Sunday, March 13, 2011

A Wellington XI v a Canterbury XI, T20, the Basin Reserve, 13 March 2011

A pleasant afternoon at a full Basin Reserve for a game between two XIs of old players in aid of the victims of the Christchurch earthquake, the sadness of which has pervaded every corner of these islands since it visited the crowded lunchtime streets almost three weeks ago.

All in the 9,000 crowd were there for the cause, but a fair number were also present to roll back the years, to see the heroes of their youth once more. The ground was full of middle-aged men looking wistful. The longer the time that has elapsed since retirement, the greater the nostalgia quotient. So the welcome for Ewen Chatfield, Bruce Edgar, Martin Crowe and Sir Richard Hadlee was especially warm.

But the big draw was Shane Warne, who changed plans at short notice to cross the Tasman in a good cause. He signed autographs all day, fielded on the boundary, choosing a different child each delivery to stand with him on the field, bowled an over at the Prime Minister during the interval, bore endless texting jokes with good grace, and impressed everybody.

A full complement of celebrities had turned out as well. Sir Ian McKellan, last seen in Wellington last July starring in a wonderful production of Waiting for Godot (by the first-class cricketer Samuel Beckett), was match referee. He is filming The Hobbit here in Wellington at the moment, and was joined by other members of the cast, including James Nesbitt and Martin Freeman. There were All Blacks, past and present, aplenty. Richie McCaw and Conrad Smith umpired, while Tana Umaga was a popular ringer for Wellington.

Martin Crowe's cousin, the actor Russell Crowe, was there, today embraced as a New Zealander, one of our own, just as he is when he wins Oscars. When he throws telephones at hotel staff, he is an Australian.

Over the years, I've seen a number of games such as these, the Old England v Old Australia match that preceeded the Centenary Test of 1980 being particularly memorable:

http://cricketarchive.com/Archive/Scorecards/114/114225.html

Then, and today, the batsmen found it easier to give a flavour of what they once were than did the bowlers, whose arms and stomachs find gravity stronger than of yore. So in 1980 Cowdrey was elegant, d'Oliveira powerful, Simpson commanding. Barrington off-drove a six high into the stand next to the pavilion in the last game he ever played; he died while serving as England's assistant manager in the Caribbean little more than six months later. The keeping of Godfrey Evans, just turned sixty, was particularly striking. His stumping of Simpson was so fast that it was announced as bowled.

Here, Bruce Edgar was resolute and well-organised, Mark Greatbatch was as forthright as he was as the first of the pinch-hitters in 1992, and Nathan Astle looked as if he could walk back into the national team today. The bowlers all operated off short runs, though Ewen Chatfield was nagging enough to remind us of how important a foil he was to Hadlee. But it was fours and sixes that the crowd wanted, and the bowlers were happy to conspire to provide them.

Canterbury won, as if it mattered, more than half a million dollars was raised, and a good time was had by all. Why, I even set aside my customary lack of community empathy to participate in a Mexican wave (there are witnesses, but no photos).

Before play started, people went around the ground throwing chocolate bars into the crowd. Save for the presence of Helena Bonham Carter, or one of the former members of Pan's People, how could a day be more perfect?

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