Sunday, January 31, 2016

New Zealand v Pakistan, ODI, Basin Reserve, 25 January 2016

The old joke about New Zealand, favoured by those who can’t think of anything amusing to say, is that when you land here you turn your watch back 20 years. Last Monday at the Basin it was, for once, pleasingly true.

Pakistan were the visitors for the first ODI to played at the Basin Reserve in a decade, and only the second since the Cake Tin opened around the turn of the century. The day was glorious, with Wellington’s perennial gale taking a day off along with many of the capital’s workers, it being the annual provincial public holiday. The idea of a separate holiday for each part of New Zealand should have had its day with the invention of the telephone and the consequent integration of the national economy, but it persists, and under the sun at the Basin we were pleased that it does.

It was one of the more memorable ODIs: New Zealand turned 99 for six into a 70-run victory.

In the sixth over of the morning Martin Guptill off drove Mohammad Irfan for six, the ball kept within the Basin Reserve only by the top of the Don Neely screen at the southern end of the ground. Guptill has been imperious in recent weeks, so 10,000 people sat back and thought “here we go”. Two balls later Guptill hooked Irfan, but, supporting my hypothesis that the Basin pitches are quicker this season, was a little late on the shot and Wahab Riaz took a good catch at long leg.

Latham was caught behind, a thin but definite ripple showing on snicko, but Williamson was in, so there was no need to worry. But, though he is by no means out of form, Williamson has come off the crest of the wave that he surfed throughout 2015, and got an inside edge onto the stumps that would have found the middle a few weeks ago. Two balls later Elliott was bowled through a passable imitation of the nearby Mt Victoria tunnel between bat and pad, which brought in Corey Anderson, 25 overs or so early.

Anderson did a magnificent holding job in the World Cup semi-final last year, but circumspection is not his natural state and he gave the appearance of an elephant trying not to tread on the daisies. He fell caught behind for ten, and Ronchi went the same way next over.

Both men fell to Mohammad Amir, who bowled beautifully. Watching him will be one of the delights of the next decade or so. That he was the subject of taunting from bores on the bank was no surprise, and he will have to learn to live with that sort of thing. It was disappointing to learn that at the T20 a boofhead PA announcer had played cash register sounds when he came on to bowl. NZ Cricket was quick to apologise. As I wrote last week, Amir was a kid bullied into doing wrong and deserves the support of the cricket world. If Salman Butt were to turn up, I’d be happy to join in the booing.

Ninety-nine for six it was, at the crease two players who few of us had heard of at this time last year: Henry Nicholls and Mitch Santner.

Nicholls is a 24-year-old left-hander from Canterbury who has broken into the ODI side this year. He has also had a short spell in the Big Bash (for the Hobart Hyperbole, or possibly the Brisbane Boast, I forget which) so can certainly give it a tonk. He hit seven fours here, the first five of which came when New Zealand were only two down. But when the collapse came he changed his game and became an accumulator. It was impressive and established Nicholls as the leading contender to succeed McCullum at No 5 in the test team. He was dropped by Hafeez at slip at 15, a mistake that cost Pakistan the match.

Nicholls and Santner put on 79 for the seventh wicket in 16 overs. Pakistan skipper Azhar Ali failed the “what would McCullum do?” test early in this partnership when he put spinners on at both ends to get through the ten overs he needed from them, or least that he would need from them if the innings lasted the full 50 overs. Had he invested a few of the overs available to his quick bowlers and told them to attack, he could have brought the innings to an earlier conclusion.

Santner was judicious about shot selection. He came into international cricket without an impressive record at domestic level and has much to learn. But he looks as if he belongs at this level and the selectors are to be praised for picking him on the basis of class and potential. It worked for Daniel Vettori 20 years ago and could have the same result for Santner.

When Nicholls was out for 82 the score was 203 for eight in the 45th over. Maybe the tail could scratch—let’s be optimistic—another 30 to give New Zealand a modestly decent target to bowl at?

No one foresaw the carnage of the last five overs. Matt Henry and Mitch McClenaghan set about the Pakistan attack like pit bulls. It was cricket remade by Quentin Tarantino. Six sixes and six fours were hit in the last five overs, during which New Zealand added 71 runs. Nos 8, 9 and 10 all passed 30, something that had not been achieved in any of the 3,277 ODIs that were played before this one.

The pace of the pitch helped the ball fly off the bat, but also accounted for McClenaghan who suffered a fractured eye socket when a ball from Anwar Ali penetrated the grille of his helmet. He went down with worrying thump and it was a relief when he walked unassisted from the field a few minutes later.

As it was a special occasion the Basin Reserve authorities had splashed out on replacement lightbulbs for the scoreboard, which was unusually unambiguous as a consequence. But the operators can report to their masters in Pyongyang that, nevertheless, they still advanced their campaign of misinformation by taking a perverse approach to the issue of the names of the Pakistan team. In most cases (though not all, notably when that name is Mohammad), Pakistani cricketers are identified by their first name (eg Hanif, Mushtaq, Zaheer). The video screen respected this convention. But the scoreboard listed Pakistan under their last names, so leaving those unwisely relying on it for information under the impression that it was recording a completely different game from that on the screen next to it.

A target of 281 was about par. New Zealand were without McClenaghan, which meant that all five frontline bowlers would have to bowl ten overs, with only Williamson in reserve. Pakistan started steadily with 33 from the first ten overs.

Grant Elliott had failed with the bat, but he is the Swiss army knife of New Zealand cricket, with something to offer in any circumstance. It was inspired of Williamson to bring him on as early as the seventh over. By the end of the eleventh over he had two wickets.

Mohammad Hafeez and Babar Azam were comfortable enough putting on 81 for the third wicket until the partnership was broken by Williamson, who brought himself on after Babar got after Santner. Hafeez mistimed a drive and was caught by Henry at long on.

Elliott took a third wicket and when Babar fell to Anderson five were down and the required rate was eight-and-a-half an over. Pakistan’s lower order had none of the resilience of New Zealand’s and Boult was able to finish the game with a spell of four for one, which consolidated his position as the No 1 ODI bowler in the world.

It was splendid to have the ODI cricket back at the Basin. In a perfect world, the stands would be rebuilt and the capacity increased to 14,000 or so, plenty for games against most opponents.

For Australia next week, we will be back at the Cake Tin.

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