It has been a fine summer so far in Wellington, perhaps the best since I moved here twelve years ago. But as every cricket watcher knows, the best way to end a run of good weather (in England or New Zealand at least) is to bring a major cricket match to town. So it was at the Basin on Saturday. The arrival of Pakistan for the first of five ODIs brought with it a merciless southerly, an icy persecutor of those brave or unwise enough to watch from the top deck of the RA Vance Stand. For only the second time in my experience—and the first in an international fixture—the bails were dispensed with for a time, such was the power of the wind.
For most of my cricket-watching life I have taken the view that it is the lot of the spectator to face whatever conditions prevail, that those who sought refuge from them were fellow travellers unfit to call themselves true cricket watchers. Not anymore. There comes a time when the effects of the passing years must be acknowledged, so I watched the entire game from behind the glass in the Long Room, the first time I have done this. It was remarkably easy to free oneself of the associated guilt. By the interval I was scoffing at those foolish enough to have stayed out, ignoring the fact that this had been my practice since the late sixties.
This was the first of a five-game series. Pakistan put New Zealand in. Martin Guptill and Colin Munro opened. Munro hit 53, 66 and 104 in the recent T20 series against West Indies to become No 1 ranked in the world in that form of the game. He and his bank manager await the IPL auction with some relish. But the most interesting thing about Munro is that he averages 51 in first-class cricket after 74 innings, with a fifty-to-century conversion rate of almost 50%. Could he be New Zealand’s David Warner? There appears to be little clamour for him to be picked in the test team, which is hard to understand. I would like to see him in the team for the tests against England, given that he remains in reasonable form between now and then.
Here, Munro did not allow the more leisurely structure of the game to impede his style. He made 58 from 35 deliveries with shrewd, well-placed shots seasoned with a couple of big sixes before edging Hasan Ali to keeper Sarfraz Ahmed in the 13th over, the end of a first-wicket partnership of 83.
Guptill straight drove two sixes, in the fourth and 26th overs, but looked out of nick in between, understandably given that he has had a few weeks out with a dodgy hamstring. However, he seemed easily reconciled to the unusual support role in which he was cast today, first to Munro, then to Kane Williamson, who was at his best. He was straight into run-a-ball rhythm maintained relentlessly to the tune of 115 runs from 117 deliveries. He selects shots with the care and skill of a Michelin starred chef selecting produce at a market. Particularly striking today was his ability to play orthodox cross-bat shots to balls only a fraction short, if at all.
Williamson’s hundred was the first at the Basin by a New Zealander since Bevan Congdon in 1975. Of course, this was only the third ODI played there since the Cake Tin opened in 2000, but it is still a surprising piece of information.
Ross Taylor got the ball of the day from Hasan Ali. It jagged back into him in a way that was unique today, to take the top of off stump. Tom Latham, under pressure for the keeper’s spot from Glenn Phillips of Auckland, chipped straight to mid-wicket for three. This gave Henry Nicholls the space to play a risky, audacious 50 from 43 balls. He and Mohammad Amir banged into each other as they ball watched while Nicholls was completing a run. Both went down, but neither suffered injury and the matter was settled with smiles and handshakes. If it had been Warner and Broad at the SCG there would have been war.
Late blows from Southee and Santner took the score to 315 for seven from 50 overs.
That this was too much for Pakistan was obvious from the first over, during which Azhar Ali and Babar Azam were both leg before to Southee. The former called for a review, which showed a solid hit on leg stump, which meant that no review was available to the latter, given out to a ball that was clearly going over the stumps.
By the sixteenth over the innings had subsided to 54 for five. Opener Fakhar Zaman did well to lead a fightback to the extent that only one more wicket had fallen for the addition of a further 112 runs when the rain came in the 31st over. Fakhar batted most attractively. A left-hander, he is averaging 50 after ten ODIs having made his debut during the Champions Trophy in England last year and making a century in the final. He comes from the Northwest Frontier and has played for 11 domestic teams in Pakistan, according to his CricInfo profile, including the Pakistan Navy.
The rain deprived Fakhar of a deserved hundred, (he was left unbeaten on 82), but the win was already in New Zealand’s pocket, as the Duckworth-Lewis victory margin of 61 runs suggests.
This followed the recent West Indies tour in which the home team won every completed game. In Australia, the reaction to further victory against another country would be “that proves we’re fantastic”. In New Zealand it is “the West Indies can’t be any good if we beat them so easily, and it looks as if Pakistan aren’t much better”. The truth is between the two. There was a lack of enthusiasm as much as talent among the West Indians, but Pakistan are a decent side as their winning of the Champions Trophy showed. They will be back at the Basin at the end of next week for the final game of the series, which has been moved from Napier as the McLean Park field has come to resemble a giant sponge, so poor is its drainage.