A belated account of last weekend's visit to the Basin for what the weather, the fixture list and the home team's indifferent form have conspired to make the only domestic 50-over game I will watch this season. If the ECB's wish that 40-over cricket become the standard format for one-day cricket comes to pass after the World Cup, it might even be the last ever, which is a gloomy prospect.
Wellington had won only one game of six played before today's game, which is part of the penultimate round of a lopsided round robin, which sees each team playing three of the others twice and two once (the truncation has occurred, needless to say, to make room for a full T20 competition). But four teams go through to the knockout stage, so a victory today would keep Wellington in the hunt, probably at ND's expense, so it was an important game for both sides.
Jesse Ryder returned to the top of the Wellington order, having been rotated out of the national team for the weekend. A lot of good it did him, as he was run out in the second over of the day after a communications breakdown of such proportions that it was hard to believe that Ryder shares a common language with his partner Stephen Murdoch (reading Ryder's Twitter messages fails to assuage doubt on this matter). His return to the rooms was marked by one of the evocative sounds of summer, that of willow on plaster.
Murdoch followed soon after, having been in long enough neither to see off the new ball, nor to allow his opening partner's frustration to work itself out. This brought together Cameron Merchant and Grant Elliot who put on 165 in a beautifully paced third-wicket stand in just under 30 overs. In would have been more, but for the powerful allure of the batting powerplay, which had the distracting effect on the partnership that a scantily dressed Russian spy does on James Bond.
On the face of it, calling the powerplay early (in the 37th over) had a certain logic about it. Why not use it when two batsment are well set? But that view was unobservant. It failed to note that Merchant and Elliott had been accumulating runs at a smart pace by placing the ball through the gaps in the inner field. These closed in the powerplay, so the batsmen had to abandon the method that had been serving them so well. Both were out during the powerplay, though Wellington were fortunate that James Franklin was able to maintain the momentum, taking the total to a formidable 294. If the batsmen are hitting over the top, that's a different matter. I felt that New Zealand missed a trick in the final ODI against Pakistan by not calling the batting powerplay from the 16th to 20th overs to offer Ryder and Guptill five more overs with the field in. A lower-order player such as Kyle Mills could be on standby as a day-night watchman to protect the middle order.
Graeme Aldridge was ND's best bowler, as so often before, but being one of the most consistent performers in domestic cricket for ten years or so has not had the impact it might have had on the Basin's scoreboard operators, who managed to misspell his name in two different ways during the day.
One thing that has struck me this season is the revolution in fielding technique that has taken place recently. It seems to have become obligatory for any fielder chasing the ball to execute a sliding, twisting manoeuvre when picking it up. Here for example, Jimmy Marshall, one of the best fielders in New Zealand for a decade or more, seemed incapable of retrieving the ball without first prostrating himself across the turf like a novice nun. I must confess to experiencing a touch of schadenfreude when the unfortunate Nathan Hauritz busted something in his left arm or shoulder when performing such an action on his return to the Australian ODI team. Had he employed the tried-and-trusted bend-down-and-pick-it-up technique that has served us so well for two hundred years or more, he wouldn't have ended up on the operating table.
In the interval between innings a thick layer of cloud materialised over the ground, enabling Andy McKay to swing the ball at the start of the ND innings. He sent Brad Wilson on his way with a gorgeous inswinging yorker, and flirted with the outside edge like Marilyn Monroe. He might have had another wicket in the eighth over, but Ryder put down a sharp chance at slip, the consequent injury to his hand causing him to make his second oath-strewn exit from the field of the day. Today's There-is-a-thin-line-between-bravery-and-stupidity Award went to the two young lads who asked him for his autograph as he crossed the boundary.
A promising third-wicket partnership between Marshall and Hatwell was ended by a spectacular catch on the boundary by Mark Houghton, a rangy slow left-armer. Apart from some brief resistance by the Balkan combination of Devcich and Yovich, that was that for ND, who finished 52 short.
Wellington's reprieve was short-lived. A midweek defeat by Auckland ended their one-day season. ND lasted only a few days more, losing to Otago in the minor semi-final.
Sunday, February 6, 2011
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