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.