Thursday, January 2, 2014

Wellington v Central Districts, Plunket Shield, Basin Reserve, 7 – 10 November 2013

The holidays are here at last, providing the opportunity to catch up with unfinished business. Here’s an account of the final two days of a Plunket Shield game earlier this season.
The southerly was back at the Basin like a secret policeman enforcing a ban on summer, and kept me away until lunch on Saturday, the third day. In my absence the Wellington batting had collapsed from 149 for two overnight to 217 for eight, 72 behind Central Districts’ 289.

But a fightback was underway, and I took my seat just after the ninth-wicket partnership of Jeetan Patel and Andy McKay passed 50. Patel hit ten fours in his 76-ball 62; he is back to his best batting form this season, aggressive but rationally so. McKay has always looked better than his perennial last-man status would suggest. Even so, 35 against his name on the scoreboard can turn a tailender’s head and have him believing in false deities like the God of Knowing Where Your Off Stump Is. So it was with McKay, who made the usual sign of veneration—lifting his bat high above his head—and had his off stump removed by Doug Bracewell. Even so, the ninth-wicket partnership of 76 gave Wellington a two-run first-innings lead.
It is unusual these days for neither side to pass 300 in the first innings at the run-happy Basin, so I was keen to work out why. By the end of the afternoon I was none the wiser but able to state with some certainty what the reason was not. Wellington’s strategy at the start of Central Districts’ second innings consisted completely of short-pitched bowling, unusually with both the boundary fielders behind square on the legside fine of 45 degrees. This was spectacularly unsuccessful. After 15 overs Central Districts were 68 without loss, and the men in the deep might as well have kept their hands in their pockets so undeployed were they.

When Brent Arnel pitched the ball up he was immediately rewarded by trapping Jamie How leg before. Thereafter, Wellington concentrated on containment and waited for the declaration. Ben Smith scored a competent maiden hundred, Arnel took four wickets and Patel was the pick of the bowlers, conceding just 51 from 28 overs.
The declaration came at lunch on Sunday and, left Wellington 310 to win in a minimum of 64 overs, which seemed just on the generous side of about right. It would have been less munificent had Jesse Ryder still been a Wellington player. Josh Brodie was run out after a mix up and Michael Papps was bowled by Bracewell, but the afternoon was one that will make members of the Central Districts team wake screaming in the night years hence.

It was as inept a defence of a target in a run chase as I have seen in many a day. For a start Doug Bracewell, leader of the Central Districts attack, was terrible. Some have expressed surprise that Bracewell is not in the international team at the moment; they wouldn’t if they had seen him bowl that day. His line and length were all over the place, and he gave the batsmen far too many safe scoring opportunities. And dear God, the no-balls. Ten of them in 17 overs.
Tarun Nethula was even worse in this respect, bowling eight no-balls in 11 overs, from which he conceded 74 runs. And he’s a leg spinner! Murdoch was bowled by one of the illegal deliveries. Given that Wellington reached their target with just three overs to spare, the no-balls alone were decisive. That very morning I had heard Craig Cumming, a sound judge, touting Nethula for selection for the Test team. Again, nobody at the Basin for the fourth day would have selected him for anything.

The captaincy of Kieran Noema-Barnett was also odd. Early in the innings pacey Andrew Mathieson had caused some problems for the Wellington batsmen and had forced Stephen Murdoch to retire hurt on 30 with an egg-sized swelling below his eye. Yet Mathieson was kept out of the attack as Pollard, Franklin and Woodcock scored at liberty off Bracewell and Nethula. When a change was made it was Weston-super-Mare’s finest, Peter Trego, who was brought on to bowl a few overs of assorted nonsense, mostly down the legside, that did nothing to staunch the flow.
When Mathieson finally returned—into the wind, mark you— he removed both Franklin and Colson, but it was just too late to make a difference. Also, despite an economical early spell, left-arm medium-fast bowler Ben Wheeler was left in the outfield for most Wellington innings, being brought back with only 15 needed.

Noema-Barnett’s handling of his attack was unimaginative and inflexible. His field placing was no better. With fewer than 30 needed there were no close catchers for Woodcock even though by that stage there was no question of Central Districts being able to restrict Wellington in the time remaining. Jeetan Patel was aggressive and, despite numerous edges and lbw appeals, along with Woodcock he took Wellington home.

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