Sunday, March 7, 2010

Wellington v Northern Districts, first-class, Basin Reserve, 4-6 March 2010

When I’m in charge, an hour’s daily cricket watching will be compulsory. The social and economic consequences will be dramatic. Productivity will soar, crime rates will plummet, and a breeze of serenity will blow through the nations. It will be four-day cricket, obviously, cricket that flows past the watcher like a river as it nears the sea, inviting immersion or contemplation, according to the state of the water and the spectator’s mind.

Such were, for me, the restoring effects of an hour spent at the Basin Reserve at the end of the first and second days of the match between Wellington and Northern Districts, and the whole of the shortened third day too, shortened because Wellington, near the bottom of the table, were no match for ND, at the top. Injury and international calls meant that no more than five of the Wellington team in this game would be in the strongest possible XI, whereas ND were missing only Daniel Vettori (who has played in only 14 first-class games for ND in his career, despite being loyal to his home province throughout) and Tim Southee.

Having been CricInfo’s man in Northern Districts for a few years at the start of the last decade, I retain loyalties and was pleased that seven of the ND squad of that era were present: Michael Parlane, Hamish and James Marshall, and Graeme Aldridge in the ND team with Bruce Martin as twelfth man, Neal Parlane for Wellington, and Grant Bradburn as ND’s coach.

This retention of experience has helped ND have a good season, but is not good for New Zealand. When I was writing, only seven or eight years ago, there were hardly any players over 30 still playing, except those in, or close to, the national team. Since then, pay has improved and players can earn more by prolonging their careers than by getting a proper job. It is unlikely that any of those named above will play for New Zealand in the future. With only six teams in domestic cricket, the pool from which the national teams are picked is reduced significantly.

The comfortable figure of Michael Parlane was at the crease when I arrived at the ground on Thursday evening, Wellington having already been dismissed for 193, a paltry score by Basin standards. Any number of batsmen no better than the elder Parlane (and a few not as good) have played for New Zealand over the past decade. This may simply be a question of luck, though perhaps he does not comply with the modern coaching vision of the cricketer as all-round athlete (I recall his being dropped for not meeting fitness targets while I was writing on ND; happily these requirements did not extend to the press box). This has never stopped him scoring plenty of runs, and sound method and secure shot selection saw him past fifty again here. His brother Neal used similar methods to score 70 in Wellington’s second innings.

At the other end was Kane Williamson, the latest bright young hope of New Zealand cricket. Just 19, Williamson was player of the year in the 50-over competition, scoring 50 and taking five wickets in ND’s win in the final. After a lean first half of the first-class competition he is now scoring runs for fun in the longer game too. On Thursday he passed fifty while I watched, and went on to 170. Two shots in one over off Jeetan Patel took the eye: a lofted on drive, followed by a cover drive. Like all top-class players, Williamson has time in abundance. He might appear in the New Zealand side before the summer is out.

When I arrived on Friday, Wellington were 35 for one, chasing 207 to make ND bat again. They succeeded, leaving a target of 41, achieved just after four on Saturday, a pleasant day in the sun, if unspectacular on the field. Brent Arnel stood out for ND. Tall and quite quick, by local standards at least, he is another who could be in national colours in the next few weeks, though hurrying up batsmen called up from local club cricket, and doing the same to Ponting, Clarke and co are clearly different things altogether.

I am pleased to say that a couple of thousand people passed through the gates of the Basin on each day of the game. Unfortunately, about 1,970 left by the opposite gates approximately two minutes after arriving. It is not considered worth charging for entry to Plunkett Shield games, so the footpath and cycle way that goes around the boundary remains open throughout. Is there another venue anywhere in which spectators are separated from the playing area by a public thoroughfare?

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