Sunday, March 30, 2014

Wellington v Central Districts, 50 overs, Basin Reserve, 23 March 2014

This was not a gripping game of cricket. From early on it was apparent that Central would not make a score that even Wellington’s notoriously unreliable win-detection radar could fail to trace. But it was a perfect day at the Basin, on the cusp of summer and autumn, rather like it had been half a world away at St Lawrence six months ago, so pulse-quickening cricket was not essential for the day to be thoroughly pleasurable.

Central’s innings began and ended badly. Ben Smith was first to go, leg before to Brent Arnel in the third over to one that nipped back. It looked a little high. Jamie How was caught at first slip by Franklin off Gillespie for six, and Carl Cachopa was caught behind by Papps off Arnel for a duck: 28 for three after nine overs.

Was this Gillette Cup Final syndrome at work? English cricket’s knockout competition used to culminate in a final at Lord’s on the first Saturday in September. It was a 60-over competition, so had to be under way by 10.30 in the morning to allow a finish in daylight. With early-autumn dew still around during the opening overs, the team winning the toss would put the opposition in with the expectation that simple seam-up bowling would see off the top order. This did not happen every year, but did so often enough that knowledgeable spectators would ensure that they were in their seats half an hour before the start on the basis that the toss might be the biggest influence on the outcome.

A fifty partnership for the fourth wicket between David Meiring and Corrie van Wyk cheered Central up. I had not come across Meiring before. He was born in Worcester, but has a sound New Zealand cricketing heritage; his grandfather is Tom Pritchard, the fast bowler who played the majority of his cricket in the County Championship for Warwickshire (and a few games for Kent in 1956).

Meiring drove a half volley to cover to be caught by Grant Elliott on 35, just when he looked set for a big innings. He was replaced by Dane Cleaver, who is also well connected; he is Kane Williamson’s cousin (does the whole family have rhyming first names?). Cleaver went wandering across his crease and was leg before to Woodcock. This left Central at 91 for five, facing the familiar quandary of having to speed up without losing wickets.

Van Wyk and Central skipper Kieran Noema-Barnett proceeded to do precisely that. At the start of their partnership it seemed that Central would struggle to reach 200. When the hundred partnership came up just under 20 overs later, 250 was in prospect.

However, van Wyk was out without addition to the partnership for 70, caught by substitute Jeetan Patel from a mistimed chip on the onside off Elliott, and a collapse of Reichsmark proportions ensued. The last five wickets went for just nine runs. The innings ended with a spectacular piece of fielding. Last man Panda (that’s what Cricket Archive calls him) Mathieson sent the ball high into the air off the top edge. Racing in from fine leg, Stephen Murdoch had to cover the 30 metres or so from his starting position to where ball would return to earth while persuading two of his colleagues, converging on the same location, to leave it for him to deal with. He pulled it off with wonderful one-handed catch after a full-length dive.

With four for 26 Arnel was the pick of the bowlers, but all performed respectably or better. Elliott’s crafty trundling produced one for 25. Even so, it was sad to see Jeetan Patel reduced to carrying the drinks. He is heading back to Warwickshire shortly and may feel that he is better valued in Birmingham than in New Zealand.

Michael Pollard was out in the first over of the reply, cutting Seth Rance to Mathieson at third man, but that was as high as Central’s hopes got. Michael Papps saw the innings through, finishing with 83 not out. He put on 87 for the second wicket with Murdoch and 93 for the third with Tom Blundell. I have written in the past that 34-year-old Papps is occupying a place that might be better given to a younger player. His form has been so good over the past two years that now I’m not so sure. New Zealand’s search for an effective opening partnership remains unsuccessful, and letting Papps have a go as an interim measure for a year or so is a more sensible proposal than some on offer.

Though the outcome was never in doubt, there was interest in whether Wellington could reach their target of 201 within 40 overs, thus gaining a potentially valuable bonus point. The top four go through to the knockout stage, the byzantine nature of which means that there is considerable advantage to being placed as high as possible on the qualifying table.

Good slow bowling by Tarun Nethula and Marty Kain slowed the pace through the middle of the innings, but little attempt was made to attack them. Kain, in particular, was allowed to settle into a containing rhythm. Noema-Barnett rightly retained an attacking field, so if the batsmen wanted to force things they would have to take risks to do so.

Sixteen were needed from the 40th over to secure the bonus point. Blundell was bowled middle stump from the first ball as he attempted a desperate dilscoop. This brought in James Franklin who took twos off his first three deliveries before settling the matter with two sixes from the final two balls.

In the final round of games Wellington yet again contrived to lose when it appeared less trouble to win, thus conceding home advantage in the minor semi-final to Auckland, so this was the last game at the Basin this season, and the least spectacular day of those that I have seen, though that is more a measure of the luck I have had with of the rest of the cricket that I have watched there since October. As cricket watchers say to each other on these occasions, winter well.

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