In the city that is the home of The Hobbit the chirpy little local people overcame the evil force from the big bad world outside: Wellington beat Auckland in the preliminary final of the T20.I have written before of the wisdom of getting to cricket matches in good time:
The importance of this principle was manifest once more at the Basin on Friday. Indolent spectators lacking in moral backbone who wandered in late after the third over missed the best that this game had to offer: a 17-ball 46 by Jesse Ryder. Twenty came from the first over, bowled by the unfortunate Matt Quinn, with three fours, and a six kept in the ground at long on only by one of the pohutukawas. Giving the new ball to the inexperienced Quinn was to ask a boy bugler to lead the charge, particularly when the cunning and experienced Andre Adams was available.
At the other end, Ben Orton knew that his job was to get off strike as soon as possible, which he did with a single off the first ball, bowled by the experienced left-armer Michael Bates. In the rest of the over Ryder cover drove three boundaries, one off the back foot and two off the front, the second lofted over the infield. Three jewels of shots that would have looked shiny and beautiful in any game of cricket. Ryder did not play a stroke today that was predetermined; each was a response to the ball that was bowled.
Unbelievably, Auckland captain Gareth Hopkins persisted with Quinn from the Vance Stand End. Quinn looks very young and I seriously considered ringing the child protection people at this point. Two fours and a towering six onto the bank were the inevitable result, but from the last ball of the over Ryder was caught on the square-leg boundary; had it carried two metres further it would have been a 17-ball fifty (not the quickest I would have seen: that was Matthew Fleming’s 16-ball effort in a rain-reduced ten-over Sunday League game for Kent v Yorkshire in 1996). It was magnificent batting, with no qualification about it only being T20. Mike Hesson, the Black Caps coach, is shortly to have a conversation with Ryder about the possibility of a return to the national team for the forthcoming England tour of these islands. This is how Hesson should begin this exchange:
Hesson: Please Jesse (can I call you Jesse or would you prefer Mr Ryder?), you just name the terms, you don’t have to practise, just turn up and bat, you can have the house of whichever member of the New Zealand Cricket board you nominate and your own body weight in whatever fast food you choose delivered daily to the dressing room, but please play, I’m begging you.
A quietness overtook the ground for a while, punctuated only by the repentant sobbing of latecomers, as they learned what they had missed. Michael Papps began to build an innings that was perfect for the circumstances, busy, with enough big hits to keep the scoreboard moving at a good rate (by the way Basin Reserve authorities, if you have a scoreboard which shows the scores of team and batsmen by in the form of lit electric bulbs, wouldn’t it be an idea to check that enough of the bulbs are working to enable spectators to see what those scores actually are?). Papps was 70 not out from 48 balls at the end. He put on 79 for the third wicket with Cameron Borgas, who was no quicker about his work than he had been against Otago last week: 29 from 33 balls, not fast enough for the second half of a 20 innings on a good pitch. Borgas has a considerable repertoire of unorthodox shots, but fewer than desirable of the orthodox variety that have stood the test of time over the centuries as a means of moving things along. He was caught at fine third man from a dilscoop, which was just as well for Wellington as it brought in Luke Ronchi, who made 21 from just 11 balls.
Wellington finished with 182 for four, a formidable target, but one that Auckland had the firepower to chase down if they got a good start.
Tugaga removed Lou Vincent lbw from the first ball of the innings, and Gareth Hopkins followed in the second over, caught and bowled by slow left armer Mark Houghton. This left Aaron Finch as the bearer of Auckland’s hopes and dreams. Finch was signed just for the weekend, having been dropped from Australia’s ODI team, in which he featured last weekend (the biggest cheer of the day, incidentally, was raised not for a Ryder six, but for the news that Australia were 40 for nine against Sri Lanka at the Gabba). He was man of the series in this year’s Big Bash (as the Australian T20 is fashioned) and struck fluently from the start. Ryder put him down at backward point, one of five chances that Wellington spurned, something that has to be put right before the final.
Finch drove the Auckland innings along at a fair pace, well supported by Craig Cachopa. They were 84 for two in the tenth, and unease could be seen removing its hat and taking a seat among the home supporters. But at this point Finch was bowled as he made room to cut. From that point on wicket-taker Woodcock and Houghton (a combined three for 52 from eight overs) exercised sufficient control and guile to take the target over Auckland’s horizon. Ryder bowled with intelligence and accuracy towards the end, and Auckland finished 23 runs short, the width of the Sahara in T20 terms.
So it is off to the deep south for Wellington, who face Otago in the final on Sunday.