Saturday, February 2, 2013

Wellington v Canterbury, Plunket Shield, third day of four, 2 February 2013

It is summer in Wellington. Proper, Cider With Rosie, lazy-hazy-crazy, eggs-frying-on-the-pavement summer. Day after day of blue skies and ice cream. A Test match of a summer, not the T20 substitutes we have had for the past couple of years. Where better to be than the Basin, and for a first-class game too?

Five others agreed with me. We half-dozen constituted the crowd when the first ball was bowled at 10.30 (though the possibility that a couple of the others had wandered in for a stroll, fallen asleep in the sun and awoke surprised to find a cricket match going on cannot be discounted).

Canterbury began 43 without loss in their second innings, a lead of 16. Peter Fulton and George Worker were the openers. Fulton is being touted for the troublesome opener’s spot in the Test side, along with most of the rest of the male population under 50. He is scoring runs: 94 in the first innings here, and has previous experience, of ten Tests. I was going to write “previous form” but this would be misleading as an average of 20 does not constitute form.

The problem with the New Zealand batting line up is that, Ross Taylor apart, it consists entirely of men who would be better off at No 5 or 6 on the order. I would move Taylor up to No 3, followed by Brownlie, Williamson, Guptill (who has not made it as an opener, but is too good to drop) and Watling. This would leave McCullum to open with whoever is in form and appears up for it when the first Test comes along.

Fulton moved smoothly enough to his second fifty of the match and, with some fluent striking, demonstrated why he is being spoken of as an answer to New Zealand’s opener question. However, he also showed why he is not the right answer. He favours the onside a little too much, almost giving Gillespie a caught-and-bowled as he tried to work one from too far outside off. Then he was out, loosely driving Tipene Friday to backward point when set. But is there anyone better?

Fulton’s dismissal apart, Canterbury were untroubled in the morning session, reaching 158 for one at lunch. Some spectators, looking at the card in the paper, might have asked “why don’t they put Harry Boam on? He took three wickets in the first innings.” Boam could not bowl because he is no longer playing in this game. But he will be playing tomorrow. This curious state of affairs is because of the regulations allowing the Black Caps management to take players in and out of matches at their whim (the regulations don’t actually say “whim” but it’s a fair summary). So here the two keepers, Luke Ronchi of Wellington and Tom Latham of Canterbury, are being withdrawn on the fourth day so that they can travel to Whangarei to play in the tour opener against an England XI (this is the correct term for a non-international fixture by the way). I can just about put up with that, albeit it sneeringly.

But Grant Elliott swanning in fashionably late on the third day (which is why Boam dropped out today) is intolerable. The powers that be seem to think that our international cricketers need to be rested as much as the average granny, and that Elliott could not stand four days under the harsh Wellington sun a mere week after returning from South Africa. At least Elliott gets two days’ play. James Franklin, present today, gets no game time at all.

Jeetan Patel was also at the Basin, but did not play, for different reasons. He has taken a lot of criticism for his less-than-steadfast approach to the South African quicks. In the First World War he would have been shot for cowardice. But so what? He is picked as a spinner. Patel is more highly valued in Warwickshire, for whom he was a key member of their Championship-winning side last year. With Vettori out for the Tests, New Zealand need all their spinners to be doing as much bowling as possible. In fact, the more all the international players can play the better, but this would be dismissed as laughably old-fashioned by John Buchanan and his acolytes, I have no doubt.

After lunch Mark Gillespie returned having bowled a long, tidy, if unthreatening spell in the morning. He was rewarded with the wicket of Stewart, bowled by an outswinger. On the boundary in front of me Gillespie explained to Wellington coach Jamie Siddons that he was swinging it both ways, possibly at the same time. He had an outstanding Test at the Basin against South Africa last year, but has not featured since, because of injury and the mysterious way in which the national selectors move at times. His day may have gone, though he would do a job if called upon against England.

Dean Brownlie, the best batsman in the recent Test debacle in South Africa, was next in. I had not seen much of Brownlie, so was looking forward to his innings. He proceeded tidily to 25, when he top-edged a hook off Tipene Friday and was caught at mid off.

At the other end, George Worker moved towards the second century of his career efficiently, if edgily at times. No doubt he will be propelled into the Test team by some pundits. His innings was not that compelling, but he may be a contender soon enough. At 107 he edged Friday to slip where Jesse Ryder—who else?—took a spectacular catch, the best bit of cricket of the day. My plan to seduce Ryder into an international return by way of fast food appears to have failed. His catches, as well as his runs, will be missed.

Tipene Friday removed Brent Findlay next ball, finishing with a career-best four for 67. Friday makes good use of a tall and solid frame. He bowls off a 20-pace run up, which only gets properly under way after ten paces. Sorting this out will add more pace, which, at a guess, stands around the 130 kph mark at the moment. There is plenty of promise here.

At tea Canterbury were 252 for five. This left the South Islanders with a tricky choice. These sides are the bottom of the table, and need a win to maintain an interest in the competition. Canterbury needed to push on in order to give themselves all day tomorrow to bowl Wellington out on a placid pitch, but in doing so could not afford to lose wickets and leave a target of under 300, or the game would be thrown away. In the final session they were rewarded for being positive. First Latham maintained momentum impressively with 57 from 72 deliveries before holing out to Tugaga on the mid-wicket boundary off Elliott. Astle followed for 37 leaving things evenly poised again. Enter Roneel Hira, who set about the Wellington attack to to the extent of a career-high 57, from just 44 balls, including the only three sixes hit all day. He put on an unbeaten 82 with Ryan McCone, enabling Fulton to declare to leave Wellington a target of 384 to win and a tricky 20 minutes to survive tonight.

Michael Papps and Josh Brodie were there at the end, but Matt McEwan struck Brodie with a short-pitched delivery and looked the most likely to take a wicket.

It was a hugely enjoyable day in the sun. There’s nothing as good as a well-contested first-class game. Wellington need 371 more tomorrow on a Mother Theresa of a pitch, so benign is it. Should be a cracking day.

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