Saturday, January 23, 2016

Wellington v Otago, 50 overs, Basin Reserve, 13 January 2016

Any day that begins with the acquisition of two new members of the primrose brotherhood is bound to be a good one, though may be prone to anti-climax. So it was at the Basin today. The Otago batting, then the weather, and finally the match, fizzled, which is not what you expect to say of a game that ended in a tie.

In the past month, five new Wisdens have been added to the shelves in the library at My Life in Cricket Scorecards Towers. My Khandallah Correspondent, in her wonderful way, presented me with the 1947 edition for our anniversary and followed up with 1948 and 1949 at Christmas. Today I persuaded the fine people at the New Zealand Cricket Museum to split a 1960s set to sell me 1963 (the centenary Wisden) and 1965 at NZ$30 (roughly £12) each, a snip. This means that 1962 is the earliest that I don’t have, and the grand total is 62.

Otago won the toss and chose to bat. Arnel was accurate and made the most of a hint of green about the pitch. That was how he induced an edge from Anaru Kitchen, well caught by Papps at second slip, low to his left.

Michael Bracewell dodged bullets with improbability of James Bond. He was dropped by Papps in the gully and Verma from a hard hit caught-and-bowled chance; almost played on; and played and missed numerous times, but also played some fine shots in between. He was finally caught by Murdoch from a steepler to deep mid-wicket that tested the fielder’s attention span as much as his catching.

This brought together Neil Broom and Hamish Rutherford, both batsmen who have not quite made it in the national side. Broom is in excellent form at the moment and glided to a half century at almost a run a ball. Rutherford hit hard and well. He is a good player who may have been miscast as a test opener, but could return to international cricket in the one-day team.

At 147 for two in the 27th over, a score well past 300 seemed probable, but both batsmen were out on that score. Jeetan Patel scurried back to catch Broom’s top edge off his own bowling, and Rutherford was caught behind off a leg side strangle. The bowler was Alecz (sic) Day, who bowled only the one over in the innings, skipper Papps apparently regarding the ball aimed a yard down the leg side as having been exploited to its full potential.

Otago struggled to 249 thanks to a dogged de Boorder, who hit only one boundary in his 34, and test off spinner Mark Craig, who hit 46 from 41 balls. Hitting the ball out of the Basin is quite common, it being a small piece of real estate, but I have not seen the trees next to the Dempster Gates cleared before as Craig managed today.

Just like the pitch at the Plunket Shield game between the same teams last month, this one appeared pacier than we are used to at the Basin. However, more batsmen than usual were caught from catches that lobbed up off mistimed shots, which suggests that the ball was stopping, as they say.

Was 249 enough, or perhaps 30 or more short? We were never to find out. As the Wellington innings got under way the cloud began to darken and lower. By the 20th over, the minimum required for a result, an interruption was obviously imminent.

Now the Basin Reserve scoreboard intervened crucially. This, you may recall, is what Mike Selvey described as the “ransom-note scoreboard” during England’s 2002 tour because of the eccentric collection of fonts that it used. If the North Koreans ever take up cricket their scoreboards will be modelled on the Basin’s, a cruel mixture of the hard-to-interpret and downright wrong. As ever, a few blown lightbulbs made it difficult to discern quite what numbers were showing for total and batsmen’s scores.  

At the start of the 23rd over Wellington were 72 for one. A light drizzle was already in the air. Heavier rain was clearly close by and heading our way. This made the Duckworth-Lewis target  the most important piece of information on the scoreboard. As the first ball of the over was bowled, it read “74 to win”. Michael Papps and Steven Murdoch and Michael Papps are as experienced a combination as New Zealand cricket has to offer. They knew that the loss of a wicket in this over would inflate the D/L target, so were cautious, making just two singles from the over, so raising the total to 74.

But let’s look again at that phrase “74 to win”. Did it mean that 74 were needed to win? It did not. Seventy-four was the par score, which meant that 75 was the winning target. Hence, when the umpires took the players off at the end of the over, never to return, the match was tied, to the surprise of the batsmen.

This, of course, is much the same mistake that South Africa made in the 2003 World Cup, eschewing the chance to make single against Sri Lanka that would have kept them in the tournament.

My Blean correspondent will be reminded of the Essex match at Folkestone in ’77. Kent were 156 for three, apparently cruising to their target of 184, when beset with one of their more spectacular collapses. Within the hour, ashen-faced, we were watching Kevin Jarvis stride to the middle with the score 183 for nine.

I have written before that Jarvis was the worst batsman I have ever seen, and do not retreat from this judgement. The sole counter argument is that, once, he hit the winning run in a first-class game. Somehow, he got a bat on a delivery from JK Lever and completed the single, then, along with Derek Underwood, turned to walk back to the pavilion.

The Essex team, and the umpires (Jack Crapp and Ken Palmer) stayed where they were, looking surprised. You see, they had made the mistake that Murdoch and Papps were to repeat 39 years later; they believed what they saw on the scoreboard, which said that 185 were needed to win.

As well as our pleasure at the win, and our unlikely hero, we also enjoyed the out-foxing of Keith Fletcher, widely regarded as a Mike Brearley without the degrees when it came to canniness.

In the present, by the following Sunday, for the Auckland match the Basin scoreboard had replaced “to win” with “par score”.

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 ...