Saturday, January 22, 2011

New Zealand v Pakistan, 1st ODI, Cake Tin, 22 January 2011

My golden ODI run continues for another year. That's five wins for New Zealand and a washout since 2006. Like most of these games it was a cakewalk, Pakistan's paltry 124 passed in the 18th over of the reply, the floodlights superfluous, home by eight. Given the icy sou'easterly that pinned us to our seats like a guard dog, that was just as well. Cricket suits sultry evenings in Hamilton, Auckland or Hawke's Bay, but Wellington, like the UK, doesn't have the climate for it. I see that floodlit games are now being played in the old country in the first half of May. People will die as sure as standing up them against the back of the pavilion and shooting them.

New Zealand bowled superbly having lost the toss. It is hard to recall a loose delivery. Tim Southee swung the ball away on the line of off stump and finished with five for 33. Hamish Bennett took three wickets, and excited the crowd by bowling consistently at the miraculous speed of 140 kph. I realise that this may not sound much, but such is the monotony of medium pacers here that it is greeted as something wondrous, like Stephenson's Rocket was to people who couldn't imagine anything faster than a horse and cart.

Jacob Oram bowled a few leg-side wides, but took two wickets in two balls which appeased a section of the crowd which had given him a hard time. He is a controversial selection for the World Cup squad because of his poor fitness record, which is such that if he were any other species he would have been put down some time ago. He didn't help matters by dropping a sitter at long on from Shahid Afridi off Vettori. However, he remains the 11th ranked ODI bowler, and has the potential to be a matchwinner in the knockout stages, so is a good selection. Besides, he can be replaced if he is injured.

Impressive as the home bowling was, it has to be recorded that Pakistan batted dreadfully. They fished outside the off stump so much that they should have worn waders instead of pads. Only Misbah-ul-Haq resisted, and until the ninth wicket fell batted at his own cautious pace apparently oblivious to events around him, just as he had in the Test. Then a few well-timed blows took him past 50, and made the tenth-wicket partnership with Shoaib Akhtar the third-highest of the innings.

Jesse Ryder and Martin Guptill struck out from the start of New Zealand's innings, Ryder's hitting being particularly relishable. He, Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum are all capable of playing a match-winning innings against any attack, which gives us hope for the World Cup, particularly if the bowling can retain the discipline it did today.

Shoaib Akhtar led the attack, back from his thirteenth retirement, but did so poignantly, a dog too old to bring back the stick. None for 47 from four overs. There is even a bald patch visible through the flowing black locks.

So ended New Zealand's horror run of eleven straight defeats in ODIs, a form of the game that had previously provided consolation to us for being so dismal in Tests. It was John Wright's first ODI as coach, and if he carries on in this vein he will be able to walk back to the hotel straight across the harbour, though it is never wise to draw any conclusions from a single ODI, particularly when they are being used for pre-World Cup experimentation.

A word about ticket prices, really just to irritate readers in the frozen north. For the Test I paid $75 for a ticket that got me into the Basin every day, which, even with the pound having shrunk to a value comparable with shiny pebbles, is still only seven quid a day. The ODI ticket was $27 for a seat behind the bowler's arm, and has an offer attached that allows me to get into tomorrow's domestic one-dayer for $5. This is a great country.

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