Though it is my preference that four-day cricket should be the fare at this time of year (preferably watched by twenty people sitting sufficiently far from each other as to preclude conversation), this game vindicated New Zealand Cricket’s decision to place 20/20 centre stage. It had everything that 20/20 is supposed to have: big hits, energetic fielding, and a close finish.
A big crowd, by domestic standards, of 3,300 turned up on a rare pleasant Wellington late afternoon, filling the grass banking along one side of the ground. Needless to say, the southerly arrived as the first ball was bowled.
The numbers may have been boosted by the generous offer of a free ticket for the New Zealand v Australia 20/20 game in late February for the first 500 through the gate (I was one of them, obviously). Quite how the economics of giving a $35 ticket away with a $15 ticket work beats me.
The match rebutted the view that 20/20 is inevitably formulaic and predictable. Twice I thought that the game was as good as over, and twice I was wrong. Auckland batted first and were struggling at 62 for four in the tenth over, more than a hundred short of a reasonable total, when Lou Vincent and Anaru Kitchen (no relation to Mervyn, as far as I know) began a partnership of 101.
Towards the end of the innings Vincent swapped his bat for a Mongoose, the sawn-off, long-handled slogging club developed for 20/20. I doubt that it made much difference. It seemed to take him an over or so to adjust his timing. A couple of sixes followed, but who’s to say they wouldn’t have come with an ordinary bat?
Wellington began disastrously, losing three wickets in the first two overs. By the end of the powerplay the rate required was ten an over, but James Franklin (72 including five sixes) and Chris Nevin (reminding us why he was played for New Zealand as a one-day specialist a few years ago) made it look easy. With three overs left, 17 were needed with five wickets standing, a position the very comfort of which made Wellington fans nervous. Collapse ensued, though it took a diving stop to prevent last man Andy McKay from driving the last ball for a match-winning four.
The game’s sub-plot, the battle of the England rejects, was an anti-climax, with Ravi Bopara and Owais Shah making nine and four respectively, though Bopara managed one sumptuous straight drive for four.