
Being near the southern end of the South Island, North Otago plays in the Southern Zone or zone 4 in the Hawke Cup Competition. Being the second smallest cricket district in the country, for large periods of time it would prove to be difficult for North Otago to find consistent success. Earning the right to challenge would be exceedingly rare and some players would play their whole careers without even getting close to a challenge let alone playing in it. As of 2021 there are still some districts far larger than ours who are yet to challenge. Gradually over the past two decades this has started to change, with the North Otago team rising to a level of competitiveness that hasn't been seen before and a golden period setting in.
With this in mind and being 100 years since the donation of the cup from Lord Hawke, the North Otago Senior Representative side headed to Palmerston North in March 2010 for only its fourth challenge. Although there was a quiet optimism within the side, based on its history and the defeats suffered in the previous challenges, for most if they were competitive that would be enough. Not only would the team be competitive they would have three of the best days in North Otago sporting history defeating Manawatu by 159 runs and for the first time we could say we were holders of the Hawke Cup.
This success has led the mindset of the North Otago team changing. Winning the zone and the right to challenge is still considered a successful season but now the team aims to not only win the right to play but also to win the challenge and take possession of the Hawke Cup.
Since then North Otago has come into possession of the Hawke Cup twice. In a match between the two smallest cricket districts in the country, North Otago beat Buller in Westport thanks to Francis Mostart taking 13-53. This team would win the Richards Trophy, Otago Districts Shield and the Hawke Cup all in one season, the first time they had won all three in the same season.
North Otago would then take the cup for the third time in 2021, when it beat Nelson by 250 runs at Saxton Oval in Nelson.
Listed below are all Hawke Cup challenges and defences that North Otago have taken part in since its first challenge in 1968.
(Updated 13 October 2021)