Sunday, February 17, 2013

New Zealand v England, Third T20 International, the Cake Tin, Wellington, 15 February 2013

“It's not the despair, Laura. I can take the despair. It's the hope I can't stand”—Brian Stimpson (played by John Cleese) in the 1987 film Clockwise.

Cleese (a Somerset supporter by the way) might have been speaking for New Zealand cricket fans. Our hearts were brim-full of hope as we made our way to the Cake Tin for the decider in the three-game T20 series against the visitors from the frozen north. England won the first game, in Auckland, resoundingly. But in Hamilton, New Zealand bounced back like Tigger, to take the game by 55 runs. That’s the nature of T20 cricket, of course: bingo in coloured clothing.

Over the course of two-and-a-half hours all those hopes drained into the harbour as England dominated the game as it did the seas at the height of Empire.

Among the optimistic throng were my Waikato Correspondent (who had presented me with the best Valentine’s Day gift ever—a 1961 Wisden) and (this was something a thought that I would never live to see) my Island Bay Correspondent who has previously regarded the prospect of an evening’s cricket with the enthusiasm of a tuna with a booking at a sushi restaurant.

Stuart Broad put New Zealand in and, together with Steve Finn, subjected openers Hamish Rutherford and Martin Guptill to a disciplined and hostile opening spell, with plenty of short stuff and a tight line that offered little leeway for shots square of the wicket.

The assembled correspondents got a shock when Rutherford drove the first boundary of the innings: it was then we discovered that we were only a few metres away from six flame throwers that shot towers of fire into the air in celebration of every New Zealand boundary. On another night this would have been a welcome aid to spectator comfort; I have worked up a fair Captain Oates impersonation watching under the Cake Tin’s lights over the years. But this was another balmy day in Wellington’s long hot summer and it was pleasant to sit in the open air.

Rutherford gloved a short ball to short fine leg off Broad in the fourth over, but Brendon McCullum and Guptill found the change bowlers easier to score from. By the end of the ninth over New Zealand were 60 for one, with plenty of wickets left to push towards the 175 or so that we expected would be necessary to give the home team the advantage when England replied.

That was when the trouble started. Wickets fell regularly as the English attack bowled with intelligence and discipline. The flame throwers were unused from the thirteenth to sixteenth overs, as no boundaries were hit in this period, a musical with no songs. Guptill remained, but never got going. When he was out in the penultimate over he had scored 59 from 55 balls with only three boundaries, nowhere near the going rate in this form of the game.

Broad (three for 15) and Finn (18 off four overs) were outstanding. New Zealand batsmen have little experience of hostile, accurate short bowling and find it difficult to deal with. This does not bode well for the weeks to come. Kent’s new captain (I wore my Kent shirt in his honour) James Tredwell was proficient with one for 31. Jade Dernbach was expensive but interesting with his back-of-the-hand variations and took three wickets. The surprise package was Joe Root, the next-big-thing as a batsman, and a phantom off spinner, as Ross Taylor discovered. Taylor put Root in the stand over deep mid-wicket, but failed to spot that Root had held the next ball back when he tried a repeat and was caught by Bairstow on the boundary.

The fielding was almost impeccable, the spilling of a hard chance at mid off by Finn the only lapse. New Zealand finished on 139 for eight. We knew that it was not enough, but did not perceive by how very much it was not enough.

Alex Hales and Michael Lumb, both of Nottinghamshire, opened the batting. The last time there was such an uneven contest between the English and the locals in these parts, one side had guns and the other did not. Hales hit two fours in the first over off Boult as a sign of things to come. Mitchell McClenaghan started with a maiden, but Lumb hit the first two balls of his next over for six.

New Zealand had the chance of a breakthrough when Hales skyed a balled in from of square leg. Taylor was closest. Elliott set off at pace from the outfield and could have taken it reasonably comfortably. But Brendon McCullum had has eye on the ball, and the intent and singularity of purpose of a shopper at the January sales making a beeline for a little Versace number at 75% off. Nothing was going to get in his way. Both players who might have taken the catch wisely placed their own preservation above the needs of their team and stayed out of the road, just as a sensible person would not attempt to reason with a charging bull. McCullum executed a dive with pike and twist as he leapt past Elliott, but the ball dropped through his gloves to the ground.

That was it, pretty much. England raced to their target, reaching it in the thirteenth over. Lumb completed the carnage with a six onto the roof of the stadium, a smite even bigger than Martin Guptill’s against South Africa last year. Lumb made 53 from 34 balls, Hales 80 from 42. Lumb hit five sixes, Hales four. The astonishing thing is that both players were on the plane the following day, not needed for the ODI series that followed. England have Cook and Trott ready to replace them.

The flame throwers, reserved for New Zealand wickets, were still throughout the second half of the match, so it was an energy-efficient defeat, at least.

A one-day series of three games follows, and I will be in Dunedin when the Test series begins there on 6 March, despair notwithstanding.

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