Sunday, January 26, 2014

New Zealand v West Indies, T20, The Cake Tin, Wellington, 15 January 2014

There is a gap in these columns where the report on the final two days of the second Test between New Zealand and the West Indies should be. A pleasant weekend at the Basin was cancelled because the West Indies had folded like the Himalayas in the Late Cretaceous Period halfway through the third afternoon.

To see a team struggling so in the colours worn by Sobers, Lloyd, Richards, Marshall and so many other great players is unbearably sad for someone whose interest in cricket was sparked by the joy and skill of the great West Indian teams of the sixties and seventies.

New Zealand won the Test series two-nil. It would have been three had somebody in the home camp had the sense to keep an eye on the rain radar in Dunedin and given the batsmen the hurry up in their pursuit of a modest target of 112. The ODI series was shared 2-2 (just enough to keep New Zealand ahead of Bangladesh in the rankings) and New Zealand won the first T20 game by 81 runs.

The West Indies won the toss and chose to bat on an evening when the absence of cloud persuaded spectators unfamiliar with the Cake Tin’s penguin-friendly micro-climate to leave their jerseys and jackets at home, a mistake most make only once.

A feature of international one-day and T20 cricket in New Zealand this summer has been the NZ$100,000 on offer at each match for spectator catches. There are strict conditions: catches have to be one-handed and the catcher has to be wearing the sponsor’s gaudy tee shirt ($25 a throw) and lanyard. As a purist I might be expected to be sniffy about this, but it’s great fun. It also makes people watch the cricket more; the Mexican wave did not start until the game was almost over. Only one prize was claimed in the five games against the West Indies. The sponsors have banked on greed-inspired confusion to reduce the chances of their having to cough up; with 100,000 grand at stake, cries of “yours” are rare. At the Cake Tin today a catch was taken, by a man holding chips in his other hand, but he was not wearing the shirt. The best chance was foiled by another spectator hurling themselves in front of the guy poised to take the catch. Entertaining as it is, I predict that there will be trouble before long. Either someone will hurl themselves over the edge of a stand or they will biff someone else who gets in the way.

My Khandallah correspondent was keen that I should invest in a shirt and had an alarmingly high expectation that I would return to My Life in Cricket Scorecards Towers pockets stuffed with cash. I explained that the nearest I have come to taking a crowd catch in almost half a century of spectating was at Mote Park in the eighties when a six was heading straight for me in my boundary deckchair, in which I became unfortunately entangled as I rose to take the catch. Only by dropping to the ground at the last moment did I avoid a serious head injury. I did not buy a shirt today.

Lendl Simmons got the West Indies away to a decent start with 29, 26 of which came from boundaries. The best batting of the innings came at the end from Dinesh Ramdin who bustled along intelligently to an unbeaten 55 from 31 balls, taking his side to 159, about par it was generally thought. Nathan McCullum was outstanding, conceding just 17 from his four overs. The pace of Adam Milne—150 kph or thereabouts—was also effective, and most encouraging for those of us who hanker for the days when Shane Bond put the wind up batsmen across the globe. Milne has been injured subsequently, of course.

At 79 for five it looked as if New Zealand were missing the boat, but a partnership of 68 in seven overs between Taylor and Ronchi took them to the brink of victory. This was the new Ross Taylor with added contemplation, and he has gone cold turkey on the slog sweep. The big hitting was left to Luke Ronchi, who not only hits, but hits straight. Readers should wipe from their memories my recent call for him to be replaced by BJ Watling.

The fielding was the difference in the end. New Zealand’s performance was almost flawless and at times—Corey Anderson’s contortions to knock back a ball that was in the air at least a foot over the boundary—astonishing. The West Indies missed four chances, none easy, but any which might have changed the result.

It was a good game of cricket, within the constraints of T20 at least. There were ebbs and flows and the result was in doubt almost throughout. It will be back to the Cake Tin in a couple of weeks for an ODI against India.


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