Sunday, January 20, 2013

Wellington v Auckland, T20 Preliminary Final, Basin Reserve, 18 January 2013

In the city that is the home of The Hobbit the chirpy little local people overcame the evil force from the big bad world outside: Wellington beat Auckland in the preliminary final of the T20.
I have written before of the wisdom of getting to cricket matches in good time:

The importance of this principle was manifest once more at the Basin on Friday. Indolent spectators lacking in moral backbone who wandered in late after the third over missed the best that this game had to offer: a 17-ball 46 by Jesse Ryder. Twenty came from the first over, bowled by the unfortunate Matt Quinn, with three fours, and a six kept in the ground at long on only by one of the pohutukawas. Giving the new ball to the inexperienced Quinn was to ask a boy bugler to lead the charge, particularly when the cunning and experienced Andre Adams was available.

At the other end, Ben Orton knew that his job was to get off strike as soon as possible, which he did with a single off the first ball, bowled by the experienced left-armer Michael Bates. In the rest of the over Ryder cover drove three boundaries, one off the back foot and two off the front, the second lofted over the infield. Three jewels of shots that would have looked shiny and beautiful in any game of cricket. Ryder did not play a stroke today that was predetermined; each was a response to the ball that was bowled.

Unbelievably, Auckland captain Gareth Hopkins persisted with Quinn from the Vance Stand End. Quinn looks very young and I seriously considered ringing the child protection people at this point. Two fours and a towering six onto the bank were the inevitable result, but from the last ball of the over Ryder was caught on the square-leg boundary; had it carried two metres further it would have been a 17-ball fifty (not the quickest I would have seen: that was Matthew Fleming’s 16-ball effort in a rain-reduced ten-over Sunday League game for Kent v Yorkshire in 1996). It was magnificent batting, with no qualification about it only being T20. Mike Hesson, the Black Caps coach, is shortly to have a conversation with Ryder about the possibility of a return to the national team for the forthcoming England tour of these islands. This is how Hesson should begin this exchange:

Hesson: Please Jesse (can I call you Jesse or would you prefer Mr Ryder?), you just name the terms, you don’t have to practise, just turn up and bat, you can have the house of whichever member of the New Zealand Cricket board you nominate and your own body weight in whatever fast food you choose delivered daily to the dressing room, but please play, I’m begging you.

A quietness overtook the ground for a while, punctuated only by the repentant sobbing of latecomers, as they learned what they had missed. Michael Papps began to build an innings that was perfect for the circumstances, busy, with enough big hits to keep the scoreboard moving at a good rate (by the way Basin Reserve authorities, if you have a scoreboard which shows the scores of team and batsmen by in the form of lit electric bulbs, wouldn’t it be an idea to check that enough of the bulbs are working to enable spectators to see what those scores actually are?). Papps was 70 not out from 48 balls at the end. He put on 79 for the third wicket with Cameron Borgas, who was no quicker about his work than he had been against Otago last week: 29 from 33 balls, not fast enough for the second half of a 20 innings on a good pitch. Borgas has a considerable repertoire of unorthodox shots, but fewer than desirable of the orthodox variety that have stood the test of time over the centuries as a means of moving things along. He was caught at fine third man from a dilscoop, which was just as well for Wellington as it brought in Luke Ronchi, who made 21 from just 11 balls.

Wellington finished with 182 for four, a formidable target, but one that Auckland had the firepower to chase down if they got a good start.

Tugaga removed Lou Vincent lbw from the first ball of the innings, and Gareth Hopkins followed in the second over, caught and bowled by slow left armer Mark Houghton. This left Aaron Finch as the bearer of Auckland’s hopes and dreams. Finch was signed just for the weekend, having been dropped from Australia’s ODI team, in which he featured last weekend (the biggest cheer of the day, incidentally, was raised not for a Ryder six, but for the news that Australia were 40 for nine against Sri Lanka at the Gabba). He was man of the series in this year’s Big Bash (as the Australian T20 is fashioned) and struck fluently from the start. Ryder put him down at backward point, one of five chances that Wellington spurned, something that has to be put right before the final.

Finch drove the Auckland innings along at a fair pace, well supported by Craig Cachopa. They were 84 for two in the tenth, and unease could be seen removing its hat and taking a seat among the home supporters. But at this point Finch was bowled as he made room to cut. From that point on wicket-taker Woodcock and Houghton (a combined three for 52 from eight overs) exercised sufficient control and guile to take the target over Auckland’s horizon. Ryder bowled with intelligence and accuracy towards the end, and Auckland finished 23 runs short, the width of the Sahara in T20 terms.

So it is off to the deep south for Wellington, who face Otago in the final on Sunday.


Tuesday, January 15, 2013

Tony Greig

I started a post about Tony Greig a while ago, but held it back when I discovered that David Tossell had written a biography of Greig that made my point at greater length: that people had forgotten what a top-class cricketer Tony Greig was. The intention was to get hold of the book and turn my piece into a review. News of Greig’s death – ever the showman, between the Melbourne and Sydney Tests – means that now is the time to finish it.

Many of the obituaries have – at last – set out the case for Greig the player, as well as giving him the kudos he deserves for his role in liberating the game from aristocratic cricket governance. Even so, Tony Greig is rarely mentioned when the great all-rounders are being discussed, even though he absolutely deserves to be. Why not?

His involvement in the creation World Series Cricket is central to the answer. Use of the language of the time to describe his role in the events that tore the cricket world asunder in May 1977 will illustrate the scale of the opprobrium that was heaped upon Greig then and suggest why its effects have continued to have an unjustly deleterious effect on his reputation ever since.

He was Kerry Packer’s “recruiting agent”, cricket’s “Quisling”, “tempting”, “seducing” even, his teammates into “disloyalty” and “desertion” in favour of Packer’s “pirates/rebels/circus”. John Woodcock wrote that Greig’s problem was that he was “not English through and through”, quite the silliest thing that great cricket writer ever wrote.

It may astonish those unfamiliar with these events that Greig’s role did not involve the secreting of barrels of gunpowder under the Long Room at Lord’s, nor the planning of the assassination of the President of MCC, but merely the promotion of an opportunity for under-rewarded cricketers to earn more for playing the game. Even though the traditionalists’ view of World Series Cricket has been the subject of revisionism that has exposed it to the ridicule it so clearly warrants, Tony Greig’s enduring association with it has continued to draw attention away from his fine playing record.

Then there was the fact that nobody ever said “when will there be another Tony Greig?” after he left international cricket in 1977, because as Greig exited, Ian Botham entered, a ready-made replacement, an improvement even. Yet comparison of Greig’s record with that of Botham is instructive. For a start, Greig’s Test batting average is 40.43, Botham’s 33.54. Greig scored 50 or more every 3.32 innings, Botham every 4.47 innings. Of course, Botham batted with wonderful panache and daring, but if he was Errol Flynn, Greig was at least Douglas Fairbanks Junior, as those of us who saw the highlights of him slicing Lillee and Thomson through gully and over the slips at the Gabba in 1974 will tell you (nobody in today’s sports-channel era could conceive of how exciting it was to watch those nightly half-hour highlights packages, a glimpse of the sharp light of the Australian summer bringing relief from the December drabness of the old country). Or, once more in adversity, at Headingley in 1976, centuries for Greig and Knott against Roberts, Holding and Daniel (and an unbeaten 76 leading an unsuccessful run chase in the second innings).

Greig the batsman relished the challenge of intimidating bowling and raised his game against the best, as great players do. In contrast, Botham’s batting average against the West Indies, the titans of his time, was 21.40.

This is not to denigrate Botham, a truly great player, first choice for All-time England XI (well, maybe second, after Alan Knott). Botham is a street ahead of Greig—and everybody else—as a bowler. But Greig was a fine bowler too with 141 Test wickets at 32.20, mostly from medium fast deliveries bowled from a loping, angular delivery, but with the ability to switch to off cutters, as he famously did to win a Test at Port-of-Spain in 1974.

Nor should it be forgotten that Greig was only 30 when he played his last Test, his best years, particularly as a batsman, still ahead of him. Had he continued into the the early eighties, he would have been bracketed with Botham, Hadlee, Imran Khan and Kapil Dev as a totem of the era of the all-rounders. We never saw the second half of his international career.

The third reason why Greig the cricketer has been overlooked is that he was, for more than three decades, one of cricket’s most irritating commentators: “Got ‘im!”, “Goodnight Charlie!”, “It went like a tracer bullet!” etc. He was always long on exuberance and short on analysis. Some would say that the same applied to his captaincy, but it should not be forgotten he was the first England captain since Jardine—and one of only four in total[i]—to lead his team to a Test series victory in India.

The case for the prosecution would conclude with his famous “I intend to make them grovel” remark in advance of the 1976 series against the West Indies. As I have written elsewhere[ii], for any England captain that would have been an unfortunate and poorly judged remark; for one with Greig’s harsh South African accent at the height of Apartheid it was inflammatory. Yet that apart, Greig’s record on racial issues is unblemished. Some of the obituaries say that Greig’s family was anti-Apartheid. It should be remembered that, unlike Allan Lamb, Chris and Robin Smith et al, Greig aligned himself with England before it became clear that South Africa was out of the international game long-term. He made his debut in the wonderful, neglected, series against the Rest of the World XI in which replaced the cancelled South Africa tour in 1970 (those games were regarded as Tests at the time, but are not so now; it was a fantastic series, and I must write about it).

One personal memory from 1976. Kent were drawn at home to Sussex in the second round of the Gillette Cup: We won the other two one-day trophies that season, but were bundled out of the 60-over competition by a brilliant all-round performance by Tony Greig, whose 62 and three for 45 were the best batting and bowling of the game (he took three catches too). This against the best side in the country. He was quite brilliant. Nobody who saw him that day could doubt that Tony Greig was a great cricketer.

[i] Gower and Cook are the other two.

Monday, January 14, 2013

Wellington v Otago, T20, Basin Reserve, 11 January 2013

To the Basin for the first time this season for an intriguing T20 match. With the league stage of the competition reaching its conclusion, Wellington, second in the table, hosted leaders Otago. On Sunday third-placed Northern Districts visit the Basin, so by the end of the weekend the line-up for the knock-out phase will be sorted out (the top-placed team hosts the final against the winners of playoff between the second and third-placed sides). No matter what the sporting code, Wellington teams have a long tradition of blowing it when this close to success, so the local mood going into this game was guarded at best.

Rumours that Chris Gayle had been signed for the two games this weekend proved unfounded, a pity as the prospect of Gayle peppering the rush-hour traffic around the Basin with sixes was alluring. Gales of a more familiar Wellingtonian kind were more happily absent on a beautiful late afternoon, though most of the pohutukawas had lost their scarlet bloom.

Otago won the toss and elected to bat. Hamish Rutherford and Neil Broom opened the batting, Ili Tugaga the bowling. Tugaga is the only No 10 batsman I have seen make a century in first-class cricket (, and is a male model in his spare time (or possibly, is a cricketer in his spare time from being a male model). He took the first wicket when Broom hooked straight to long leg.

This brought in Derek de Boorder (Kiwi born-and-bred despite the South African-sounding name), who batted through until the penultimate ball of the innings for 67 without looking completely at ease until the last couple of overs, particularly when the blade of his bat separated from the handle during a straight drive. It hurtled towards the bowler, Jesse Ryder, who of all the Wellington team has a life experience that means he the least likely to be perturbed by a large piece of wood coming at him.

Rutherford’s 32 constituted precisely half of Otago’s total when he was brilliantly caught by Ryder at cover point. Ryder’s wonderful hand-eye co-ordination is worth any number of gym sessions; an athlete despite his girth.

Scott Kuggeleijn dropped de Boorder from a sharp diving chance at mid-wicket but atoned with a direct hit that ran out Nathan McCullum later the same over. This brought Ryan ten Doeschate of Essex and the Netherlands to the middle. He has the reputation of being one of the finest exponents of T20 in the world, a hitter, so I was keen to see him get going. But he had scored only nine when he fell to a fine catch by Tugaga, strutting the boundary catwalk.

A surfeit of boundaries through the middle of the innings meant that after 17 overs Otago had an unimpressive 132 for four. It was a dating website of an innings: singles only, though effective hitting at the death raised to 170, a par score but no more at the Basin.

As the Wellington innings began a spasm of anticipation ran round the crowd, for Jesse Ryder was at the wicket. Ryder is New Zealand’s only clear-the-bar batsman, someone who can generate excitement just by stepping onto the field. The appearance of the Black Caps Test batsmen sends supporters to the bar, drinking to forget. Ryder despatched the first ball of the third over to the long-off boundary with the insouciance of a restaurant critic sending  an overcooked turbot back to the kitchen. But he hit across the line of the next delivery and was bowled, to the sound of three thousand people emitting a wistful sigh.

At the other end was Bangladeshi batsman Tamim Iqbal. The appearance of the name of the scoreboard made me think what a fine T20 player Kent’s Asif Iqbal would have been,  full of movement and unorthodox shots, and a greyhound between the wickets. Tamim Iqbal has been quite successful in his spell for Wellington, but did not find the pace of the pitch today; much of his 41 was accrued from mistimed shots and he found scoring more difficult the longer his innings went on. Yet he was Jack Hobbs reincarnated compared with Australian import Cameron Borgas.

Borgas scored 50 in his last appearance for Wellington in November, but has scored only 26 in five innings for the Sydney Thunder since, and today had less touch than the Venus de Milo. His 35 came in 39 balls, a glacial pace of scoring in this form of the game. Had his innings been a dog it would have been mercifully euthanised at an early stage.

Luke Ronchi (another Aussie, but qualified for New Zealand) took just eight deliveries to overtake Borgas, who had been in for almost three-quarters of an hour, but was out for a nine-ball 20, by which point Wellington’s hopes faded away like an ageing starlet.

Some hitting in the last two overs reduced the final margin of Otago’s victory to 12 runs, which did not reflect the ease of the win. The local supporters retreated into the Wellington evening disappointed, but not in the least surprised.

Update: Wellington made a spirited attempt to lose Sunday’s game against Northern Districts by conceding 72 runs in the last six overs of the run chase, but won nevertheless and host Friday’s semi-final, probably against the same opponents.


Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket

In the same package as this year’s Wisden , there arrived Arlott, Swanton and the Soul of English Cricket , co-authored by Stephen Fay ...