Sunday, June 2, 2013

New Zealand v England, 2nd Test, Basin Reserve, Wellington, 14–18 March 2013

A Basin Reserve Test between New Zealand and England must always be worthy of report. For us in the South Pacific it is the nearest we get to the G on Boxing Day, or the Ashes at Lord’s. But in truth the second Test was a touch mundane. I was there from lunch on the second day until the rain sluiced the game away on the fourth afternoon.

The encouraging performance in Dunedin had not done much to make us locals any more cheerful about New Zealand’s prospects. Five years ago a victory in Hamilton was quickly offset by a resounding loss here, and it was hard to find anybody who would stake more than a few cents on anything other than a repeat here. When I arrived, Trott and Compton had both departed having scored centuries in the manner of accountants totting up the petty cash.

Splendid achievement as any Test century is, I did not feel deprived on account of not being there to see them. A century by Compton is much like Christmas dinner. As enjoyable as one may be, you don’t feel like sitting through another one a week later. There remained a feeling that the New Zealand attack may have done the Australians an unintended favour (all favours done to Australians by New Zealanders are unintentional) in establishing Compton at the top of the order.

The immediate appeal when I burst through the CS Dempster Gate was that Pietersen was in. Purveyor of fifteen kinds of foolishness he may be, but Kevin Pietersen is a wonderful, innovative, unpredictable batsman who any cricketing cognoscente would want to watch. It was therefore disappointing when he tapped a catch to Fulton off Martin a few overs into the afternoon. That three of the top five fell to catches by Fulton at mid on/off suggests that some the English batsmen remained afflicted by the laxity that had been their downfall in the first innings in Dunedin. There were plenty of scornful remarks about Pietersen’s frequent absences from the field later in the game, but it turns out that he was struggling with the knee injury that kept him out of the Auckland Test and all cricket until the start of the Ashes series at the earliest.

Matt Prior provided the most watchable batting of the day—as he had in Dunedin and was to do in Auckland—bustling along to 82 at not far short of a run a ball. Around him there was subsidence, if not collapse, as the last seven wickets managed 198 between them from a starting point of 267 for three.

The Basin was close to full on Saturday for the most enjoyable day of the Test, even if it largely consisted of New Zealand’s futile attempt to avoid the follow on. Starting the day on 66 for three, the home side had to scratch together another 200, a target that should have been well within their ability on a pitch so friendly that had it been a Labrador it would have licked the batsmen on the chin. After the early loss of Williamson and Brownlie, McCullum and Watling put on a hundred before the captain was sixth out with 77 still needed to deprive Cook of the option to ask New Zealand to bat again.

Out strode Tim Southee, apparently having just finished his copy of Brain Dead Batting the Broad Way. Finn set a trap so obvious that the heffalump with the lowest IQ in the herd would have spotted it and taken avoiding action. Two men back on the boundary and a short ball almost at once. Southee obliged by hooking it straight to the squarer of the two. Watling and Martin (who batted capably again) took New Zealand to within 30 of the target, but Wagner and Boult could not survive long enough to reach it.

The top order was more assured in the second innings, reaching 162 for two by the time the rain brought an end to events on an episodic fourth day. There was no play, or even the remotest prospect of it, on the final day, which my Whiteladies Road correspondent spent in Te Papa, our excellent national museum on the Wellington waterfront.

The action on the field was not the totality of the Basin’s charms; I bought five books for $10 at the second-hand book stall, three by John Arlott. There was the great man’s account of the 1959 season and, more intriguingly, of the MCC tour of South Africa of 1948/9, which Arlott covered for the BBC. He returned imbued with a hatred of the racial divide that remained with him for the rest of his life. It will be interesting to see how much of this comes through in the book. There was a spin off from the TV series Arlott and Trueman On Cricket, which enlivened the Saturday mornings of my Blean correspondent and myself in the spring of ’75. Also two of cricket’s best-known autobiographies: Jim Laker’s Over To Me, which provoked Surrey to sack their greatest spin bowler; and Don Bradman’s end-of-career Farewell to Cricket.

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 ...