Sunday, March 21, 2010

New Zealand v Australia, 1st Test, Basin Reserve, 20 March 2010 (2nd day)

Here’s something different; a free book for the first 3,000 spectators into the ground today. A good book too, The First 50 Tests, a history of test cricket at the Basin, by New Zealand’s foremost cricket historian Don Neely. It contains some wonderful photographs of the ground through the years, mostly from Neely’s own collection (many featured previously in his history of the ground, but it is still a treat to see them again). Some of the player profiles are a little pedestrian, and could have been run through a fact check (Ian Botham was a specialist second – not first – slip, and many in the hop county would dispute the contention that John Wright was a successful coach of Kent), but it’s a splendid addition to the New Zealand cricket library.

The second day of the Basin’s 51st test began and ended with Australia in control. Things had run away from New Zealand in the last session when 163 were scored for the loss of Katich. Today Michael Clarke and Marcus North extended their fifth-wicket partnership to 253, a record for Australia against New Zealand. It is difficult to recall a false shot, let alone a chance, until Clarke was stumped by McCullum off Vettori for 168.

For Clarke, this was a triumphant end to a difficult fortnight during which he left the ODI series to end his relationship with his girlfriend Lara Bingle (little is known of her less attractive sisters Hooper and Richardson). These events have been forensically, intrusively and tediously chronicled by the Australasian media, and it was pleasing to see such a fine innings in adversity from a decent bloke. It was also gratifying that the promised onslaught of abuse and ridicule from the crowd was almost totally absent. The atmosphere at the Basin was serene and benevolent, a satisfying contrast to the raucous parochialism of the Cake Tin. Perhaps a calming book would be worth a try there, though a colouring crayon might have to be supplied with it.

North became the latest in a long series of batsmen to have their careers saved by the New Zealand attack. How different the Ashes might have been had Andrew Strauss not had the good fortune to come across them at Napier two years ago. As Trevor Bailey used to say of the England attack in the late eighties and early nineties, “they can change the bowler, but not the bowling”. Vettori apart (and he is not the force in tests that he is in shorter forms) it is right-arm military medium fast all the way.

An early declaration left New Zealand facing half a day’s batting. The trepidation felt by many of the home supporters at this prospect was justified when BJ Watling was out first ball, lbw to Bollinger. This left Tim McIntosh and Peter Ingram to see off the new ball, neither with the record or technique for the task.

For 11 overs they did well, scoring sparsely, but batting with purpose and discipline, leaving alone what did not need playing. Then McIntosh blocked the ball in the crease and called Ingram for a quick single. The bowler, Johnson, followed through, but did not have the time to pick up the ball and throw it at the stumps. So instead he kicked it. I have seen this attempted dozens of times, but cannot recall it being successful, as it was here (and from a narrow angle with his – I assume, as he is left-handed – unfavoured right foot). Bad luck for Ingram, who batted well enough to assuage at least a few of the doubts about his calibre as a test batsman.

McIntosh (a 58-ball nine – one of his faster efforts) and Taylor followed, bringing together Guptill and Vettori at 43 for 4. They saw out the day with an unbroken partnership of 65. Guptill was very impressive, restraining his natural aggression and displaying good technique against better bowling than he has faced before.

Vettori was an only mildly restrained version of his one-day batting self. There is less crease-wandering, but he plays a completely defensive shot, one that brings no possibility of runs being conjured from it, only when absolutely necessary for survival, much as a Methodist might resort to a sip of whisky when lost in the desert.

Protected from the northerly by the RA Vance Stand, it was a perfect day for watching at the Basin. It also brought good news. There is to be a Boxing Day test here this year, against Pakistan. This throws into disarray my plans to travel to Melbourne for the Ashes at that time, but there is always Sydney the following week, and leaving Wellington while there is a test on is close to unthinkable.

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