Musings from beyond the boundary – 12 March

Musings from beyond the boundary – cricketing thoughts through the eyes of Trevor Auger, an Auckland Cricket Society and Supporters Club Member.

Perhaps the only positive to be taken from last week’s Auckland weather was that the rain didn’t start until Tuesday.

That left us Monday to enjoy a cracking first day of pink ball cricket under lights at Eden Park. The pity was that this interestingly-poised match wasn’t able to resume until a bleak and blustery final day, when any chance of something other than a manufactured result was out of the question. And given Canterbury’s position firmly at the top of the table, a game of forfeits and declarations was never going to happen.

Auckland would have been looking at a different outcome when they had Canterbury reeling at 25/4 inside the first hour of the match, with the pink ball swinging about and the home team enjoying having Lockie Ferguson and Mitch McClenaghan back in the fold. They were superbly supported by the reliable Donovan Grobbelaar, and Colin Munro whose out-swingers did for both Peter Fulton and Cole McConchie in this opening salvo.

That was the end of the fireworks for a while, although the competitive streaks of both Munro and Canterbury captain Andrew Ellis showed up as Ellis deposited the aggressive Aucklander in to the North Stand for six.  One of the features of an empty Eden Park is that the sound of voices on the field can carry clearly to the stands…

Ellis played a very good innings, mixing watchfulness with his accustomed aggression.  At the other end he was earnestly supported by 22 year-old Ken McClure, no stranger to gritty batting survival. His innings certainly wasn’t pretty, but it was determined, very patient and ultimately very effective.

At Seddon Park, Greg Hay was out for 92, as Ellis was matched almost run for run in the hunt for the hundred by his former teammate Michael Papps, opening the batting for Wellington at Westpac Stadium.

At the dinner break Ellis was on 89, and slightly ahead of the Wellingtonian, but Papps started with a flourish after the interval and reached three figures, and the distinction of New Zealand’s first pink ball century, just minutes ahead of the Canterbury skipper.

Shortly after, Ellis departed, having set with McClure a new 5th wicket record for his side against Auckland.

McClure endured as the new ball arrived. Until then, batting had looked to be getting easier and easier as the day and then evening progressed, but now the balance tipped toward the bowlers as the ball started beating the bat and moving about as it had at the start of the day.

Munro, taking the new ball in tandem with Ferguson, finally trapped the obdurate Cantabrian in front for a hard-earned 92 from 259 deliveries.  McClure was in his fourteenth match for Canterbury and he averages over 44. One suspects he will go on to play an important role in a middle order which must soon farewell stalwarts like Fulton and Ellis.

A quick finish to the innings at this point would have left Auckland in a strong position, but Tim Johnston brought out the long handle and his lusty 43 off 28 balls steered Canterbury past 300 before his dismissal shortly before stumps.

It was Thursday before play resumed , and after Canterbury’s declaration the home team batted through the shortened day to eke out a small first innings lead, thanks mainly to a 119-run 6th wicket stand between Rob Nicol and Ben Horne.  Nicol made 89, continuing a solid season which sees him sitting in 7th position in the Plunket Shield aggregates at present, while Horne, in just his second first class match, made 93.

Horne has had an excellent start to his first class career, scoring 10 not out and 44 not out in his first match.  On Monday he had taken four catches and showed athleticism and agility behind the stumps, if also a rather unorthodox technique; suffice to say he does not come from the Bob Taylor school of wicket-keeping. Now he fell just seven runs short of adding to the family tally of 29 first class hundreds (five to father Phil and 24 to uncle Matt) – one suspects there will be more to come.

The 23 year-old Horne is nothing if not versatile. His slow left arm bowling in the 2012 Under-19 World Cup saw him top the New Zealand averages, in a tournament where this week’s Canterbury ‘keeper Cam Fletcher had the gloves. And speaking of versatility, Auckland’s limited overs wicket-keeper this season, Glenn  Phillips, made his first class debut in the Canterbury match – unburdened by the gloves he bowled a couple of  overs of spin before the dinner break on the first day.

Congratulations are due to Auckland Cricket for their initiative in opening the South Stand’s Level Four Lounge to spectators for this match.  There are few better spots to watch cricket at Eden Park, and the comfortable surroundings, the well-catered facilities available and the amiable crowd made for a very pleasant Monday evening.

There is also something aesthetically special about cricketers in white playing beneath clear skies and a bright moon on a perfectly manicured green sward illuminated by the floodlights. And that pink ball is much easier to see from the stands, day and night, than the traditional red.

This may have been an abbreviated experiment because of the weather, but on the basis of what we saw on an idyllic Monday evening it was a successful experiment all the same.

Meanwhile it appears the rain is going to have the final say in an absorbing First Test as well. The first four days have suggested again that these are two competitively-matched sides, but nevertheless the New Zealand selectors have some thinking to do before the final XI takes the field for the Second Test in Wellington on Thursday morning. What we all know is that Ross Taylor will be sorely missed.