Sunday, January 24, 2016

New Zealand v Pakistan, T20, The Cake Tin, 22 January 2016

We still haven’t worked out T20 here in New Zealand. I don’t mean in the playing sense. On good days, we are better than most, as shown by the 95-run trouncing of Pakistan at the Cake Tin, following a ten-wicket victory in Hamilton earlier in the week.

What we haven’t got to grips with is the place of T20 in our cricket. Tonight, 70,000 or more will be at the MCG for the final of the Big B(r)ash. The kiwi equivalent, the final of the Super Smash, was played in front of no more than 400 a week before Christmas on a rugby ground in a province that did not make the finals weekend. In marketing terms, touring Jesus Christ Superstar in Syria would be a better proposition.

Clearly, the New Zealand’s T20 should take place over the late December/January holiday season, at the places where people are at that time: Mt Maunganui, Napier, Queenstown and so on. Just as it was until a couple of years ago, in fact. It could feed off the Big Bash in marketing terms and might attract a few county biffers who fancy Christmas in the sun. There could be an auction. Or at least a jumble sale.

This proposal is purely altruistic, obviously. For my own pleasure I would return to the days when the Plunket Shield began on Christmas Day, though that would instigate tricky negotiations here at My Life in Cricket Scorecards Towers.

I take what I can from T20 games, and try to look cheerful. At the Cake Tin on Friday there was plenty to enjoy. Martin Guptill driving is as handsome a sight as contemporary cricket has to offer. As usual, his shots were orthodox, each one chosen to fit the ball delivered. This game confirmed a trend away from the reverse pulls, scoops and other inventions that once seemed about to render the MCC coaching book obsolete. Here, and in such Big Bash as I have seen, the trick shots seem to have reverted to being an occasional variation to the main theme.

As ever, Kane Williamson was everybody’s sensible older brother (his running calls the only hint that he might enjoy a few quiet ones of a Friday night). Corey Anderson’s undefeated 82 from 42 balls was the batting highlight, once he got over an early spell when his timing was out. He took two for 15 in three overs too. Anderson might just be to New Zealand what the New Zealander Stokes is to England: an all-rounder for the next decade.

Adam Milne took three for eight in three overs; he was too quick for them, simple as that. Many of us hope that the selectors will give him a run in a test match on the right surface. Four or five three-over spells in a day is all we would ask. If my observation about the Basin being quicker this year is correct, against Australia in February could be the time, especially with Johnson gone and Starc injured.

Grant Elliott bettered Milne by one run: three for seven. Hard to think that this time last year there was disbelief—scoffing even—at Elliott’s selection for the World Cup. Now he is a national symbol for dependability, a cricketing Volvo estate.

Elliott introduced an element of unorthodoxy to the batting: when facing a free-hit ball he took guard well wide of off stump, inviting the bowler to aim at the stumps. With batsmen now so much more adept at moving around the crease, the time has come to offer the bowlers more leeway, certainly in T20, but possibly in 50-over cricket too. A stumps-wide channel down the legside should be a legitimate operating area for the bowler. Cricket is at its best when bat and ball are in balance.

It was good to see Mohammad Amir back from his five-year ban and custodial sentence for bowling deliberate no-balls for betting purposes. He was still a boy when he was bullied into it, and the punishment (unlike that for Salman Butt) seemed harsh. I hope that the cricket world rallies around him.

If you go to a big T20 match there is no point in railing against the razzmatazz; the music, the lights, the hype are part of the package, and to suggest that it should be different would be to ask that a man carrying a flag precedes a motor car. It is the small things that are the most telling about how far we have come. Here, I was the only spectator I saw with binoculars around his neck, but then I have reached the stage in life where I accept that my role is often to add quaintness to the occasion.

The music was mostly ok, but almost all from the contemporary hit parade. Not until Bridge Over Troubled Water appeared late on could I name that tune. I propose that for the first six overs there should be only two fielders outside the circle and only Beatles and Stones through the speakers.

It was pleasing to see 16,000 or so enjoying themselves, and it is difficult to see a downside to the full grounds in Australia for the Big Bash. But I do worry. How long before the commercial interests start to demand that the best players are available for the biggest crowds and want to make the Melbourne Big Bash Boxing Day game a tradition?

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 ...