Saturday, February 25, 2017

Kent in the Caribbean 1973

Kent have been in the Caribbean, playing in the domestic 50-over competition. This is an excellent initiative that shows that Kent are still taking the 50-over game seriously, though it is open to question whether cricket in 30-degree Antigua in February will prove effective preparation for six degrees in Swansea in May (the 50-over game has been consigned to an early-season ghetto from 2017, in preparation for it becoming a competition for players who can’t get a shiny city T20 contract in 2020).

Overseas participation in domestic competitions is not a new idea. The Netherlands played in the English knock-out tournament for ten years from 1996, and Middlesex were entrapped in the vulgarity of the Stanford extravaganza in 2008.

For six years from 1969 to 1975, New Zealand competed in Australia’s one-day knockout competition. One Bradmanless visit to the Basin in 1946 apart, Australia did not lower themselves to meet New Zealand in a test match until 1973/4, but offered a place at the servants’ table by way of consolation. New Zealand won in three of the six years, all games being played on the west side of the Tasman. Wisden reports that, after trouncing Western Australia (76 all out) in the 1975 final, New Zealand “informed Australia that they do not wish to continue playing in the competition under the present conditions”.

The notion of national teams playing in other countries’ domestic competitions retains value. Bangladesh performed promisingly for part of most matches they played on their recent tour of New Zealand, only for lack of experience outside south Asia to undo them. How much more valuable would it be if most of the squad plus some players just below international level were to stay on in New Zealand to play all six provincial teams in four-day games? The host teams could earn Plunket Shield points so as to make sure that they took the games seriously. What about giving Afghanistan or a West Indies A team a season in the County Championship? But talk of “growing the game” seems to boil down to little more than giving club-grade cricket international status without doing much to improve the standard of the play.
Many supporters will not know that Kent have toured the Caribbean before. They were there in early 1973, part of the prize for winning the 1972 Sunday League, but the details are elusive. CricInfo has nothing and even Cricket Archive, usually a reliable source of the most obscure fixture—see here for Odessa v Galatz, the highlight of the 1881 season in Imperial Russia, for example—offers nothing. The 1973 Kent Annual offers the slimmest of summarised scores with no description, a strange omission for such a ground-breaking event, though it does reveal that it was Kent’s second overseas venture in a few months, two games having been played in Holland the previous September. For the fullest account we turn to the 1974 Wisden, which has more detailed potted scores and a four-paragraph report.

We learn that it was an intensive programme, with 11 games at nine venues in two weeks. The results give a clear indication of relative strength of English and West Indian domestic cricket at that time. Kent won all four games against sub-first-class opposition, but lost all seven against first-class islands and provinces.

The games were played to Sunday League rules: 40 overs a side and restricted run ups for the bowlers, but no fielding limits yet. With so many West Indians in county cricket in the early seventies, unfamiliarity with the format was not an issue for the home teams. Some of the Caribbean’s finest appeared for the opposition: for Guyana, Lloyd, Fredericks and Kallicharran, and for Antigua 19-year-old VA (sic) Richards top-scored with 63.

There were individual successes for Kent players. Both of Kent’s West Indians, John Shepherd and Bernard Julien, had good tours. The best individual score was 82 against Antigua by Mike Brearley.

Yes, that’s right. Mike Brearley.

With Denness, Knott, Underwood and Asif Iqbal all involved in tests in south Asia, three guest players were drafted in. As well as the Middlesex captain, Keith Boyce of Essex and Barry Dudleston of Leicestershire were added to the party, joining a distinguished collection of players who had short careers with Kent. These days, it is commonplace. Steve Waugh, Muttiah Muralitharan and Kagiso Rabada among others have all briefly saddled up the white horse in the last couple of decades. But it has been happening for a lot longer. One of my favourite obscure facts is that before Aravindra da Silva’s brilliant one-season Kent career in 1995, the highest career batting average in Kent history was that of WG Grace, on the back of two half centuries in a single guest appearance for Kent v England in the Canterbury Week of 1877.

Boyce was almost a regular Kent player. When he and John Shepherd were identified by Trevor Bailey and Les Ames on a tour of Barbados as potential county players, Bailey had first choice and went for Boyce, who consequently became as successful and as much of a favourite with Essex crowds as Shepherd was for Kent.

I have recorded before in these columns that Barry Dudleston once wasted two traumatic hours as My Life in Cricket Scorecards’ personal ski instructor. Barry once produced a team photograph from that 1973 tour to test whether the extent of my cricket knowledge was as tragic as he suspected. His fears were confirmed by my identification of Richard Elms and David Laycock, a feat otherwise achieved only by close family members of those two players.

Barry would be surprised to read in the Wisden report that “Johnson and Dudleston were pressed into service with off spin and “Chinamen” respectively”. Unless there was some sort of close-season experimentation going on, Barry was a purveyor of orthodox slow left-arm, and proud of it. As previously reported, he was once heard to say “Fred Titmus took more than 2,000 wickets, but how many of those can he remember? I took 47 and I can talk you through every one.” The suggestion that Graham Johnson was merely an occasional spinner is also harsh.

The Wisden reporter was Michael Carey, on the tour as press officer, possibly on the strength of standing in for Frank Bough as Sunday League presenter on BBC2 during the Munich Olympics. Carey later became cricket correspondent of the Daily Telegraph and joined the Test Match Special team overseas on several occasions. It was a shame that he wasn’t used at home as he was a talented broadcaster with a pleasantly soft Derbyshire accent and a dry and ready wit.  

The “whistle-stop nature of the tour” to which Carey refers in his report may be, at least partially, a euphemism for the hectic socialising that was bound to be part of any visit to the Caribbean. During one of these sessions Carey disclosed to Dudleston that whenever he had been assigned to a Leicestershire game, Barry had been out very cheaply. This became something of a standing joke, one that played out the following season when Norman Graham prepared to bowl the first over of the match to Dudleston. After he had marked out his run up, Graham pointed to the press box and shouted down the pitch “Look, Carey’s here”. Dudleston didn’t survive the over.

Kent 2017 did better than their predecessors, winning one match and losing the other against each of their three group opponents, the Windward Islands, the Leeward Islands and West Indies Under-19s, respectable, but not quite enough to qualify for the semi-finals.

Sunday, February 5, 2017

Peak McPeake at the Basin

Watching one-day cricket these days is akin to following the later career of Frank Sinatra. You think he’s done, but he makes another comeback and you are grateful for it, but the pleasure is tempered; you know that he will die one day soon.

In England the 50-over competition is to become an early-season event, best sponsored by a manufacturer of thermal foundation garments. And this is just a holding position before it becomes a means of occupying players who not good—or rather marketable—enough to get a city T20 contract.

Here in New Zealand we have our own ingenious methods of counter-marketing, the art of putting people off going to the cricket. The main stand at the Basin is currently out of commission, so there is no chance a seat behind the arm. The members’ lounge is open, but gaining admission to it has been a challenge worthy of one of those eighties game shows like The Krypton Factor or The Crystal Maze, such were the number of fences and locked doors placed in the path of the member thirsting for their complementary coffee.

On Wednesday for the Central Districts game, an added disincentive was the presence on the upper deck of three sinister figures clad in orange full-body suits complete with breathing masks. The sign reading “Danger asbestos removal in progress” was short on reassurance on a day when Wellington’s gale-force winds were in full voice.

Today, another refinement in spectator deterrence: the sign outside the ground advertising the fixture said that it was playing played on Sunday rather than Saturday, as was actually the case.

But the biggest weapon in spectator counter-insurgence is, of course, the Wellington weather. When the fixtures for this season were published, I looked forward to seeing all four of Wellington’s home games in this competition. How touchingly na├»ve. We all know that summer’s lease hath all too short a date, but even so, in Wellington it needs to get a decent lawyer to look at the small print.

The first of these games, against Auckland, was scheduled for a day on which Wellington appeared to be staging a city-wide performance of The Tempest. My Khandallah correspondent, who has flown into Wellington hundreds of times, ranked her landing that afternoon as the second-worst ever, on the basis that the plane made its way down a considerable portion of the runway at a perilous angle with only one wheel in contact with the ground. Abandoned without a ball bowled.

The second, against Canterbury, began in mid-afternoon as a 27-over game, but the rain returned to leave the result in the hands of Messrs Duckworth and Lewis, who ruled in favour of the home team.

The third, against Central Districts, began in a gale strong enough to redistribute the markers for the 30-metre circle randomly around the field. The rain returned after 30 overs of the CD innings and that was that. Or was it rain? The Met Service data records rainfall of only 0.4 mm that day, possibly a record for the least amount ever to cause a game to be abandoned. Yet nobody disputed the decision to keep the players off the field, the evidence being there before our eyes. The thing is that to be measured, rain has to fall to earth. The moisture here was driven horizontally by the gale, condemned like the wandering albatross to spend most of its existence in flight. Either that or it was asbestos flakes.

Remarkably, this spell of cricket as played by Noah left Wellington top of the table, each curtailment or abandonment working in their favour. Clearly, Wellington’s mistake all these years has been to take the field when prosperity lay in staying in the changing sheds.

So it was wonderful just to sit in the sun at the Basin today, never mind the cricket. A win for Wellington would keep them at the top of the table with one more to play, while Otago needed a victory to maintain their interest in the competition. The visitors won the toss and elected to bat.

With Hamish Rutherford injured, Croudis and Rippon were an unfamiliar opening pair, both having made their Otago debuts only in the last couple of weeks. Rippon is the epitome of the modern cricketer: a South African who has represented the Netherlands, kolpaked for Sussex, and is now trying his luck on the South Island.

Wanting to know more about him, I looked Croudis up on CricInfo, only to discover that it doesn’t know where or when he was born, or even what his names are. The Otago Daily Times was better informed. Gregor Croudis is 23 and was preparing to start his first teaching job when called up by the province.

The pair made a slow start against the accuracy of Arnel and Bennett, who removed Rippon’s off stump in the eighth over with the score only 25. Bennett is bowling superbly at the moment, quite as well as when he was picked for New Zealand a few seasons ago.

Arnel tired in the last of his five-over spell and was twice driven to the cover boundary by Croudis, who also lifted Taylor over square leg for the first six of the game. At 72 for one in the fifteenth over Otago were well-placed but the entry of Jeetan Patel into the attack changed the game as it so often does on either side of the world.

The off spinner immediately trapped Croudon lbw, punishing the batsman’s temerity in coming down the pitch. In the coming weeks Croudon will often see the same expression of truculent disbelief that he displayed here on the faces of his new students.

Patel had Eathorne caught behind cutting in his next over, but it was Ian McPeake who took out the middle order, winning the game for Wellington in the process. McPeake was twelfth man for the early games in the 50-over competition, until an injury to Anurag Verma gave him a chance.

Today, we experienced peak McPeake. Bowling his ten-over spell straight through, he accounted for numbers four to seven in the Otago order. Three were caught behind by Luke Ronchi, the other at second slip by Michael Papps. There was a touch of green and good bounce in the pitch but only as a reward for spot-on bowling, which is what McPeake produced, at a decent pace too. He finished with four for 33.

Luke Woodcock replaced Patel (two for 11 at that stage) at the southern end, which released the pressure a little, with the left-armer going for two fours in his second over. Hamish Marshall might have kept Patel going with the aim of bowling Otago out, but Woodcock removed de Boorder caught at mid-wicket from a half-hearted shot after the batsman came down the wicket, leaving Otago at 114 for eight.

Christi Viljoen—another lost Vortrekker—hit brightly for a few overs, but Arnel returned to have Smith leg before, and Viljoen was caught at deep mid-wicket to end the innings. Pollard misjudged the catch completely, but held on thanks to a last-second sprawl. Patel, exemplary as ever, finished with three for 23. The target was 154, with a bonus point available if it was achieved within 40 overs.

Even after all this time cricket produces surprises, something I have not seen before. Today it was a left-arm wrist spinner—Rippon—opening the bowling. I haven’t seen many of this genre bowl at all: Sobers possibly, Bernard Julien occasionally, Paul Adams inconsequentially. I saw the South African twice in tests, and checking the records it seems that I witnessed his final test spell, at Hamilton in 2004, all three overs of it, but that’s all. There must have been others, but I can’t think who offhand.

Rippon bowled one over for three runs but was then taken off. Given that it was such a noteworthy event it was a surprise that the official record still (at the time of writing) claims that Josh Finnie bowled that over. Finnie is an off spinner, so not easily confused with a left-arm bowler of any kind. Besides, the bowler had “Rippon” on the back of his shirt which I’d have thought would have been helpful.

Viljoen took the new ball from the northern end. He bowls with a front-on windmill action reminiscent of Max Walker or, for older readers, AL “Froggy” Thomson, whose brief international career included taking the first ODI wicket. Viljoen had Papps caught behind, flailing at a wide one in his second over.

Tom Blundell was the other opener. This time last week Blundell thought that he was first-choice keeper for the national one-day side; now he is second-choice for Wellington, having been supplanted by Latham and Ronchi (returning from injury) respectively. Here, with Hamish Marshall, he moved things along quickly, with five fours off seven balls at one point.

Rippon returned (or, as the scorers would have it, came on) but was a caricature of a wrist spinner, pitching the ball (if at all) anywhere but a length.

The introduction of 18-year-old Nathan Smith (right-arm medium fast) was more successful. He accounted for both Marshall and Blundell in his first over, the first lbw and the second caught at mid on. There was an element of variable bounce and pace about both dismissals.

Ronchi and Taylor chose the direct route to victory, with three sixes between them. They put on 52 for the fourth wicket, 21 short of victory when Pollard was bowled by another ball that kept very low. 200 would have been a challenging target with the pitch deflating by the minute. Ronchi and Woodcock both went before the end, leaving the margin of four wickets look closer than it was.

With only 26 overs needed, the bonus point was achieved, leaving Wellington two points clear at the top of the table with one round-robin game to play. The knock-out phase takes the form of 1 v 2 (winner hosts the final), 3 v 4 (loser out), then the loser of the first game v the winner of the second for the other final place. Wellington have to beat Canterbury in midweek, but thoughts turned to a semi-final at the Basin next weekend.

But the Stop Cricket at the Basin (SCAB) group is cleverer than we thought. There is a concert featuring some of New Zealand’s best-known artistes scheduled for the Basin on semi-final day. Presumably the local authorities regarded the possibility of Wellington gaining a top-three place as being too fanciful to take into consideration. There being no other venue available (and why would there be in a city of 400,000 people, the nation’s capital?), Wellington would take the game far enough away not to need the men in orange suits to deter the Basin faithful.

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 ...