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.