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Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Zealand v Pakistan, ODI, Basin Reserve, 25 January 2016



The old joke about New Zealand, favoured by those who can’t think of anything amusing to say, is that when you land here you turn your watch back 20 years. Last Monday at the Basin it was, for once, pleasingly true.

Pakistan were the visitors for the first ODI to played at the Basin Reserve in a decade, and only the second since the Cake Tin opened around the turn of the century. The day was glorious, with Wellington’s perennial gale taking a day off along with many of the capital’s workers, it being the annual provincial public holiday. The idea of a separate holiday for each part of New Zealand should have had its day with the invention of the telephone and the consequent integration of the national economy, but it persists, and under the sun at the Basin we were pleased that it does.

It was one of the more memorable ODIs: New Zealand turned 99 for six into a 70-run victory.

In the sixth over of the morning Martin Guptill off drove Mohammad Irfan for six, the ball kept within the Basin Reserve only by the top of the Don Neely screen at the southern end of the ground. Guptill has been imperious in recent weeks, so 10,000 people sat back and thought “here we go”. Two balls later Guptill hooked Irfan, but, supporting my hypothesis that the Basin pitches are quicker this season, was a little late on the shot and Wahab Riaz took a good catch at long leg.

Latham was caught behind, a thin but definite ripple showing on snicko, but Williamson was in, so there was no need to worry. But, though he is by no means out of form, Williamson has come off the crest of the wave that he surfed throughout 2015, and got an inside edge onto the stumps that would have found the middle a few weeks ago. Two balls later Elliott was bowled through a passable imitation of the nearby Mt Victoria tunnel between bat and pad, which brought in Corey Anderson, 25 overs or so early.

Anderson did a magnificent holding job in the World Cup semi-final last year, but circumspection is not his natural state and he gave the appearance of an elephant trying not to tread on the daisies. He fell caught behind for ten, and Ronchi went the same way next over.

Both men fell to Mohammad Amir, who bowled beautifully. Watching him will be one of the delights of the next decade or so. That he was the subject of taunting from bores on the bank was no surprise, and he will have to learn to live with that sort of thing. It was disappointing to learn that at the T20 a boofhead PA announcer had played cash register sounds when he came on to bowl. NZ Cricket was quick to apologise. As I wrote last week, Amir was a kid bullied into doing wrong and deserves the support of the cricket world. If Salman Butt were to turn up, I’d be happy to join in the booing.

Ninety-nine for six it was, at the crease two players who few of us had heard of at this time last year: Henry Nicholls and Mitch Santner.

Nicholls is a 24-year-old left-hander from Canterbury who has broken into the ODI side this year. He has also had a short spell in the Big Bash (for the Hobart Hyperbole, or possibly the Brisbane Boast, I forget which) so can certainly give it a tonk. He hit seven fours here, the first five of which came when New Zealand were only two down. But when the collapse came he changed his game and became an accumulator. It was impressive and established Nicholls as the leading contender to succeed McCullum at No 5 in the test team. He was dropped by Hafeez at slip at 15, a mistake that cost Pakistan the match.

Nicholls and Santner put on 79 for the seventh wicket in 16 overs. Pakistan skipper Azhar Ali failed the “what would McCullum do?” test early in this partnership when he put spinners on at both ends to get through the ten overs he needed from them, or least that he would need from them if the innings lasted the full 50 overs. Had he invested a few of the overs available to his quick bowlers and told them to attack, he could have brought the innings to an earlier conclusion.

Santner was judicious about shot selection. He came into international cricket without an impressive record at domestic level and has much to learn. But he looks as if he belongs at this level and the selectors are to be praised for picking him on the basis of class and potential. It worked for Daniel Vettori 20 years ago and could have the same result for Santner.

When Nicholls was out for 82 the score was 203 for eight in the 45th over. Maybe the tail could scratch—let’s be optimistic—another 30 to give New Zealand a modestly decent target to bowl at?

No one foresaw the carnage of the last five overs. Matt Henry and Mitch McClenaghan set about the Pakistan attack like pit bulls. It was cricket remade by Quentin Tarantino. Six sixes and six fours were hit in the last five overs, during which New Zealand added 71 runs. Nos 8, 9 and 10 all passed 30, something that had not been achieved in any of the 3,277 ODIs that were played before this one.

The pace of the pitch helped the ball fly off the bat, but also accounted for McClenaghan who suffered a fractured eye socket when a ball from Anwar Ali penetrated the grille of his helmet. He went down with worrying thump and it was a relief when he walked unassisted from the field a few minutes later.

As it was a special occasion the Basin Reserve authorities had splashed out on replacement lightbulbs for the scoreboard, which was unusually unambiguous as a consequence. But the operators can report to their masters in Pyongyang that, nevertheless, they still advanced their campaign of misinformation by taking a perverse approach to the issue of the names of the Pakistan team. In most cases (though not all, notably when that name is Mohammad), Pakistani cricketers are identified by their first name (eg Hanif, Mushtaq, Zaheer). The video screen respected this convention. But the scoreboard listed Pakistan under their last names, so leaving those unwisely relying on it for information under the impression that it was recording a completely different game from that on the screen next to it.

A target of 281 was about par. New Zealand were without McClenaghan, which meant that all five frontline bowlers would have to bowl ten overs, with only Williamson in reserve. Pakistan started steadily with 33 from the first ten overs.

Grant Elliott had failed with the bat, but he is the Swiss army knife of New Zealand cricket, with something to offer in any circumstance. It was inspired of Williamson to bring him on as early as the seventh over. By the end of the eleventh over he had two wickets.

Mohammad Hafeez and Babar Azam were comfortable enough putting on 81 for the third wicket until the partnership was broken by Williamson, who brought himself on after Babar got after Santner. Hafeez mistimed a drive and was caught by Henry at long on.

Elliott took a third wicket and when Babar fell to Anderson five were down and the required rate was eight-and-a-half an over. Pakistan’s lower order had none of the resilience of New Zealand’s and Boult was able to finish the game with a spell of four for one, which consolidated his position as the No 1 ODI bowler in the world.

It was splendid to have the ODI cricket back at the Basin. In a perfect world, the stands would be rebuilt and the capacity increased to 14,000 or so, plenty for games against most opponents.

For Australia next week, we will be back at the Cake Tin.


Sunday, January 24, 2016

New Zealand v Pakistan, T20, The Cake Tin, 22 January 2016



We still haven’t worked out T20 here in New Zealand. I don’t mean in the playing sense. On good days, we are better than most, as shown by the 95-run trouncing of Pakistan at the Cake Tin, following a ten-wicket victory in Hamilton earlier in the week.

What we haven’t got to grips with is the place of T20 in our cricket. Tonight, 70,000 or more will be at the MCG for the final of the Big B(r)ash. The kiwi equivalent, the final of the Super Smash, was played in front of no more than 400 a week before Christmas on a rugby ground in a province that did not make the finals weekend. In marketing terms, touring Jesus Christ Superstar in Syria would be a better proposition.

Clearly, the New Zealand’s T20 should take place over the late December/January holiday season, at the places where people are at that time: Mt Maunganui, Napier, Queenstown and so on. Just as it was until a couple of years ago, in fact. It could feed off the Big Bash in marketing terms and might attract a few county biffers who fancy Christmas in the sun. There could be an auction. Or at least a jumble sale.

This proposal is purely altruistic, obviously. For my own pleasure I would return to the days when the Plunket Shield began on Christmas Day, though that would instigate tricky negotiations here at My Life in Cricket Scorecards Towers.

I take what I can from T20 games, and try to look cheerful. At the Cake Tin on Friday there was plenty to enjoy. Martin Guptill driving is as handsome a sight as contemporary cricket has to offer. As usual, his shots were orthodox, each one chosen to fit the ball delivered. This game confirmed a trend away from the reverse pulls, scoops and other inventions that once seemed about to render the MCC coaching book obsolete. Here, and in such Big Bash as I have seen, the trick shots seem to have reverted to being an occasional variation to the main theme.

As ever, Kane Williamson was everybody’s sensible older brother (his running calls the only hint that he might enjoy a few quiet ones of a Friday night). Corey Anderson’s undefeated 82 from 42 balls was the batting highlight, once he got over an early spell when his timing was out. He took two for 15 in three overs too. Anderson might just be to New Zealand what the New Zealander Stokes is to England: an all-rounder for the next decade.

Adam Milne took three for eight in three overs; he was too quick for them, simple as that. Many of us hope that the selectors will give him a run in a test match on the right surface. Four or five three-over spells in a day is all we would ask. If my observation about the Basin being quicker this year is correct, against Australia in February could be the time, especially with Johnson gone and Starc injured.

Grant Elliott bettered Milne by one run: three for seven. Hard to think that this time last year there was disbelief—scoffing even—at Elliott’s selection for the World Cup. Now he is a national symbol for dependability, a cricketing Volvo estate.

Elliott introduced an element of unorthodoxy to the batting: when facing a free-hit ball he took guard well wide of off stump, inviting the bowler to aim at the stumps. With batsmen now so much more adept at moving around the crease, the time has come to offer the bowlers more leeway, certainly in T20, but possibly in 50-over cricket too. A stumps-wide channel down the legside should be a legitimate operating area for the bowler. Cricket is at its best when bat and ball are in balance.

It was good to see Mohammad Amir back from his five-year ban and custodial sentence for bowling deliberate no-balls for betting purposes. He was still a boy when he was bullied into it, and the punishment (unlike that for Salman Butt) seemed harsh. I hope that the cricket world rallies around him.

If you go to a big T20 match there is no point in railing against the razzmatazz; the music, the lights, the hype are part of the package, and to suggest that it should be different would be to ask that a man carrying a flag precedes a motor car. It is the small things that are the most telling about how far we have come. Here, I was the only spectator I saw with binoculars around his neck, but then I have reached the stage in life where I accept that my role is often to add quaintness to the occasion.

The music was mostly ok, but almost all from the contemporary hit parade. Not until Bridge Over Troubled Water appeared late on could I name that tune. I propose that for the first six overs there should be only two fielders outside the circle and only Beatles and Stones through the speakers.

It was pleasing to see 16,000 or so enjoying themselves, and it is difficult to see a downside to the full grounds in Australia for the Big Bash. But I do worry. How long before the commercial interests start to demand that the best players are available for the biggest crowds and want to make the Melbourne Big Bash Boxing Day game a tradition?




Saturday, January 23, 2016

Wellington v Otago, 50 overs, Basin Reserve, 13 January 2016



Any day that begins with the acquisition of two new members of the primrose brotherhood is bound to be a good one, though may be prone to anti-climax. So it was at the Basin today. The Otago batting, then the weather, and finally the match, fizzled, which is not what you expect to say of a game that ended in a tie.

In the past month, five new Wisdens have been added to the shelves in the library at My Life in Cricket Scorecards Towers. My Khandallah Correspondent, in her wonderful way, presented me with the 1947 edition for our anniversary and followed up with 1948 and 1949 at Christmas. Today I persuaded the fine people at the New Zealand Cricket Museum to split a 1960s set to sell me 1963 (the centenary Wisden) and 1965 at NZ$30 (roughly £12) each, a snip. This means that 1962 is the earliest that I don’t have, and the grand total is 62.

Otago won the toss and chose to bat. Arnel was accurate and made the most of a hint of green about the pitch. That was how he induced an edge from Anaru Kitchen, well caught by Papps at second slip, low to his left.

Michael Bracewell dodged bullets with improbability of James Bond. He was dropped by Papps in the gully and Verma from a hard hit caught-and-bowled chance; almost played on; and played and missed numerous times, but also played some fine shots in between. He was finally caught by Murdoch from a steepler to deep mid-wicket that tested the fielder’s attention span as much as his catching.

This brought together Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford, both batsmen who have not quite made it in the national side. Broom is in excellent form at the moment and glided to a half century at almost a run a ball. Rutherford hit hard and well. He is a good player who may have been miscast as a test opener, but could return to international cricket in the one-day team.

At 147 for two in the 27th over, a score well past 300 seemed probable, but both batsmen were out on that score. Jeetan Patel scurried back to catch Broom’s top edge off his own bowling, and Rutherford was caught behind off a leg side strangle. The bowler was Alecz (sic) Day, who bowled only the one over in the innings, skipper Papps apparently regarding the ball aimed a yard down the leg side as having been exploited to its full potential.

Otago struggled to 249 thanks to a dogged de Boorder, who hit only one boundary in his 34, and test off spinner Mark Craig, who hit 46 from 41 balls. Hitting the ball out of the Basin is quite common, it being a small piece of real estate, but I have not seen the trees next to the Dempster Gates cleared before as Craig managed today.

Just like the pitch at the Plunket Shield game between the same teams last month, this one appeared pacier than we are used to at the Basin. However, more batsmen than usual were caught from catches that lobbed up off mistimed shots, which suggests that the ball was stopping, as they say.

Was 249 enough, or perhaps 30 or more short? We were never to find out. As the Wellington innings got under way the cloud began to darken and lower. By the 20th over, the minimum required for a result, an interruption was obviously imminent.

Now the Basin Reserve scoreboard intervened crucially. This, you may recall, is what Mike Selvey described as the “ransom-note scoreboard” during England’s 2002 tour because of the eccentric collection of fonts that it used. If the North Koreans ever take up cricket their scoreboards will be modelled on the Basin’s, a cruel mixture of the hard-to-interpret and downright wrong. As ever, a few blown lightbulbs made it difficult to discern quite what numbers were showing for total and batsmen’s scores.  

At the start of the 23rd over Wellington were 72 for one. A light drizzle was already in the air. Heavier rain was clearly close by and heading our way. This made the Duckworth-Lewis target  the most important piece of information on the scoreboard. As the first ball of the over was bowled, it read “74 to win”. Michael Papps and Steven Murdoch and Michael Papps are as experienced a combination as New Zealand cricket has to offer. They knew that the loss of a wicket in this over would inflate the D/L target, so were cautious, making just two singles from the over, so raising the total to 74.

But let’s look again at that phrase “74 to win”. Did it mean that 74 were needed to win? It did not. Seventy-four was the par score, which meant that 75 was the winning target. Hence, when the umpires took the players off at the end of the over, never to return, the match was tied, to the surprise of the batsmen.

This, of course, is much the same mistake that South Africa made in the 2003 World Cup, eschewing the chance to make single against Sri Lanka that would have kept them in the tournament.

My Blean correspondent will be reminded of the Essex match at Folkestone in ’77. Kent were 156 for three, apparently cruising to their target of 184, when beset with one of their more spectacular collapses. Within the hour, ashen-faced, we were watching Kevin Jarvis stride to the middle with the score 183 for nine.

I have written before that Jarvis was the worst batsman I have ever seen, and do not retreat from this judgement. The sole counter argument is that, once, he hit the winning run in a first-class game. Somehow, he got a bat on a delivery from JK Lever and completed the single, then, along with Derek Underwood, turned to walk back to the pavilion.

The Essex team, and the umpires (Jack Crapp and Ken Palmer) stayed where they were, looking surprised. You see, they had made the mistake that Murdoch and Papps were to repeat 39 years later; they believed what they saw on the scoreboard, which said that 185 were needed to win.

As well as our pleasure at the win, and our unlikely hero, we also enjoyed the out-foxing of Keith Fletcher, widely regarded as a Mike Brearley without the degrees when it came to canniness.

In the present, by the following Sunday, for the Auckland match the Basin scoreboard had replaced “to win” with “par score”.