Thursday, January 18, 2018

Wellington v Central Districts, T20, Basin Reserve, 14 January 2018

Wellington v Central Districts, T20, Basin Reserve, 14 January 2018

This match was part of the last of ten rounds of the regular season domestic T20 in New Zealand (the Crash of Cash, I think it’s called), but the first game in the competition that I have been able to get to. The top three go through to the final phase with the table leader at home for the final. Second hosts third for the right to play them. At the start of the day the position was that the winner of this game would go through as third-placed team, provided that Canterbury lost against Northern Districts in Hamilton (which, as it turned out, they did). So this was a virtual quarter-final.

The cold spell that drove me indoors for the ODI last weekend was gone. It was a perfect summer’s day at the Basin, to be described by words that might have been expunged from the Wellington dictionary through lack of use: balmy, swelter, shimmer, parched, blue. In England there would have been a hack frying an egg on the pavement.

Central Districts won the toss and chose to bat. The first over gave us the rotund symmetry of Nottinghamshire’s Samit Patel bowling to Jesse Ryder. Ryder has been in glorious form this season, quite good enough to justify recall to the national team were it not that he carries enough baggage to fill the hold of the Queen Mary. He has such time and grace, Colin Cowdrey without the public schoolboy’s inhibitions.

He began with minimalist offside fours off two balls from van Beek that had nothing much wrong with them, followed by a kiss of a pull onto the bank for six. Best of all, off McPeake, a push that seemed not to have sufficient force to wake a baby, but which bisected two fielders stationed no more than ten metres apart square on the offside, luring them into a futile chase to the fence, so sweet was the timing. It was as good a shot as I will see all season.

A low-energy lightbulb expends more effort than Jesse. Not the least of his appeal is that he walks singles in T20, his own man to the end. He made 52, the game’s highest score, before being caught at deep square leg.

He had been well supported by George Worker in an opening stand of 96. Tom Bruce dominated the latter stages with a boisterous 46 from 20 deliveries. Central Districts finished on 194 for six, formidable certainly, but on a fast, true surface not insurmountable.

I would make two changes to the rules of T20. First, no six-over powerplay, when only two fielders are allowed outside the ring. In T20 there is no need for an incentive to attack; teams do it anyway. The powerplay just rewards mishits. Secondly, bowlers should be allowed five overs each, again to even up the imbalance between bat and ball just a little.

Captaincy in this form of the game is a mystery to me. Samit Patel conceded only two runs from that first over, but was taken off. Later Jeetan Patel took a wicket and had only a single scored from an over, but was removed. I realise that the idea is not to let the batsmen settle, but does the constant changing also stop bowlers from finding a rhythm.

Jeetan Patel was the outstanding bowler, with two for 23, with Samit Patel (25 off four overs) not far behind.

Wellington were in touch half way through their innings, keeping in touch with the Duckworth-Lewis par score. Tom Blundell made 30 from 19 and might have turned the game had he stayed in longer. But from the tenth to fifteenth over the game drifted away from them. Nothing much happened, but it was gone, apparently through negligence or merely forgetfulness.

Samit Patel was at the crease throughout this period. The thought occurred that such an experienced player could have done more to take control of the situation. Of course, runs cannot be conjured up from anywhere and Central Districts bowled very well through this period (even Blair Tickner, whose run up appears to be modelled on a man elbowing his way to the bar). But does a team have any business losing by 29 with five wickets left? Better to have a go, lose by 50 and be all out, I’d have thought.

The catching today was outstanding. Luke Ronchi, taking up the boundary patrol at a late stage in his career, dived forward at full length to dismiss Cleaver. Next ball, Ronchi’s successor behind the stumps, Tom Blundell, leapt high to his right to dismiss Bruce. Blundell himself went to a splendid diving catch by Seth Rance at short fine leg.

Wellington are New Zealand’s T20 champions no more.

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