Thursday, January 12, 2012

Wellington v Northern Districts, T20, Basin Reserve, 11 January 2012

The pohutukawas are out so the Basin is wrapped in cardinal's scarlet, even if more fitting attire for today's match – a bottom-of-the-table affair with neither side having a realistic chance of qualifying for the final – might be the rough-hewn vestments of a country priest.

The shorter format has the cricket world in its grip as the year begins. Two games from the West Indies T20 competition were on offer on the telly earlier in the day. The first was Sussex v the Netherlands in Antigua. Only a decade ago such a contest in such a place would have seemed the stuff of fantasy. Later, there was a game from the Big Bash competition. Who knew that the Australians could do onomatopoeia?

Before the game began the teams lined up for a minute's silence in memory of the eleven victims of the ballooning accident that took place last weekend 40 miles or so from Wellington. The home players wore black armbands. With our small population, tragedies of this kind are more deeply felt in New Zealand than they are in more populous countries. But these memorial moments at sports fixtures now happen so often that they are in danger of becoming mere tokenism (“who is it today then?” I have heard people say as we rise to make solemn observance). The Australians, it sometimes appears, rarely take the field these days without their armbands. It cannot be long before the marketing people bring their characteristic soullessness to this, mark my words: “Granny dead?The Woolongong Wombats have a space on their armband for her and, in return for a large sum, will stand around looking non-specifically sad for several seconds before play (unless it rains in which case Duckworth-Lewis applies)”.

Northern Districts won the toss and chose to bat. Kane Williamson opened and anchored the innings with 53 from 41 balls. He continues to look a class above almost everybody else at this level. When he was out the innings lost momentum. Scott Styris scored 23 without looking convincing. He was dropped off a towering top edge, wicket keeper Brendon Taylor waiting under it for an age before the Wellington wind made a fool of him, as it will. He barely touched it. Andy McKay was outstanding with one for 16.

The last over started with Northern Districts on 138. Wellington appeared to have every chance of restricting the total to below 150, which would leave the home team in the box seat. Vettori (hirsuiteness update: short hair, big beard, a look of the ayatollah about him) took a single from the first ball leaving Peter McGlashan to face Mark Gillespie. My mind went back to a 50-over game three years ago when the same combination faced each other at the climax. McGlashan then needed nine from the last two balls for a one-wicket win. He dealt with the matter straightforwardly by twice hitting Gillespie past the scoreboard and out of the ground for wind-assisted sixes. Today it seemed that McGlashan had remembered those events while Gillespie had forgotten. The second ball of the over was lifted onto the roof of the JR Reid Gate, the third clearing the boundary squarer. A third successive six enabled McGlashan to demonstrate that he is New Zealand's most proficient reverse hitter, as he pulled the ball over the cover boundary. A four in the same manner with a single to finish took Northern Districts to a formidable 162.

Three wickets fell in the first four overs of the reply, and that was more or less it. One of T20's main weaknesses is that there is no coming back from a bad start. Rory Hamilton-Brown, the Surrey captain brought in for the second half of the T20 competition in the manner of a pilot coming on board the Titanic just as it hits the iceberg, hung around for seven overs as opener, but scored only seven runs, a Boycottian rate of progress in this context.

The whole Northern Districts attack was proficient, with Vettori applying a mid-innings strangle as Derek Underwood used to do of a Sunday afternoon, and Tim Southee outstanding. The wonder is how a side so full of talent could find itself superior to Wellington only on run rate at the start of the game. Another of T20's issues is that it is too great a leveller.

It will be a month before I can watch more live cricket, but then it will be the South Africans, in town in all three forms, so it will be worth the wait.

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