Sunday, February 28, 2010

New Zealand v Australia, 20/20, The Cake Tin, Wellington, 26 February 2010

To the Cake Tin (Wellington’s 34,000 capacity all-sport stadium, so-called for its functional architectural style) for the start of Australia’s tour.

The Australians come from an unbeaten season at home in all forms, though against moderate opposition in Pakistan and the West Indies (and almost lost a test against both these teams). I have always enjoyed the ODIs from Australia, which are mostly in the evening, finishing around midnight here, but this year’s were dreary, with no close finishes at all.

New Zealand come from wins in all forms against even less taxing opposition — Bangladesh — but all the Black Caps (as we have learned to call them) played a full domestic season of 20/20, so are more practised in the format than some of the Australians. This, and the fact that New Zealand have a decent record in one-day cricket against Australia, especially at home, led many of us to take an optimistic view of prospects.

How wrong we were. Australia’s victory was overwhelming, routine and dull.

Things went wrong from the first over, in which Brendon McCullum was spectacularly caught by Haddin off Tait. Thereafter Haddin had a shocker, and the Australian fielding generally was well below its usual high standards, which, for the purposes of extending the game beyond dusk, was just as well.

The other opener, Peter Ingram, looked out of his depth, out for a somewhat desperate two from ten balls. For a decade, Ingram has scored plenty of runs in domestic cricket without preferment, but suddenly finds himself in the national team in all three forms. Unless he adapts to bowling considerably faster than he is used to, the next month will be a long one.

For all his pace, I am unconvinced that Tait is not a one-trick pony (though bowling at 150 kph plus is not a bad trick). Later in the innings Gareth Hopkins showed how to use Tait’s pace against him, slicing a six over third man. Mitchell Johnson looked more dangerous, but needed help to take the vital wicket of Ross Taylor.

Step forward Billy Bowden, who gave the bowler a leg-before decision that looked wrong from 90 metres away, and which the TV replay revealed was awful, the ball heading well down the offside, Taylor having moved right across the stumps. One struggles to remember an Australian umpire giving such a crass decision against an Aussie batsman.

There must be provision for some sort of review even in the shorter forms of the game. Thanks to the big screens, everybody in the ground (including Billy, who was looking, presumably for reasons of self-admiration) knew what a stinker it was before Taylor had left the ground.

A partnership of 50 from five overs between Franklin of Gloucestershire and Hopkins threatened to bring New Zealand to the outer edges of respectability before the collapse (without which no New Zealand innings is complete) from 104 for four to 118 all out.

In this situation the best to be hoped for is a quick end with some spectacular hitting. I was looking forward to a first sight of David Warner, and was quite impressed, even though he only got 19. He is a bit more than a mere pinch-hitter.

As ever, Vettori was New Zealand’s best bowler. He got Watson in his first over, the fourth of the innings, and I thought that he should have opened despite the fielding restrictions.

When it came, with four overs to spare, victory was a merciful release for all concerned.

With only a 12-man squad, New Zealand have few options for the second game in Christchurch (I am writing before it has begun) beyond bringing in Southee for Tuffey. Vettori is criminally underused at nine in the batting order, and should open (the batting if not the bowling), as he does in domestic cricket.

However, I’m always critical of people who draw too many conclusions from a single one-innings game, so should beware of casting the first stone.

Next weekend — joy of joys — two days of four-day cricket at the Basin.

Sunday, February 14, 2010

The Don’t Get On XI

My Blean correspondent and myself squandered many of our best years picking unlikely cricket XIs, among them the Permanently Injured XI, the All-Time Boring XI, the Picked Too Often XI, the Not Picked Often Enough XI, and the Don’t Get On XI.

The latter consisted of players who it was known bore animosity towards at least one of their teammates. It was the easiest to pick. Geoffrey Boycott and ten players he played with or against, selected at random, would usually work.

Evidence of this, and of the consequent case for the inclusion of Chris Old, is contained in the February edition of the Wisden Cricketer. The excellent Eyewitness series, in which participants recall matches of the past, features Durham’s defeat of Yorkshire in the 1973 Gillette Cup, the first time that a minor county defeated a first-class county:

Old, a fine fast bowler for Yorkshire and England (though first name on the sheet for the Permanently Injured XI) was a member of the Yorkshire team that day. In the opposition was his brother Alan Old, England’s fly half (or first five-eighth as we say in this part of the world) at that time.

Chris Old makes two comments that support the case for his inclusion in the Don’t Get On XI. On winning the toss, Boycott, the Yorkshire captain, elected to bat. Old, who had told his brother that the match would proceed by Yorkshire bowling Durham out cheaply before hitting off the runs, explains Boycott’s decision in this way:

“He probably thought that it was the best way he’d have of winning the man-of-the-match award.”

Late in the game, when Durham were closing on Yorkshire’s paltry 139, Boycott told Old that he was being put on to bowl to get his brother out, and threw him the ball. Old’s response:

“I threw the ball lack saying ‘you got us into this mess, you get us out of it’”.

So he’s in. I can’t recall all of the rest of the team, but Tony Greig was certainly there, along with Ian Botham and Ian Chappell, Denis Lillee and Javed Miandad, and Mike Denness (Boycott withdrew from the 1974/5 tour of Australia as he didn’t approve of Denness being captain). Suggestions welcome.

Sunday, February 7, 2010

Wellington v Otago, 50 overs, Basin Reserve, 7 February 2010

To the Basin for an abject display by Wellington that finished their chances of qualifying for the final stages of the 50-over competition (four of the six competing teams go through).

Wellington won the toss and batted first, but wickets fell regularly (including Owais Shah for an unstellar eight from 24 balls). It was 116 for 5 in the 33rd over when Chris Nevin and 19-year-old Harry Boam came together. They steadied the innings, building their partnership sensibly by working the ball into the gaps. By the 38th over a total of 230 plus seemed a reasonable aspiration, 50 or so less than the usual par score at the Basin, but one that would have left Wellington with a chance on a pitch that was turning more than usual.

But the fool's gold that is the batting powerplay glistened too temptingly. It was taken. The gaps in the field closed. Big shots were attempted, wickets fell, and the innings ended at 169 in the 44th over (it was amusing to listen to the radio commentators - not the excellent Ron Snowden today - discussing whether the powerplay should be taken two overs after it had been) .

In one of their recent ODIs against Pakistan, Australia demonstrated that the best attitude to the batting powerplay when half the side is out early is to forget about it until the end of the innings. More often than not, it will expose the lower order and reduce, not expand, the final total.

It can be reported that a former Kent player did well: Yasir Arafat took two for 22 in eight overs. I spent some of the afternoon trying to devise a team consisting of players who shared their name with historical figures, but could add to Arafat's only the name of Julius Caesar (Surrey 1849-67). I welcome suggestions, particularly from my Blean correspondent.

The Otago response was well-paced and relatively untroubled, though Luke Woodcock bowled his slow left-arm well and was unlucky not to take a wicket. Shaun Haig scored an unbeaten 93, and Otago won by eight wickets in the 36th over.

During the interval I visited the excellent cricket museum in the old stand, well worth a look, even if it is coy about the nature of the relationship between Edward II and Piers Gaveston.

Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket

In the same package as this year’s Wisden , there arrived Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket , co-authored by Stephen Fay ...