Saturday, January 11, 2020

Hat Tricks I Have Seen (No 8)

Will Williams, for Canterbury v Wellington, T20, Basin Reserve, 9 January 2020

After a twenty-year wait, another hat trick, the eighth I have been present to see. It occurred at the Basin Reserve, which always looks a treat at the turn of the year, when the pohutukawas smear their deep red around the ground and up the hill to Government House.

The occasion was a round-robin game in New Zealand’s domestic T20 competition. A win would make Wellington unassailable at the top of the table, and thus guaranteed to host the final. What’s more, the Basin Reserve is available, unlike the last time Wellington won hosting rights for a domestic final, when it had carelessly been let to a beer festival.

Canterbury—who needed a win to keep alive their slim chances of making the second v third playoff—batted first after winning the toss. The first half of their innings went well, and it looked like a score in the region of 175 was attainable, but the dismissal of top-scorer Jack Boyle halfway through the innings removed the momentum. Six wickets fell for only 70 runs in the final ten overs, leaving a target of 149, which appeared 20 or so short. Leg-spinner Peter Younghusband was the main brake on the innings, conceding only 16 from his four overs and taking two wickets.

At the top of the Wellington order, Devon Conway displayed a range of shots that showed why his becoming eligible for New Zealand later this year so excites the cricket community. When he was fourth out in the fourteenth over, 49 were still required. Fraser Colson and Jamie Gibson for the fifth wicket kept the asking rate steady and with three overs left 23 were needed.

Only now was Will Williams introduced into the attack, odd given that he batted at No 9. Williams had impressed on his previous visit to the Basin earlier in the season when he was the only Canterbury bowler to hold the line while Conway made a triple century, conceding under two an over when the overall scoring rate was four-and-a-half. Williams is a right-arm medium pacer with a jaunty run up.

The first three balls went for a two and two singles. For the fourth, Williams produced a perfect yorker that bowled Colson, the man most likely to take Wellington to victory. For the first time in the innings Canterbury edged ahead.

It was this pressure that made new batsman Lauchie Johns unwisely go for the big shot over mid on from the next ball, which was never far enough up for that to be the best option. Chad Bowes took the catch easily ten metres or so in from the rope.

The hat-trick delivery was on a length on middle stump. Gibson (the batsmen had crossed) attempted to play it through mid-wicket but got the line wrong and tamely lobbed it back down the pitch. It took a quick change of direction and an outstretched right arm for Williams to take the catch himself.

Nuttall did not allow Wellington any boundaries in the nineteenth over, so 12 were required from the last, bowled, of course, by Williams. A single was followed by a straight four, another single and two, leaving four needed from two deliveries, though the two points available for a tie would have been enough to have guaranteed Wellington the home final (we are off super overs in New Zealand for reasons that it is still too soon to speak of with any ease).

Younghusband seemed to have made good contact with the fifth ball, but he had hit it a fraction early, sacrificing distance for elevation and providing Bowes with a second easy catch at deep mid on.

Logan van Beek almost did it. He hit the ball with sufficient timing and power that five metres either side of Bowes, and it would have crossed the boundary first bounce. But it was straight at him, and he took the catch that gave Williams what was said to be the second fastest five-for in terms of balls bowled in List A T20 cricket worldwide.

Of my eight hat tricks this was the one that had the most immediate impact on the outcome of the game; without it, Wellington would almost certainly have won (though the ability of Wellington teams to sniff out defeat when others would only discern only the sweet aroma of victory is well known). I haven’t verified the hypothesis, but I assume that the frenetic nature of T20 makes hat tricks less of a rarity than they are in longer forms, but they are still quite something for the cricket buff.

Posts on the previous seven hat tricks I have seen are here, here and here.

Monday, December 30, 2019

AA Thomson writes

My Life in Cricket Scorecards is ten years old. The first post was published on 30 December 2009. The promise was:

Some posts will feature one of these scorecards, some will record going to the cricket now, and some will be on random topics, historical and contemporary.

Which is more or less how it has turned out. Thanks to all who have shown an interest, particularly Brian Carpenter who has twice given me the pleasure of seeing my name in Wisden.

A series of posts that created more interest than most was the re-creation, fifty years after the event, of the 1967 season in England. There were daily posts on Twitter and weekly summaries here. I will repeat that exercise when I have more time, probably focusing on the 1970 season with its splendid combination of cricket—the Rest of the World non-tests and Kent’s first Championship since the First World War—the football World Cup, and a surprise result in the general election.

One of the pleasures of the 1967 project (if it may be so grandiosely phrased) was to rediscover the writing of AA Thomson, then a member of the distinguished cricket reporting team on The Times, along with John Woodcock, Alan Gibson and John Arlott, among others.

It was to be his last season; Thomson died early the following summer. I have picked up five of his books from the Basin Reserve bookstall and similar sources, though this represents less than half of his cricket books (as listed in Wikipedia) and less than a tenth of his total output, which embraced plays, travel, history and even a book of poetry. There is also The Times archive and some copies of Playfair Cricket Monthly from 1966/67 (I was an unusual child in my reading).

The plan is this: to post a daily tweet taken from AA Thomson’s cricket writing. Some days it will be vaguely topical, or follow a theme for the week, sometimes entirely random. I’m off to Sydney on 2 January for the third test between Australia and New Zealand, so something relevant to that seems a good starting point. The way the series has gone so far, I’ll need something to keep me cheerful.

The tweets will be on @AAThomsonwrites. This is a reconditioned account that used to be @Lifeincards, so some readers may already be followers. I’ll link from @kentccc1968, the Twitter account that is associated with the blog. There will be such commentary from time-to-time on the blog as seems appropriate.

Sunday, December 29, 2019

Peaceful days in the sun: New Zealand v England in Hamilton

New Zealand v England, second test, Seddon Park in Hamilton, 29 November to 3 December 2019

Restful. That is how I would characterise my three days at the Hamilton test. There was plenty to enjoy, even though the action was not frenetic (apart from when Neil Wagner was bowling, obviously), and it was good to be back at Seddon Park, which was where I watched test cricket for the first half-decade or so of the new century.

There was plenty to remember, starting with Campbell and Griffiths putting on 276 for the West Indian first wicket, only for their team to lose. That was largely thanks to Chris Cairns, who has been airbrushed out of New Zealand’s cricket history since the lawyers got interested, but was a terrific cricketer.

The following year Australia were reduced to 29 for five, a situation that Adam Gilchrist dealt with by batting as if they were 400 for one. Australia won by six wickets.

There was the two-day test against India beginning on Friday afternoon and won by New Zealand soon after lunch on Sunday on a pitch that looked as if it had been transplanted from the centre court at Wimbledon. I always think of that match whenever I hear people moaning about the Indians and their home-team groundsmen.

Then the crater test against South Africa. A big hole appeared at one end, which the groundsman filled up, then, once he had been acquainted with the rules, emptied again. It was too far outside the right handers’ leg stump to be a threat, and when the ball did land there was as likely to scoot off the other way, but it had a mesmeric effect on the bowlers who wasted a couple of days aiming at it.

So the pitch as talking point is not a new thing for Seddon Park. The strip for this game was similar to that at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui for the series opener. That game finished in a New Zealand win well into the fifth afternoon, which is what a test pitch is supposed to facilitate. However, that the Hamilton pitch received an ICC rating of “good”, suggested that cricket needs a new dictionary for Christmas. It was easy for batsmen to stay in on unless they tried to score at more than two-and-a-little-bit an over, which is about as bad as a test-match pitch can be.

There was a historical curiosity about the scheduling of this game in Hamilton after that at the Mount, which is little more than an hour’s drive away. It can’t have happened often that successive tests have been staged on different grounds in the same province/county/state, Northern Districts in this case (though the profusion of venues in Colombo may have beaten ND to it). This was a precaution against New Zealand’s turbulent spring weather, and it paid off, with three balmy days, hot enough to trigger a storm that finished off the first day just after tea.

Hamilton’s new lights were shown off to good effect just before the rain fell. A switch was flicked and made a substantial and immediate difference, even though it wasn’t that dark. In the County Championship, the rule that that the artificial light cannot be stronger than the natural light would mean that their being switched on at all would mean that the players would have to come off there and then.

The previous lights had to come down because the towers were an earthquake risk, though shakes are mercifully rarer in the Waikato than in much of the country. I was CricInfo’s man in Northern Districts when they went up and turned down the chance to climb to the top of one of them.

It seems compulsory for the British cricketing press to preface the name of any New Zealand player other than Williamson, Taylor and Boult with “underrated”. BJ Watling might have been thought to have used up this year’s quota during his double hundred in the first test, but a new supply was rushed out in time for the underrated Tom Latham’s first-day hundred. Those who describe Latham thus have missed his presence in the top ten of the ICC batting rankings over the past year or more.

His batting in the first innings was the most fluent of the match. He scored faster than any specialist batsman on either side, but never appeared to hurry. Latham was helped by Broad’s wayward line in his opening spell. When he got one right it was to Jeet Raval, who edged to Root at first slip. It is so often the case that the man out of form gets the bowler’s best. Raval benefitted from New Zealand’s policy of picking a squad for both these two tests and the three to follow, but further failure in Perth has cost him his place in the Boxing Day test.

Root also caught Williamson, squared up by Woakes, but Ross Taylor became established and by mid-afternoon England looked dispirited, not helped by having two leg-before decisions overturned by the DRS. In just his second over Stokes resorted to three deep on the legside plus a fine third man to Taylor, who was out more conventionally from the ball after he reached his fifty, providing Root with his third catch of the day.

Latham reached his hundred shortly before the rain brought an early end to the first day. He was out early the next morning, leaving on length a Broad delivery that hit the top of off. He was replaced by the underrated Henry Nicholls, also hiding from the English media in plain sight in the top ten of the rankings.

Just when we had agreed that Sam Curran didn’t have the pace for test cricket, he succoured Nicholls into top edging a catch to deep fine leg. Next in was Daryl Mitchell, on test debut on his home ground. Mitchell was as close to a like-to-like replacement for the injured De Grandhomme as was available, which isn’t very close at all, De Grandhomme being more than the cube of his parts, let alone the sum. At 191 for five, England had restored the balance of the game, but Watling and Mitchell reclaimed it with a stand of 124.

It occupied a serene 53 overs. With the heat, the grass bank at the top end, and BJ Watling digging in, I may have dropped off for a few seconds and dreamt myself back at Mote Park in the late seventies, the great CJ Tavaré at the crease, sucking the will to live out of the opposition. Only the Tip Top ice cream signs where the Deal Beach Parlours van should have been returned me to the present.

Joe Root resorted to placing of fielders in odd positions, but it was too random to be convincing. His handling of the bowlers had a by-numbers feel to it, but with an attack consisting of four quicks and an all-rounder whose fitness was dodgy, that would be hard to avoid. It was strange that he put himself on with Latham on 96 and helped the batsman to his century with a friendly (as Jim Laker used to describe all full tosses) full toss.

Mitchell upped such tempo as there was and played well for 73 before going the same way as Nicholls, but off the bowling of Broad, who had got Watling four overs earlier with another short one that went of the shoulder of the bat to Burns in the gully. Late-order merriment took New Zealand to 375.

England had addressed their three-keeper problem by picking a fourth, Ollie Pope, in for the injured Buttler. He was athletic, which with no frontline spinner in the XI was all he needed to be, but he lacks the quality most prized in modern keepers—he doesn’t jabber on incessantly in praise of half volleys.

Jofra Archer had a dispiriting time from which he will learn, but is a fine sight. Anyone who grew up in the era of Willis, Holding and JSE Price finds it hard to understand that a bowler can call himself fast without a run up that embraces two time zones, but with Archer and Bumrah as models, the next generation will strive for brevity.

England lost two before the close of the second day. Writers better qualified in technical analysis than me have written off Dominic Sibley as a test player on the basis that he appears to abstain from the offside as if batting in a permanent Lent. I hope that he proves them wrong, if only to show that runs in county cricket are not irrelevant. Here, it was a relief to all concerned when Southee got him lbw for four.

This was the seventh New Zealand v England test at which I have been present since moving here, but the first time a Kent player has been in the England team. Here there were two, Joe Denly and Zak Crawley.  Denly may yet become the David Steele of our time, a middle-aged hero of the Resistance. Not here though. At least there was a Kentish dimension to the dismissal, caught behind for four off Matt Henry. Denly did achieve something memorable in Hamilton: late in the game he infamously dropped a Sun crossword clue of a chance offered by Williamson. I so hope that is not what he is remembered for when his test career is done.

England finished the day on an uncomfortable 39 for two, though it would have been worse had Rory Burns not been dropped twice, the easier chance to Taylor, the harder to Raval.

My notes for the third morning consist only of the following:
“Root and Burns in no trouble for the first half of the morning”. Then, an hour or so later, “Nor the second half”. Some stories are easily told.

Root was not at his best, or particularly close to it, but that he had to work at it more than he usually appears to made it all the more praiseworthy.

Burns survived another chance on 86 when Henry butchered a run out by trying and failing to intercept a throw that Latham was perfectly placed to collect beside the stumps. He reached his hundred in mid-afternoon. Steve James, in his The Art of Centuries, explained that there is a challenge to overcome for a batsman who survives a chance or chances; he has to convince himself that he retains the right to be there. To say that a batsman is gritty has an air of damning by faint praise about it, but that should not be so, especially for an opener. Burns has that quality and should have a good run at the top of England’s order. He has also shown (see comments re Sibley, above) that runs in county cricket do mean something.

Burns was run out the ball after he achieved three figures, but it took an age to confirm, the problem being to establish that there was separation of bail and stump before Burns had made his ground, though this appeared obvious enough on the big screen. Perhaps the ICC could spare some of its largesse to provide stumps that light up for all tests, and agree that illumination equals separation.

New Zealand’s attritional bowling and field settings meant that Ben Stokes never got going before he fell to a slip catch from a Southee delivery that was one of the few to move laterally.

This brought in Zak Crawley for his debut innings. This was only the second occasion on which I have been present to watch a Kent player at the crease for the first time in a test match. The other was at the very first day’s test cricket I attended, England v New Zealand at the Oval in 1969. Then it was Mike Denness who batted with agonising uncertainty for a 43-ball two. This time it was briefer, but no better.

Crawley was anxious to impose himself and get off the mark. He drove his fourth delivery hard, but Henry at mid on made a sharp stop to prevent the run. This wound Crawley up a little tighter and though he hit the next ball straight to Williamson, he set off for the run as if drawn by an irresistible law of physics. He needed every bit of his diving 6’5” to beat the direct hit.

He edged the second delivery of Wagner’s next over to Watling, so Crawley’s hard-won single will constitute his test record until the next time, perhaps after his domestic record has been fortified with more consistent scoring so as to match achievement with his undoubted promise.

Crawley was on of Wagner’s five wickets. As ever he bowled with such energy and fire as to raise the question of how much more Sisyphus might have achieved had he shown Wagner’s spirit.

I left for the airport soon after Crawley’s dismissal, just before more rain ended the day an hour or so prematurely. Though two days remained, a forecast of rain for much of the last day combined with the torpor of the pitch to make a draw appear all but certain. Centuries from Williamson and Taylor confirmed the result, giving New Zealand the series win, with the usual rider that two games do not a series make.

Hat Tricks I Have Seen (No 8)

Will Williams, for Canterbury v Wellington, T20, Basin Reserve, 9 January 2020 Scorecard After a twenty-year wait, another hat tri...