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!