Sunday, 22 December 2013

Bubbles for the Blackcaps!

The  Test series win over the West Indies has just been completed and it is still sinking in, along with the bubbles. I don't know when it will actually seem real. As a long time Blackcaps supporter, I can tell you this is very unfamiliar territory.
I got a ribbing from some of the Aussie and English fans on Twitter who couldn't understand why a Test series win is so remarkable. The truth is, we never actually expect to win. This victory was our first Test series win in more than 5 years. It's a very long time since  we could celebrate like this. No wonder we're all a bit giddy over it! The Blackcaps have come a very long way in the recent past, with the team being rebuilt and restructured, and not without its share of drama.

Winners are grinners!

A key difference we are seeing from the Blackcaps in the 2013/14 season is they are now playing as a team-  not as a group of talented individuals. Dare I say it, they are playing a bit like Australia, but maybe with more controlled aggression and better manners! Nobody threatened to break any limbs and there was barely a hint of sledging.
The bowling unit is working well together as a team, and not just as one standout bowling performer. Boult, Southee and Wagner all took wickets in the final Test whereas we saw only Narine making a dent for West Indies. We took all 60 wickets across the three Tests, while our guests took only 34. A dominant performance by any standards.
Southee was also able to reach his 100 Test wicket milestone in the 3rd Test, sitting next to John Bracewell on a table headed up by Richard Hadlee.

The fielding has been consistently good, and at times absolutely brilliant. Everyone looks strong and positive out there. The Blackcaps have gone from a lopsided team that did well with the ball, and less well with the bat to a great team of all round performers.
Ross Taylor came very close to scoring the most NZ Test runs in a calendar year, and was only a handful short.That 3rd consecutive century from him was hugely significant and felt like we were watching a key historical period in New Zealand cricket. Kane Williamson goes from strength to strength, and Hamish Rutherford's sheer determination was evident for all to see in the 3rd Test. It's so wonderful to see all that positivity and confidence out there. The team looked like they were actually enjoying it.

Congratulations are surely due to Brendon McCullum for his first test series win as captain. A feat last achieved by Dan Vettori in 2008. That was a much less emphatic victory with a win and a draw against Bangladesh. And two years before that was another one against West Indies.

The future is looking very bright for this Blackcaps team. It's a well performing group, with even more talent set to rejoin them as Martin Guptill has been racking up the runs for Auckland. Tom Latham has also scored a double ton playing for Canterbury and must surely be on the radar as well. Jesse Ryder has been playing confidently for Otago before he makes his return to the squad after Christmas.
The home series are the ideal way to keep building on the success platform already in place with the familiar grounds, pitches and plenty of local support.

Lunchtime fun at Seddon Park

At  Seddon Park this weekend, the sun was shining, cicadas were singing, Sonny Shaw was waving his flag and the Blackcaps were smiling. Kids were playing on the outfield in the lunch break and dreaming of the day when they might wear the silver fern. That's how cricket is meant to be at our place.
Cricket is largely a mental game and the Blackcaps confidence looks to be sky high right now. Imagine what  might have been if we had this confidence last Summer!

Monday, 2 December 2013

Test cricket in our own backyard

And so we find ourselves on the eve of another International Test series on our patch. In our own backyard. In our own timezone for goodness sake! The beauty of the home series is not to be underestimated. Anytime you can watch proper cricket in daylight hours is a good time.
We are welcoming West Indies into our backyard for a bit of a hit around. We went to their backyard last July, now they are coming to us in December. Starting off in Dunedin.
Cue the sniggers from people in the North Island. Dunedin in December? They'll freeze. Great tactics. Soften them up for us. True, a couple of the Windies players are already suffering with head colds 'due to the change in weather conditions'.

I've been thinking about the contrast between this series and the 'other' Test series going on just across the ditch in Australia right now. I am predicting that ours will be a much more polite affair. These two teams are the little guys in the big playground. The two smallest countries playing cricket at this level. They probably need to play each other right about now. I don't imagine we'll see the villains that we saw at the Gabba. I expect both sides will be pretty fired up, but I can also imagine that Brendon and the boys would have a Speights with Darren and his boys at the end of the game.
Another contrast with our cousins across the water is the media attention. There has been no criticism in the Press, no talk of phantoms and un named opponents. It really does feel like we've welcomed them into our backyard for a friendly hit around. Albeit with the warm jerseys on.

The big news locally for this test is the return of Aaron Redmond. What a wonderful story for all the First Class cricketers up and down New Zealand plugging away scoring runs, hoping they'll get noticed by the selectors. It's five years since Redmond last played for NZ, and he has been a consistently reliable batsman for Otago ever since.

Today is Otago's day really. It's their home ground and they have some of their favourite sons donning the whites and the fern at University Oval. There's Redmond, joined by the indomitable Neil Wagner, Hamish Rutherford, and Captain Courageous himself- Brendon McCullum.
And even better, the sun is out in Dunedin today. It might not be quite so tough for those Calypso Cricketers after all.

Tuesday, 12 November 2013

Today's lesson from Eden Park

First home game of the season at Eden Park Outer Oval is always eagerly anticipated by me. There's the countdown from about 100 days out. There's the rearranging of the schedule so that I can make sure I can be at the boundary rope with my jandals and sunscreen. There's the packing the kids off to school and making sure nobody is home sick on that day. That day is sacred in my book.

This first home game was set to be a little more special than usual. Guptill was back with the bat and with Auckland batting first, I braced myself for an exciting morning ahead. There is nothing finer than watching Martin Guptill timing it beautifully with a straight bat. He also had his old batting partner Jeet Raval back in the fold after his return to the team from a stint down country at Central Districts.

Well, clearly these guys didn't read the script I had written for them. The first day's play turned out to be a most unusual turn of events.
Firstly, and most noted by the media, Guptill didn't score a lot of runs. Fair enough, lets move on. His opening partner also didn't score many runs.
 The next guy in didn't stick around long enough to work up a sweat. Tim McIntosh was sent back to the shed after a single run scored.
Next in came Cachopa swinging his bat and ready to make up for the lack of runs on the board. He had a good go, and sliced and diced the Canterbury bowlers round the outer oval to collect 31 runs for his efforts. Things were starting to look up.
If only that were true. I won't go into the gory details of what happened next. Lets just say that seven of the Auckland batsman scored fewer runs than the Extras Column. Yes, that is an accurate statement. No exaggeration needed.

So fast forward to the two tail enders coming in. Behold the arrival of Dean Bartlett and Matt Quinn at the crease. Two quick bowlers. They can't bat can they? Nah. Not a chance.  You could see the Canterbury quicks licking their lips in anticipation. They'd be able to send the poles cartwheeling back towards the old grandstand in just a few balls time and everyone could trot off for an early lunch.

Not so fast.

 Hamish Bennett and his mates hadn't counted on the sheer stubborn determination of the two lads from Cornwall and Ellerslie  who found themselves at the crease and in a starring role. The previous number eleven batsman for Auckland wasn't exactly a role model at this stuff. In fact, he was there watching because he now coaches the Canterbury bowling unit. He was watching and enjoying it too. Although he did admit to me that it was very frustrating for his bowlers as time went on. He's a good bloke Chris Martin.

Matt Quinn played a number of beautiful shots during his innings. He scored  nine 4s. And they were well earned boundaries, not fielding errors or lucky shots. His bat was the sword that was slaying the dragon called Hamish Bennett. And Bennett became more dragon like as the innings continued. He was throwing down bouncer after bouncer at the tail enders. All to no avail. They would just calmly duck and get themselves out of harms way, take guard and go again. The longer it went on, the more angry Hamish Bennett got. Without the stump mikes to assist, it was hard to make out what advice he was giving the batsman. But there were words said for sure.

With Quinn taking the lead role and Bartlett feeding the strike, the pair trundled on to the lunch break.
All of us round the boundary exhaled with a collective sigh of relief as the tail had, by now, got Auckland past the 100 mark. The rest of the team gave the tail a standing ovation as they came off to refuel for half an hour, and to put their feet up and reflect on what had been a very odd morning indeed.

Time for Quinn & Bartlett to refuel

Fast forward to the end of the lunch break and the umpires and fielders are all out on the field ready to get going when Quinn and Bartlett stride out together to continue their show. But , hold on- that's Quinn racing back off the field and heading to the dressing room. What's that about? Did he forget his bat? Nope. He's holding it in his hand. Surely he couldn't have forgotten to take a toilet stop during the break. Could he? His captain asked him what he'd forgotten and he squeaked out 'I forgot my box!' and ran as fast as he could, fully padded up as he was, to get it. His  team mates had a great big chuckle at that one because they're so old and wise, they'd never do anything that silly. With Bennett bowling the way he was, there's no way you'd have wanted to continue without that most important piece of body armour.

So once more into the valley of death for our two intrepid foot soldiers. Every boundary drew an almighty cheer from around the ground, but obviously not from anyone wearing a baggy red and black cap.
These two batted for close to two hours, thereby salvaging some respectability for the team. Bartlett ended up not out with 11 runs off 85 balls, including two fours.
Quinn ended the session after being bowled by Astle with 50 runs off  94 balls, nine of those skipped over the rope.

And today's lesson? It was all about courage, and determination, and  above all total belief in your abilities at the tail end of the batting line up when all before you had struggled.
Nice work lads. I'd give you an A+

Monday, 4 November 2013

One last look at Bangladesh

My phone chirped loudly at me this morning and it was far too early to really take in what the alert was about. I'd stayed up on the sofa, well past my bedtime watching the BlackCaps and willing them on to the very end. Anyway, at the chirping of the phone I forced my eyes open to see what it was.

 I already knew the Blackcaps lost the ODI series to Bangladesh, and had a dream overnight that the headline on Granny Herald would read something along the lines of "Blackcaps slump to a new low". I was more disappointed about the inevitable media backlash than I was about the result itself. Anyway, sure enough it was an alert from NZ Herald and the title of their big story was "Have the BlackCaps reached an all time low?"

I don't know what the Herald journo was watching on tv last night, and maybe you can call me Pollyanna, but I thought there were some really good things to come out of that ODI series and in particular the last match.
We have a developing squad, with a wave of new talent slowing seeping into the side. Some of the senior players will be shuffling across to stage left for their impending exit in the coming year or two. There's nothing revolutionary in any of that. We are not the only side to be rebuilding the ranks.
I like to remember also the fact that we are arguably the smallest cricket playing nation in the ICC. There are only 4 million of us to pick the team from. How many are in India, or Bangladesh, or South Africa, or England? Exactly.
West Indies are the closest to us in size, and it will be really interesting to see what happens when they tour here in December.

Anyway, back to the good stuff from that third and final ODI in Bangladesh. What a superb session with the bat from Munro (one of the new guys) to get to 85 and Taylor (one of the old guys) to get 105. Munro has had a couple of opportunities with the bat in the black shirt, and was out first ball in his previous outing. So, he probably had a point to prove both to himself, and to everyone else watching. He has been pretty fierce with the bat for Auckland in the past, so getting that to translate to the international stage was important. I've seen the determined and belligerent character that Munro can be at the crease, so it was an absolute delight to see him switch hitting it all over the park. I just wish he had done one less reverse sweep!
Watching Ross Taylor bat like the old Rosco was a total pleasure. We haven't seen that version of Taylor for some time and it was a relief and a delight to know that he is still in there somewhere. We're all keen to see some more of him this summer!

Thanks Getty Images

Other new talent that stepped up during this series included two of Northern Districts finest- Anton Devcich and Corey Anderson. Devcich is still so new to the international stage that the Bangladeshi commentators couldn't get his name right, and even Danny Morrison was calling him 'Devich'.  His 46 with the bat was a great knock in front of a maddening crowd, but anyone who has followed him play for ND wouldn't have been too surprised by that performance.

Corey Anderson has been consistently good across all the matches he has played. I like his aggression and commitment in the field. He's always busy, and always there. He's that eager border collie on the beach that keeps on running into the waves for the ball and never gets tired! He's got lots more to give this Summer and it will be great to see him against the Windies with the home crowds too.

While I lamented the lack of McCullum behind the stumps, I thought Ronchi was pretty entertaining in the last ODI. There's something satisfying about hearing the constant yapping from behind the stumps and the staccato soundbites as he gave the Blackcaps regular giddyups. I found myself wondering whether he had to have a stash of throaties in his pocket to keep his voice going.

We saw a flash of the old Tim Southee with the ball for a while there too. He's obviously got some more work to do with his ankle injury, but when he is back to full fitness and his former fierce self, we'll be in good hands.
Sure the bowling unit have got some work to do, and no doubt Shane Bond will be working hard with them. But that's what they are over there for- to put the work in and get the experience. Plus of course they are going to learn a whole lot more from their mistakes than they will from their successes.

I'm not giving up on the Blackcaps just yet. No doubt I've got a few more long nights on the sofa ahead. But I'll do it gladly because I know it's not a new low. It's just a slow and difficult climb to the top!

Friday, 18 October 2013

Bangladesh Round Two

Leading into the second Test against Bangladesh, you'd be forgiven for thinking there was no cricket on at all. Club cricket has had a sputtering start, interrupted by icy wet Spring storms sent from Antarctica. The domestic first class season hasn't got underway yet. And to top everything off, there's a home All Blacks Test this weekend. So who gives a monkeys about the Blackcaps playing Test Cricket in Bangladesh right now?
It's not in our time zone, and it starts around 430pm NZ Time. You'd be mad to be up all night watching it on the sofa in your snuggle sack , with your hot milo and vogels toast wouldn't you? Well yes, you probably would.

That notwithstanding, there are plenty of diehard cricket fans the length and breadth of New Zealand who are following the Blackcaps every move closely. And many of them have very definite opinions about the Blackcaps performance. You only have to look at Twitter when the BlackCaps are playing and read the comments to know. Many of the diehards were disappointed the Blackcaps couldn't bowl Bangladesh out within 500 runs. 'Come on, they're worse than us, and we still can't knock them over!'
And then there were all the discussions about the spin bowling. The spin bowling that was like an unravelled ball of wool. Going nowhere and not turning. There were very few highlights from the bowling unit from that match in fact. We did see some nice work with the bat from Kane Williamson though and he keeps going from strength to strength. The fielding was also consistently good, as we have come to expect from the Blackcaps.

So, onto the next match and time to start thinking about that vogels toast and the milo, and reserving a spot on the sofa for the snugglesack. The next Test is in Dhaka and starts on 21 October, after the Eid holiday break.
What changes can we expect to the lineup? Well, the fact that Ross Taylor had a bowl tells me that (apart from some creative captaincy there) we need to review the bowling attack. Dhaka will be a different pitch and will likely have slightly different conditions, but you'd have to think that Southee or Wagner are going to get a turn.  They must both be like a pair of hungry greyhounds, straining at the leash and more than ready to race after that rabbit. And they will keep on racing, until they drop.
As for the spin- we don't have too any options there. If it's a flat deck, it's a flat deck. Although, Bangladesh had more success than the Blackcaps in that department. We have Martin and Sodhi on tour, but there is no mountainous reserve of good spinners all clambering over each other to get to the top. Vettori is rumoured to be on the way back and about to play a couple of early matches for Northern Districts. But we should stop pinning all our hopes on his eventual return. Lets face it- it may never happen. We need to get behind the spinners we have got and give them the support that they deserve, and in fact need.

Image courtesy TVNZ

I think Brendon McCullum will go with mostly the same lineup for the rest of the team. We've heard him talk before about consistency and giving the guys every chance to prove themselves. He doesn't take a single match as a trend, and nor should we. I look forward to McCullum's moves in this next match. His declaration in the last Test was another sign of his aggressive approach and it's clear that the BlackCaps are there to win. Lets hope that this time they can get it across the line. Before the milo gets cold!

Thursday, 26 September 2013

Dear Team New Zealand

I can't believe I actually cried.

Not because our team of 4 million wasn't big enough to beat the American billionaire. I accepted that.
 What got me was Dean Barker's speech afterwards. When Dean said we'll 'never know how much they appreciated the support from all around New Zealand, from schools, workplaces up and down the country. From Shed 10, from kiwis that flew to San Francisco to cheer, from kiwis all around the world.' And to them Dean said they 'gave it everything they had.' They 'left nothing out on the water, and sorry they couldn't win that last race.' Cue the water works.

I think that's what all of us wanted to know deep down. We needed to know that Emirates Team New Zealand had used all their resources and thrown everything they had at the American syndicate. Our pockets were never as deep as theirs, and we were never going to have the same level of resources. But, you know what? I reckon our hearts were bigger. How many countries could get behind a yacht race to the extent that New Zealand did?

We mean it when we say that it's our boat. It's got our name on it. How many of us have been late to school in the last two weeks? Who do you know that has been sloping into work at 930am for the last wee while ? How many New Zealanders have been rocking their red socks and racing to wash them every night so they're good to go for the next day's racing? Who else has discussed the recent racing with the postie, the guy at the petrol station, the lady at the New World checkout? Who else went to an RPM class at 6am with all the tracks dedicated to Team New Zealand?

I coped with my frustration and disappointment by sweating it out at the gym after the final race. That was a great place to release some of the adrenalin still coursing through my veins. It  also became crystal clear to me that the earth hadn't stopped turning, the sun was still shining, traffic lights still working, and yes- people were even smiling.

Then along came the  6 o clock news. Oh god. Team NZ talking about how they feel. More tears, more pain.

I'm really glad to have done my bit, and been a part of  all of it, red socks and all.

Thanks Dean and Team New Zealand for giving us the chance to be part of something this big.
 Thanks for racing our boat so brilliantly for so long.  Thanks for giving it your all and leaving nothing out on the water. We're ok back home, we'll recover.

Now come on home with your heads held high.

Tuesday, 25 June 2013

Eng vs NZ T20 clash

There has been a lot of comment from the English fans about the timing of this two match T20 series and the impact it had on 'that' weather affected match a few days earlier. Like it or not, the giggle and hit was always going to be played at the Oval, and was always destined to draw the crowds. And so it did.

Game one, England won the toss and sent New Zealand in to bat.
The lucky, capacity English crowd had a beautiful summer's evening and made the most of the pleasant conditions after a day at work. So spare a thought for those of us on the other side of the planet, getting up at 5am on a cold, dark winters morning; to watch T20 cricket under a blanket on the sofa.

There are three key highlights from this match for me, and this was the first- Hamish Rutherford's innings. New Zealand lost Franklin early to Rankin, and it ruffled a few polar fleece blankets in the predawn light on sofas round New Zealand. However, Rutherford has had a little bit of batting practise in recent weeks, and was good to go. He batted as well as he ever has, striking the ball cleanly and getting a good number out of the middle of the bat. And so he was rewarded with 65 runs off 35 balls, and a bit more confidence to tuck into his back pocket for the next match.
Hamish Rutherford on his way to 62 runs
Courtesy Getty Images

The second big highlight for me was Brendon McCulllum's captaincy. He continued his aggressive and beguiling tactics, rotating bowlers and fielders and keeping the batsmen guessing. This was clearly illustrated when Butler came on to bowl and he put Taylor in at slip. The commentators couldn't fathom it with comments from Bumble like 'why on earth would you put a slip in there?' Two balls later, his question was answered as Taylor reached high over his head to take a magnificent one handed catch to dismiss England's captain. Taylor later claimed on Twitter that the catch was an absolute fluke.

Ross Taylor's catch
Courtesy Getty Images

My third highlight was the final over. McCullum again with his clever captaincy put the new guy Anderson on to bowl. At the time I questioned whether he would have the confidence and composure to finish the match for NZ.   And once again, McCullum was proven right. Anderson took each ball on it's own and focussed on it with steely determination. He was relaxed; smiling even. And he came through with the goods.
  New Zealand won by 5 runs.

Thursday, 13 June 2013

NZ v Aus- Trans Tasman clash

New Zealand and Australia have a history of stepping it up a level when they play against each other and Kyle Mills predicted a 'ding dong' battle at Edgbaston.

Australia won the toss and elected to bat. We were treated to scenes of the Australian dressing room- covered in posters of great Aussie cricketers, and the New Zealand dressing room, understated and bare.

And so it started as Mills foretold.

 Mills opened the bowling and had a good first over before handing the ball to McClenaghan, who struck a short time later getting Watson to edge one to Ronchi for 5.
Two overs later McClenaghan struck again, assisted by a catlike Guptill in the field, effecting a brilliant underarm direct hit to run Hughes out without scoring.

Of course the news overshadowing the match was all about Warner and what he did to get stood down from the match. Unfortunately all the discussion on social media was about that and the tv commentators had to keep referring back to it as well.

Australia's third wicket fell as Wade was caught LBW off Nathan McCullum for 29 off 57 balls. McCullum also claimed the fourth by clean bowling Bailey for 55 as he looked to work one away to leg.
It was a change from the previous match against SL as New Zealand bowled 30 overs of spin. This turned into a high workload for Vettori who was as penurious as we remember him, conceding only 23 runs off his 10 overs.

It wasn't long before McClenaghan was back in the wickets, remarked on by the commentary team as 'he has a habit of taking wickets'  He skittled Marsh with a high edge catch to Ronchi, and had a dangerous looking Voges caught by his captain at mid wicket.

At 200/6 Australia had two new batsmen at the crease, until McClenaghan was involved in another dismissal, catching Faulkner off Kane Williamson for 6 off 12 balls.
 Then came the battle that many were waiting for. Mitchell Johnson versus Mitchell McClenaghan.
Johnson had his way with a couple of quick boundaries before Mitchell of the more popular hair do got his wicket with a deceptively slower ball at 102km that was edged straight to McCullum.
There was a late flourish from Australia as Maxwell got them to 243/8, contributing 29* himself.

From the New Zealand innings, the national expectation of Guptill was sizeable. After back to back centuries earlier, the same dish had been ordered from the caterers. It wasn't to be, however, as Guptill was the first wicket; hitting McKay to point to be caught by Maxwell. His contribution was 8 off 13 balls. Ronchi edged one to Watson at 4th slip a short time later, again off McKay after adding 14 runs off 17 balls.

This left Williamson and Taylor at the crease as dark clouds threatened overhead. New Zealand got to 51/2 before the umpires called for the covers and the hovercraft was brought out to the middle. Because only 15 overs had been completed and the grounds could not be sufficiently dried in time to continue the match, the decision was taken to abandon play.

Both teams take one point from the match- leaving New Zealand with 3 points and Australia one.
New Zealand's bowlers had another good session, in particular McClenaghan and Vettori, but there is plenty of opportunity there too. McKay bowled well for Australia, but the top order batsmen struggled with footwork and looked at sea.

There will be homework to complete for both sides before they meet their next opponents, in order to ensure they continue their Champions Trophy quest.

Monday, 10 June 2013

A walk in the Valleys

NZ v Sri Lanka in Cardiff was never going to be a walk in the valleys for either team. Sri Lanka went into the match with the upper hand. From the last 14 ODIs where the two teams have met, NZ have only beaten them once.

Kyle Mills opened the match with a ripping ball that had Perera edging one to McCullum who performed a magnificent diving catch.

A few overs later McClenaghan got the prized wicket of Dilshan.  Then it was time for a change of pace as the prodigal son returned with some Left Arm spin to hurrahs from all the stalwarts who had been waiting  for 2 years for Dan Vettori to turn his arm over for NZ again.  And he didn't disappoint, with a repeat of his last performance two years ago taking Jayawardene LBW again.

Mills was back on the attack taking Chandimal a few balls later for a duck, leaving SL reeling on 34-4
This was a sign of how the BlackCaps were approaching the match and had Kiwis up and down the land on the edge of their late night sofa.  The bowling attack have already had a good workout against England in both home and away series, and have proven to be just the kind of  determined and aggressive attack that can win matches.

McClenaghan struck again spinning Mathews leg stump in the air, KSW got Thirimanne and Mitch claimed his 3rd with Thisara Perera .  Sangakkara was the only one who was looking seriously dangerous until Nate McCullum had him caught on 68.  The final two wickets fell quickly and the first innings was over well before the lunch break. McClenaghan was the pick of the bowlers with an unrelenting 4-43, and gained team honours leaving the field first to applause from his team mates. He has also equalled Wayne Parnell’s record of 22 wickets in his first 8 ODI outings.

The usual formula however, is that the bowlers do a great job, and then the batsmen struggle to back it up with the numbers.

A lot of Kiwis watching would have been expecting that formula to play out last night. Especially once Ronchi departed early on in the innings. Realistically, NZ should have cruised to victory. They had bowled Sri Lanka out for 138 in the 38th over.  The lowest  score to date in 8 ODIs played at Cardiff.

Surely with only 139 to win NZ should have romped home, right? Oh no. The second innings was as captivating as the first. It was probably more dramatic and with more theatrics too. The appealing was fervent and voiciferous, and happened with increasing regularity. Both teams had used up their referrals early on. By the match conclusion, Dilshan and Jayawardene had been reprimanded for excessive appealing. The pair pleaded guilty to a Level 1 breach, and were fined 50% of their match fee.

The Sri Lankans threw everything they had at New Zealand but the bowlers just didn’t have enough runs to bowl to. They came very close indeed, but a great display of backyard cricket from the brothers McCullum put on 35 for the 7th wicket partnership. But the sheer obstinate determination of the tail end sealed the deal for NZ, and they eventually won with Dilshan's final ball being a wide.

The BlackCaps survived a Lasith Malinga onslaught to win the match . He was a ferocious competitor and was hurling thunderbolts. That, in itself was a small victory for New Zealand. Some of the batsmen learned more about how to handle those thunderbolts. Others, apparently, did not.

Looking ahead:
  • NZ had some good and some difficult time at the crease. Malinga is as tough a bowler as they will face in this tournament and they got some good practice in there. There was plenty of practice against deceptive spin with Herath as well.
  • Dan Vettori is back. He was limping like an old man, but his captain says he is ‘no spring chicken’, and he thought Vettori was moving pretty well for himself.
  • The New Zealand bowling unit goes from strength to strength. They have plenty of fire power and have already proven themselves against two of the world’s toughest teams.
  • The fielding is still looking very sharp. NZ pride themselves on their fielding and do a great job restricting and containing sides.
  • Australia is next up for New Zealand. Whenever these two countries face off in any sport, there is extra pride on the line, and anything can happen.

Tuesday, 4 June 2013

Dear BlackCaps

Hi, it's me again.
 I have to write this because I can't fit all the things I want to say on the little support postcards on the BlackCaps web site. 140 characters on Twitter isn't going to do it either.
You know, it's well into the rugby season and we are gearing up for the All Blacks to take on France at Eden Park this weekend. At the same time, there are hoardes of us spending nights on the sofa (now known as 'Sleeping with the BlackCaps'), making sure we are there to support you guys on your campaign in the UK.

You should know by now how desperately proud we all are of you and everything you have achieved so far.  I cannot tell you how big a thrill I get when I stand on the kids football sidelines on a Saturday morning, and crow about all the BlackCaps results with the football dads. These guys never used to stay up late to watch the BlackCaps, they definitely do now!
I couldn't wait to pop into the local dairy to catch up with the guy there who loves Guptill's batting as much as me. He and I had a great old debrief the other day, and it felt like I had bought the winning Lotto ticket off him. If I had, I'd be on the first plane to London to wave my flag in person.

I've enjoyed choosing the music of the day to kick off each match and share on Twitter too. We've had Chris Knox and "Love not  given lightly', 'Don't Dream it's Over' from Crowded House and  'Better Man' from Pearl Jam.  Tonight's theme tune will be 'Rise Up' by Six60. I'll be playing it loudly from the sofa in the wee small hours. I hope you guys have it in your heads as you run onto the grass at TrentBridge too.

It's been tough going having to listen to the English commentary on the tv coverage at times. It's not like having Doully & Rigor with Macca & Smithy. We get the occasional bit of Smithy, and that's about it. If I hear one more time about how Cook is going to bring on the mighty Swann to devastate the New Zealand batsmen, I will scream! His dismissal, and the subsequent grin from Williamson was one of the high points of the second ODI for me.

We all want to see more of the same. Steely determination with the bat and belligerent boundaries. Ninjas in the field, annoying the opposition. And it goes without saying, the bowling unit beguiling and bossing the batsmen.

 Keep your heads high, chests proud, and know that there's a whole lot of love and support from back home willing you on.

.......Show them you know how to Rise Up! Baby it's a revolution.......!

Love from Ruth. (again)

Friday, 24 May 2013

Test Preparation

So how exactly does one prepare for a Test Match; as a spectator?

Well, when it's an overseas Test, and it is scheduled to run through the night, there is a fair amount of organisation and preparation required.
I sometimes start the day before the Test by getting as many extra hours ( usually ends up as minutes) of sleep as I can. Credit in the sleep bank is a good thing.
The day before, I also like to get ahead of myself on the housework, emails, folding washing and any other little jobs that might distract me from devoting myself 100% to viewing every single ball bowled and every little piece of commentary.

On the morning of the Test, I ensure I know exactly how the day is going to pan out. Every meal is planned, prepared and cooked well in advance. I knew when I staggered out of bed this morning that today's breakfast menu would be porridge with almond milk, walnuts and greek yoghurt.
 A quick trip to the grocers mid morning sorted out my snacks for the day and into the evening. It covered mandarins, feijoas, tamarillos, and as an extra treat, kale chips baked with lemon zest.

So, onto my pre arranged lunch of leftover kumara, vegetable and lentil mash (yes, I know; I'm very rock and roll). That was actually a bit of a highlight of my Test preparation, I love that meal!

After lunch, I try to sneak in a quick nana nap if at all possible. I am, if nothing else, a pragmatist. I like my sleep, and will take it wherever I can get it. The prospect of 5 nights in a row of broken sleep looms large in my mind.

There's the usual jobs to get down to in the afternoon, school books to help read, football juggling to admire. All the while my mind is percolating thoughts. Dripping away slowly in the background. Spilling into the little espresso cup sized space in my head. I'm imagining what is happening on the other side of the world. What's going through the team's heads? What thoughts are they having? What's on their breakfast menu?

Dinner tonight, pre Test was pretty straightforward. I planned ahead (of course) and roasted a piece of lamb in the slow cooker all afternoon. That made me available to respond to emails, look for work, return calls and finish a few other fiddly jobs while it was slowly cooking. There was something strangely appropriate about  having a good New Zealand roast lamb accompanied by an excellent Central Otago Pinot Noir whilst preparing to watch a great New Zealand cricket team do battle.
I've even painted my nails already. That's my usual Friday night girly indulgence. Not this Friday night. I'm 100% focused on blokes. And their cricket.

That out of the way, it's time to get myself set up on the sofa. I have a few things to keep me company during the long night ahead; sleeping with the BlackCaps. I've got the Pinot. I've got the kale chips. I've got buckets of Earl Grey, Milo just in case and frooze and brain balls. I'll get my PJs, my warm slippers and my favourite blanket out too. The sofa has to be setup with the optimal number of cushions to support me, my laptop and my iPhone; but also cosy enough if I should happen to just doze off at any time in the wee small hours.
I've also got my hand cream, my lip balm and my tissues. I've got a cold. I'm not expecting tears.

So what else is there left to do?
 Oh yeah. Practice my cheers 'Come oooooon you BlaaaaaaackCaps!'
Give it heaps lads. I'm ready.

Thursday, 23 May 2013

Nil desperandum

I never thought watching the BlackCaps play would transport me back to 3rd Form Latin. But there you have it.
Days 1 2,3 and the first session of Day 4 had me thinking  nil mortalibus ardui est- nothing is impossible for humankind.

 I was very quietly confident about what we had seen from the BlackCaps bowling attack thus far. Tim Southee taking ten wickets for honours at Lords looked to have sealed the deal. Surely, getting 239 runs was not impossible.  Bearing in mind that our last two Test victories were against Sri Lanka and Zimbabwe. The BlackCaps are ranked number 8 and the English are number 2, which kind of puts things in perspective.

In typical kiwi style, I was very quietly confident- no shouting from the rooftops for me. After all, I've been burned before.

I loved watching the footage from Lords. It's the first time I've seen a match played there since 2011 when I was there in person.
 It's more exciting when you can picture the Nursery Ground and the Members stand in your minds eye. I closed my eyes for a while and remembered sitting in the Grand Stand, shivering with cold, drinking Pimms and chatting with the elderly West Indian gents seated behind me. They were great fun, sitting their with their sensible pink woolly blankets that their wives made them bring. I think they genuinely enjoyed my company as well, laughing away with this mad, candid New Zealand tourist while her brother sat alongside her shaking his head at her forwardness. Far too much Antipodean spirit in me, and not enough left in him after ten years in London I suspect.

This is the same brother who said to me on Sunday at lunchtime- "they're going to lose you know".  To which I responded that he should "wash his mouth out". Unfortunately, I then had to babysit for him on Tuesday night and he loved telling me he was right. Annoying little brother.

Anyway, back to Lords and the Test. OK we lost. Badly. But it was only one bad hour. After  more than twenty good hours. I'll take the good memories away from that match, and carefully forget that ugly hour of capitulation.

It is hard work staying up late for five nights in a row supporting your team though, and it does take a toll on your good looks and good humour. It's also a kiwi tradition, spending the night on the sofa under a blanket with your vogels toast and marmite, and hot cups of Milo. We've all done it as kids, and some of us continue to do it.
But I'll do it again , and gladly.  I love it even more now that I can be having Twitter conversations with other cricket watchers around the world whilst watching. I love all the trash talk and the sledging- it makes it all more interesting.

So we are 24 hours away from the Headlingley Test. This time tomorrow I will be set up ready for another big night on the sofa. I'm not unhappy about that. In fact, I'm looking forward to it.

Nil Desperandum - Never Despair.
 That's the Latin phrase that sticks in my mind now.

Go to it Black Caps! 

Saturday, 11 May 2013

BlackCaps in the Champions Trophy 2013

The Champions Trophy seems a long way off for the BlackCaps as there is a bit of red ball cricket to play before then. However, June 9th and the match against Sri Lanka will come around quickly and we will all be settling in for a late night on the sofa in NZ, tucked up in our snuggle blankets with cheese on toast to hand.

If you look back at the last Champions Trophy in 2009, the BlackCaps did rather well. They put England away by 4 wickets to advance to the semi finals. Then they played Pakistan, winning by 5 wickets which put them in the final with our cousins from across the ditch- Australia. We posted 200/9 and Australia got 206/4 to beat us.

Lets be upfront about this. New Zealand has only ever won the Champions Trophy once. That was in 2000, against India in Nairobi. The past doesn't matter though, especially when you look closely at the 2002 Champions Trophy match against Australia. The past is exactly that, and it can stay there.

In 2013, BlackCaps fans have every reason to be quietly confident about our place in world cricket. We are getting better all the time, and the BlackCaps have just come out of an excellent home series against England.  Talk amongst the supporters is generally very positive, quietly so, but definitely in favour of some good strong BlackCaps performances.

The BlackCaps squad now has an exciting mix of old hands with lots of experience, and exciting new players who are just coming onto the International scene. Some of these new players had their first taste of International cricket on the tour of South Africa in early 2013. We won that ODI series in Sth Africa  2-1 .

There is only one  new player on debut for the ODIs- Luke Ronchi. He's a new New Zealander, having recently qualified to play for NZ. Ronchi played a few ODIs and T20s for Australia before moving to New Zealand.  Look for him opening the batting in the ODIs leading up to the Champions Trophy. It's possible we may also see him with the gloves in place of BJ Watling in the short form.

ODI and ICC Champions Trophy squad:
Brendon McCullum (c)
Trent Boult
Grant Elliott
Andrew Ellis
James Franklin
Martin Guptill
Mitchell McClenaghan
Nathan McCullum
Kyle Mills
Colin Munro
Luke Ronchi
Tim Southee
Ross Taylor
Daniel Vettori
Kane Williamson

Our bowling attack is exciting for the English tests, but in the short form it is even more thrilling.
 We will see the return of the 'bouncy and aggressive' left arm quick Mitchell McClenaghan and  the experience of Kyle Mills, Grant Elliott, James Franklin and Andrew Ellis. Colin Munro also makes another appearance,  after a strong season with the bat at home, and also in South Africa in 2012/13.

The New Zealand selectors have said that the race for places on the team had never been so competitive, with all players fully fit. The BlackCaps have the experience, they have the skills and they have the desire to win.  Now we just need to see them put it all together out on the park.
Look out Sri Lanka, the BlackCaps are coming your way!

Tuesday, 7 May 2013

Sleeping With the BlackCaps in Derby

At last the BlackCaps tour is underway.

Most people probably aren't aware we've already won our first match. To be fair, it was a 'warm up' match, against Derbyshire and some would not consider that proper cricket. I don't subscribe to that theory at all. Mind you, I also follow teams like Germany when they play in International cricket matches. To me, cricket is cricket- no matter what level it's played at.

Anyway, back to Derby. I wasn't quite sure what to expect of this match, but remembering how good the Queenstown warm up match was, I decided to make an effort to follow this one. There was no tv coverage, so I had to dial in and listen on radio with all the old codgers. I've never been a fan of radio commentary, but when there is nothing else, then I'll do it.

So listening to cricket late at night on a BBC feed to my ipad was a new experience. And I actually think I'm beginning to see why people really like radio commentary. I've spent the last three nights tuned in to BBC Radio Derby listening to their feed live from the match. Charles Collins and Dave Jepson were the commentators bringing the match to us live.

The first night was a bit strange because I am used to listening to New Zealand commentators who know the players well. So when I heard the commentator mixing up Rutherford and Fulton at the crease, I was a little put out. One is clearly very tall, whilst the other is not. But as the time went on, I realised that the BlackCaps were mostly new to these commentators and they confessed they were working it out as they went along.

Well, thank goodness for Twitter then. The lovely Charles Collins, who endeared himself to all us late night kiwis, encouraged us to get in touch and share our thoughts with him. Consider the floodgates opened! It become clear very quickly that there were a number of late night kiwis listening, and we all had something to say. Collins did exceptionally well fielding all our corrections to players names with good humour and reading our player descriptions to help him identify Blackcaps in the field.
It felt like being at a family gathering where everyone had a chance to speak, and we all shared the same jokes.

By the third night, Collins was becoming more and more like everybody's favourite Uncle. While the cricket was going on in the background, he was telling all kinds of stories. For the morning session, he had Jake Needham sitting next to him and the pair of them became the main show, with the cricket in the background. At one point Collins was deep into his story about Footrot Flats and the similarity between Gillespie's shoulders and Wal Footrot's, and he barely paused to say that the bowler had released the ball and the batsman had a swing and a miss.

I learned about The Unicorns cricket team and who they are.

I heard about how Collins has just been through the coldest and longest winter he has ever had in Britain, because he was so delighted to see the sun out in Derby that day. So delighted in fact, that he mentioned it a few times.

I heard the description of the ice cream van parked out at the Derby ground as Collins considered whether he'd be able to get an ice cream during the lunch break, then decided against it because the queue was too long. I even saw a photo of the ice cream van because someone at the ground shared it for us late night kiwis.
Photo courtesy of Derbyshire CCC

I heard Needham and Collins carry out a protracted discussion about Wagner and how to pronounce his name. They were encouraged by the late night kiwis and given lots of advice on that one.
Wagner featured a lot in that first session on day three. Collins was deeply impressed by Wagner and enjoyed watching him rattle Chesney at the crease.

I listened to the story about February 1st 1981 and how Collins was at the MCG when that dirty piece of Australian bowling occurred. Us kiwis know all about it, but it was actually really interesting to hear an Australian tell their side of the story.

All the while, us late night kiwis were tagging our tweets with #SleepingWithTheBlackCaps because that's what it was like. With the ipad under the pillow, I'd doze off every now and then, only to jerk awake with a yahoo when Wagner took another wicket, or when Bucko came on to bowl.

All in all, even though it was 'just a warm up match', it turned out to be fantastic good fun listening in late at night to an expat Australian (Collins) in Derby who was commentating about New Zealand versus Derbyshire.
I even think that he might be able to identify all the BlackCaps by now. If not, he knows who he can ask for advice.

Monday, 6 May 2013

The Soup Starter and Unfinished Business

All the recent cricket talk in England seems to have been about the impending Ashes series. Who Australia is sending to England, who isn't going and how much England is going to beat them by.

I don't want to spoil the English fun, because we all know that us Kiwis support New Zealand and anyone else playing Australia, but before the Ashes series starts, we have a little unfinished business with the English.

Our Test series continues where we left off in Auckland. It's only 51 days between Tests.  That's just like an extended lunch break. The fact that the Black Caps have flown for 24 hours to follow the English cricket team to their home turf is neither here nor there. There is a certain desire to finish what we started in Dunedin, continued in Wellington and came so very close to completing in Auckland.
It's a shame that there are only two Tests between the Black Caps and England as I am sure we would have liked one more.

Admittedly, with the exception of Dunedin perhaps,the conditions in England will probably be quite different to those in New Zealand. New Zealand had late Summer conditions and the country was under a drought. So the pitches were hard and dry, with quick outfields.  England, by contrast, is in the early part of the season and pitches are likely to be much greener with overhead conditions perhaps not quite as dry.   .

But the BlackCaps won't be too concerned about the playing conditions. The winning comes from within. Brendon McCullum and his lads showed that they have the mental temerity to  fight back and  fight on when they need to. They showed their loyal supporters they can be aggressive, and surprised us all with their guts and determination.
Most New Zealanders will talk about that series as though we won it. We've taken the moral victory at least. You have to understand the New Zealand psyche to see where that comes from.
 We are a little country with a population of 4 million or thereabouts. That is all. That's roughly the size of Wales, or possibly Ireland. Our Australian cousins amount to 23 Million and there are about 56 Million English.
We don't normally expect to win on the world stage. Except maybe at rugby, and even then we are still surprised when we do.

If you imagine a sports banquet, New Zealand would be the soup whilst England and Australia are more likely to be the roast chicken with all the trimmings. One would normally wolf down the soup as a starter to get to the main course. However, once in a while, you come across an exquisite pumpkin soup that you want to linger over and enjoy just a little longer before you put your spoon down and pick up your knife and fork.

Understated coverage suits us. Focus on those Australians. Concentrate on the roast chicken. Forget about the soup. It may just surprise you how delicious it really is.

Tuesday, 23 April 2013

The Cricket Widower

You know, I've heard talk of these Cricket Widows, but I've never actually met one. Those of us with children that play cricket may or may not be passionate about the game, but we seem to get on with the business of being the support crew. Us mums resign ourselves to years of making the Marmite sandwiches and Milo and being at the boundary rope with sunscreen for the duration. Some of us even learn to score, while others take on the coaching of the youngsters. Yes, that was me during the 2012/13 season, but that's another story.
Those mums that didn't actually like cricket before, learn to appreciate it and love it through their sporting offspring. There's no point in fighting it, so you may as well embrace it. Right?

So, Cricket Widows is not something I can talk about from personal experience. But Cricket Widowers? Well, that's definitely something I know about!
But before we get onto the long suffering Cricket Widower that I live with, let me explain why he's the widower and I am not the Widow.

 For me, cricket has been part of my life since I was a young child. I played it at primary school as well as having a regular backyard cricket session with my brothers. I grew up with cricket on the radio in the heady days of Richard Hadlee, Lance Cairns and Jeremy Coney.
My lovely grandma was a big fan of the cricket and was often to be found in the stands at Eden Park. I really enjoyed spending time with her as a teenager at the cricket. In those days, I wanted to be a sports photographer, so I was at the boundary rope with all my camera gear snapping away. I took an awful lot of photos of Danny Morrison and Willie Watson from memory!
 I also recall wagging school to be at Eden Park with my gorgeous Grandma. It was so easy to fake a note to the teacher to say I had to go to the physio and would be gone all day. Is it any wonder then that I took my four boys out of school on the 5th day of the Third Test to go to Eden Park? Grandma would be so proud of me!

My little allies enjoying the cricket at Eden Park with me.

So, cricket is a big part of my life. Here in the southern hemisphere, the season runs from about October to April. That is six months of sheer, unadulterated bliss for me, and six months of frustration for my husband! Worst for him is that I now have four partners in crime so he is totally outnumbered and outvoted!
I spend a lot of time at the cricket. I go to every home game that Auckland has in the domestic competitions. And of course, I am there waving the flag for my BlackCaps as well. On top of this, I have two sons who play club and representative cricket, and two who play just at club level. And finally, I try to get along to watch the premier club side whenever I can.

So, if you can imagine from October to April, I am tied up every Saturday and Sunday with cricket. Plus, whilst I have been without work, I have been getting to a lot of mid week matches as well. The four lads also have training throughout the week that takes up a bit more time. Not surprisingly, not much gets done around the house during this time of the year.  I have been very remiss and absolutely shirked my domestic duties. The house is untidy, but I am really happy and so are the lads. The widower not so much. But he grits his teeth and gets on with it.
 I was talking to an umpire during the summer who asked me how I managed to get to all the mid week domestic matches. So I explained that I wasn't working, and his response was
 " Well, I hope your house is clean for your husband."
To which I said,
 "No. It's not really. But I didn't want to miss the start of the day's play. It will still be there when I get home."
 His jaw dropped as he sputtered
 "What does your husband think about that?"
"I don't really care. I'm happy."
That shut him up and he shuffled off to find a girl to make him a cup of tea.

To be fair to the Widower, he does just let me get on with it. He moans every now and then, but I think he's come to accept that this is how it has to be. He came along to a few of the domestic T20 matches this Summer and came dangerously close to enjoying himself. He has learned a bit about the rules of the game and can even recognise most of the Black Caps these days.
 He's come a long way from the day when I was watching a match on tv and he looked at it and shouted " Hey- there's two guys running! At the same time!"

Tuesday, 16 April 2013

Dear BlackCaps

While you are all sequestered away in training for your upcoming tour to the UK, I have been reflecting on the NZ Summer and thinking about what’s to come.

First and foremost, thank you. Thank you for restoring the hope of all us BlackCaps fans.
We started the summer knowing that our favourite team had been rolled by South Africa for just 45 runs in only 19.2 overs. There were many that said that we should just give up on International Tests altogether as we were embarrassingly uncompetitive. That was in January. Fast forward to March. What a difference 62 days made!

I think I speak for all the supporters when I say that all we wanted was to see you put up a decent fight, and not capitulate. Honestly, a lot of supporters expected you to lose badly to England. A bit of a Fire in Babylon type battle would have been great, but just a good stoush was what we needed to see.

Well, we were in for an unexpectedly good show. Top of my mind is that opening stand in Dunedin with 2 Metre Peter and Hamish Rutherford. Hamish had that phenomenal Test debut with 171 runs. And it was a beautiful innings to watch- really top quality cricket shots and, even better, a display of guts and courage. Jimmy Anderson did his best to rattle them with his bodyline bowling. Hamish took a number of shots to the body, and we didn’t even see him wince. He just stared back at Anderson, showing no emotion at all. The bruises on his arm just kept getting bigger. Anderson got stroppier and stroppier. That was 1-0 to our Hamish.

And 2 Metre Peter, bless him. I don’t think anyone expected him to turn into the giant that he became. He was unflappable, doggedly determined at the crease. I heard a story that when Anderson was giving him some lip, he just eyeballed him and quietly said “look at the scoreboard mate”.

By the second test, I am sure that the BlackCaps support had increased tenfold. All the nay sayers who were calling you the ‘BlackCraps’ had gone quiet. All the talk at Saturday junior cricket was about whether we could dare to hope and dream of a BlackCaps Test victory against the POMS.
It’s a shame the weather had to intervene and rescue the English, because we had seen some real signs that the BlackCaps had fire in their bellies and a real desire to win.

So, onto Auckland and the final test, where weather was not going to play a role. I met some of you BlackCaps on a rest day before the Test and I recall being surprised at how relaxed you all were. I talked about the Test series with Kane Williamson & Dean Brownlie and I told them that you’d already given us more hope than we believed possible. I also said that we just wanted to see you all stand up to the English, and do us proud. At this point I did also confess that I would do anything to follow the BlackCaps to the UK in May so that I could be in the stands waving my BlackCaps flag and with my ‘Bucko Rocks’ banner, to which Kane laughed!

I don’t think any of us New Zealanders expected half of what we got at the Auckland Test. Beefy Botham said it would all be over after three days and he would be going fly fishing again with his spare time. No chance mate.

We saw our newest hero 2 Metre Peter get back to back centuries, and we saw the BlackCaps fighting right down to the very last over on the 5th day.  I took my boys out of school to watch the final day of that Test because I wanted them to have a real life lesson in courage, tenacity and sheer bloody determination. Plus I wanted them to be there when we won!

The image of that attacking field where McCullum had seven fielders around the batsman is something I won’t forget for a long time. It felt like the 1980s, like we were playing Australia in the golden days of NZ cricket! We were attacking, aggressive and on fire!

Due to some batting brilliance from Prior, we were sadly denied the opportunity to win it. But, you BlackCaps won our hearts, and you know what? I think we’ll keep you there for a long time to come.

Just keep on doing what you did. Go to England, heads high and do us all proud. We’ll be watching.

Love from Ruth, on behalf of all your supporters.

Tuesday, 5 March 2013

Testing times

Leading into the first test against England at Dunedin, we find our BlackCaps with unwanted media attention again.
  This time it's all about Dougie Bracewell. Because he's a bad sort anyway- right? Must be, with the kind of background he's come from. And he's got tattoos. Definitely something there. For sure.
We heard through the media that the neighbours have had to call noise control out before for Dougie and his flatmates. Then there's the reminders about how rugged Dougie's dad was when he was playing cricket. So, it must be in the genes.
So was he at the party? Was he drinking? How did he cut his foot? How bad was the cut? Was he doing something foolish to get his foot cut in the first place? You know what? I don't actually care. Whatever did, or didn't happen, I just hope he gets well soon so he's up for selection for the next test. In the meantime, there's an opportunity there for someone else to have a crack at the English batting line up.

On the other hand, why do we all care what did or didn't happen there? Is it because the media feeds us this stuff to sell papers? Is it because we expect our top sportsmen to behave like prefects 100% of the time. And when they don't, we as a nation are entitled to come down hard on them? Is it because we all delight in schadenfreude and are just waiting for the chance to say 'ha! I always knew it!'
And sure as eggs, situations like this fire up the TalkBack radio. Reason enough for me to not listen to TalkBack. So let's have a go at the guy online, in the papers and on the radio. And as for the smug reporting on TV One, that was a complete waste of time. There was nothing but supposition and rumour, and snide comments along the lines of  'here we go again-surprise, surprise.'

No-one in the media seemed to have any facts. In fact it appeared that without the facts, the reporting was bound to be creative. Perhaps there is a lesson to be learned right there?

I just want to enjoy the tests. It's England, here at our place for goodness sake! Can't we just sit back and watch some proper cricket against our old foes, and in our own time zone at long last?

Sunday, 24 February 2013

When will they learn?

Not so long ago, I wrote a piece about my experiences as a spectator at Eden Park during the HRV Cup. The general gist was there were things that could improve, and the Eden Park Security was right up there on that list. Since that blog, I've been along to the T20 against England and the ODI. Have things improved? Have they heck. I think they've actually worsened. And the biggest kick in the guts is NZ Cricket being quoted in the NZ Herald as being "happy with the level of security".

Let's start at the beginning. It's all about Customer Experience. It's about putting on a fantastic cricket match where all different kinds of people want to come along and enjoy live sport. It's about making those people feel welcome at our place, especially those who have travelled from afar to be here. It's about having suitable facilities, and amenities to make the experience comfortable and enjoyable. And, if they're smart, it's about making those people want to put their hands back into their pockets and come back again, bringing friends and family with them.

To put this into context, I went along to the ODI at Eden Park by myself. At first I wondered how safe I would be, a single chick alone at the cricket, and walking all the way back to the car in the dark afterwards. But, it was either go alone, or stay home and watch it on tv. Watching it on tv? Big fat yawn.
 In all honesty, I felt perfectly safe the entire time I was there. Yes there were drunk people to my left and to my right (hell, I was probably one of them for a while there), but nobody was abusive or offensive. Some of them started a Mexican Wave every now and then, and what fun! It's not like Eden Park used to be when I was a kid and we sat in the sun and every time a Mexican Wave went round you got pelted with debris. The debris was non existent. It was just 18000 people bonding over a shared love and enjoyment for live sport and for having a good time.

I love to see the crowd getting involved in the atmosphere- there were so many funny things to watch. These customers were clearly having a good experience. I love seeing all the different banners and always marvel at what people come up with. My favourite was 'BJ or Root?' It disappeared during the match and I heard someone say it had been confiscated by the Fun Police. The banana guys were also hilarious, as were the afro wigged dudes sitting in front of them. Then there were hippos, bunny rabbits and pigs. They must have been absolutely cooking in those outfits as it was a brilliantly fine day.  Luckily for them they were evicted early from the ground by the Fun Police, so they wouldn't have cooked for too long.

 Then there was the beach ball. Now, these things are known to be terribly dangerous. So dangerous you wouldn't want your kid playing with one on a beach. And as for a bunch of adults having fun with one at a live sports venue, well that's just asking for trouble. So no wonder the Fun Police had to confiscate it. Stop having fun people!!   The fact that the entire stadium joined in chanting "Give us the ball back!" should have been a signal that the Customer Experience was being seriously negatively impacted. Thank goodness for Tim Southee who was fielding right in front of this area and returned the ball to the spectators. My personal hope is that he sledged the Fun Police while he was at it....

Now if the stadium was at capacity, and resources were being impacted, I could understand the zeal with which the Fun Police went about their work. But it wasn't. There were about 18000 people in the house, 15000 of them had paid to be there. You can see from the picture that there was plenty of space for everybody. And yet, I counted 10 Security Guards and 6 Police Officers in that East stand.  We have heard that there were no arrests, but 87 people were removed from the stadium. Well of course there were no arrests! The Police are not going to go through with an arrest for "enjoying yourself too much" !

I've been at Eden Park during All Blacks tests when the stadium is full to bursting. Granted, a rugby match doesn't take 8 hours like an ODI, but the security is never quite so over zealous as we have been seeing during HRV, T20i and the ODI. We have the Auckland Test coming up. That is (presumably) five whole days of cricket. How will the Fun Police manage that?

I know the  players want and deserve the support of the public and they love a good crowd roaring in the stadium. It inspires them to do more, hearing the support from their fans.
 If NZ Cricket want to get more people along to the stadium, paying money to watch the match and support our beloved BlackCaps, then they need to think long and hard about what kind of  Customer Experience they want to provide. It's up to them to make it happen.

Tuesday, 1 January 2013

Friday nights under lights- it's about Customer Experience.

So NZ Cricket had this great idea of bringing T20 cricket to the people by creating a Friday night competition so more people could get along and get involved. For Auckland that meant going along to the hallowed turf of Eden Park, home of the Rugby World Cup 2011. The stadium that holds 45,000 baying All Blacks fans during a Bledisloe Test. The same stadium that is to host the Auckland Aces in their domestic T20 competition.
Friday Night Under Lights at Eden Park

I've been to both games under lights at Eden Park so far, because I never thought about not going. Eden Park is certainly a beautiful setting on a sultry summers evening as the sun sets behind the West Stand. But if it's atmosphere you're looking for, there's a diluted amount, and it doesn't compare to the good old days at Colin Maiden. The crowds have been around the 5000 mark for the two games. Driven there no doubt by Auckland Cricket's policy of handing out free match family passes to anyone and everyone who looks like they might take a passing interest. You can understand their motive. This is about bums on seats, not about revenue.

When you consider that T20 is perfect for families, the shorter game, lots of action, a chance for the kids to see their sporting heroes up close, and maybe even get a photo with them, then the domestic T20 should have a great future. It should also be doing great things for grassroots cricket in NZ with all the junior cricketers taking along their own bat and ball , keen to have a bash themselves before meeting their heroes at the end.
 Unfortunately, the  reality is that the kids have to sit down during the match. They can't even have too much fun waving to the cameras at the front of the West Stadium, lest the Eden park bouncers send them back to their seats for enjoying themselves. That's what I witnessed last Friday night.
 Granted, they can go and play on the Outer Oval until 0830pm. But this only works for older kids. Not all parents would be happy with their young kids finding their way to and from their seats in the main stadium and across to the Outer Oval.

 And as for meeting their heroes and having  a photo with them at the end of the match. Forget it.
 Last season, there were always autograph bats, hats, 4 & 6 signs being handed out and the kids all lined up at the end of the game to meet the teams who were set up at tables, ready to sign anything and smile for anyone. My boys were thrilled to meet players from all teams who graciously posed for pictures with them.
The Good Old Days of HRV Cup

Now, if you're lucky, a few players may come out to the Western end of the South Stand at the end of the match. But you stay in the stand, the players stay in the Boundary area. Lest the Eden Park bouncers catch you trying to get too close. We even got told it was time to go home by the bouncers at the last  match. The players were still signing autographs just below us, yet we were hurried on our way.

NZ Cricket could learn from the NZRFU. We went to ITM cup games at Eden Park where every child was handed a goody bag full of posters, flags, stickers and the like. Then at the end of the match, they opened up a small section of roped off grass where the kids could line up and have photos and autographs with their rugby heroes. And that gesture made the kids want to keep coming back for more ITM Cup games.

I don't think any of this is the players fault. They have to go where they are told, and they do their best with what they are given.  It's about someone at New Zealand Cricket taking a long hard look at the fundamentals. Who are they trying to attract to the game, and what facilities should they provide for them? In its basic form, it's about Customer Experience. Funnily enough that's the stuff I earn my living consulting in. What is the desired Customer Experience, what expectations do the customers have, and how could you meet or exceed those expectations? It's not rocket science.

So the third HRV Cup match is on this Friday under lights at Eden Park. We will be there of course. But it does feel like having takeaway fish and chips rather than the meal from Depot that I really wanted. I wouldn't want to go through that every week, but once now and again it's ok.
Look out for me, I'll be there waving a banner and cheering for the Aces, and probably giving those Eden Park bouncers something to think about!