Musings from Beyond the Boundary – 16 July

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

As winter threw its worst at us over the past week, it was timely to have a reminder of warmer days ahead. That came in the form of the first round of contract announcements from each of the Major Associations for the 2017-18 domestic season.

The Aces list should whet the appetite for the season ahead – remember that New Zealand representatives Guptill, Raval, de Grandhomme McClenaghan and Munro had already secured national contracts and that opened up spaces in the next tier. As a result Auckland has been able to proffer contracts to so many of the young players who made such an impact last season, names like Chapman, Fergusson, Horne, O’Donnell, Phillips and Solia. Throw in the experience of Tarun Nethula, Donovan Grobbelaar and Michael Guptill-Bunce, and the Aces will boast an imposing and very exciting line-up.

The new face in the group is Matt McEwan, who has come north from Wellington, after beginning his first class career with Canterbury in 2012. McEwan, the son of former test player and Canterbury stalwart Paul McEwan, is a right arm medium-fast bowler and a useful lower order batsman with three first class fifties to his name. In 26 matches he’s captured 82 wickets at an average a shade under 30. Last season he played six Plunket Shield matches, snaring 19 wickets at 26.7, and claiming a career best 6/81 against Central Districts in Napier.

The one big name missing from the Aces contract list is Rob Nicol.  Nicol moves to Otago this season, where he will be aiming to progress his coaching career as well as adding more maturity and experience to a batting line-up which has lost the skills of Michael Bracewell, who has joined Wellington.

Nicol leaves a big hole in the Aces line-up. Captain since taking over from Gareth Hopkins at the start of the 2014-15 season, he has won widespread respect for his man-management and leadership abilities, as he’s nurtured the young talent who have made such a contribution to the Auckland side.  None of that has been to the detriment of Nicol’s own on-field performance and last summer was one of his best with the bat, as he scored 663 Plunket Shield runs at an average of 39.

Throw in his canny off-spin bowling, particularly with the white ball, and the stature of Nicol’s contribution to the Auckland performance in recent seasons escalates further.  His parsimonious spells in the middle overs of several T20 games, often in tandem with Tarun Nethula or Mark Chapman, have often been the difference between winning and losing. He will be missed.

Shawn Hicks is another Aucklander on the move, also earning a contract with Otago, while Logan van Beek shifts from Canterbury to Wellington, where the evergreen Michael Papps will turn out for another season. By my reckoning he will be this season’s only player who made his first class debut last century, although his team-mate Jeetan Patel is not far off that, first turning out for Wellington in February 2000.

Another veteran, Brent Arnel, moves back to Northern Districts from Wellington and the experienced Michael Pollard moves from Wellington to Canterbury, where he looms as a capable replacement for the retired Peter Fulton.

Meanwhile on the other side of the world, New Zealanders have been seeing plenty of action in the NatWest T20 Blast.

The performance of the week came from Corey Anderson who was run out for 81 off 45 balls (with three fours and seven sixes) as Somerset just lost to Surrey.

For Kent, Adam Milne has had consecutive returns of 2/24, 2/28 and 2/33. For the first of those performances he operated in tandem with Jimmy Neesham who took 3/37, the Kiwis instrumental in helping Kent secure a seven-wicket victory over Essex.

Tim Southee took 2/23 for Middlesex against Surrey and then shrugged off consecutive first ball dismissals to score an unbeaten 64 off 32 balls in a losing cause against Hampshire. There were five sixes in that cameo, as Middlesex finished 29 runs short of Hampshire’s 189. Team-mate Brendon McCullum has yet to hit his straps, with scores of 9 and 10 this week, although the side’s third ‘Kiwi’, James Franklin, managed 23 against Surrey.

Mitchell Santner had a useful return of 21 runs and 2/30 with the ball as Worcestershire succumbed to Leicestershire, for whom Luke Ronchi scored 27.  Earlier in the week, in another Leicestershire victory, a last ball effort over Lancashire, Ronchi opened the innings with a quick-fire 17 off just 7 balls.

On the south coast, Ross Taylor, captaining Sussex, has been handy with scores of 17 and 27, but in spite of a 53-ball 101 by Luke Wright, Taylor’s side lost the first of those matches to Glamorgan and the second to Hampshire.

Auckland’s Colin de Grandhomme had a disappointing day out as Warwickshire lost to Northamptonshire, but Grant Elliott with 21 not out and 1/37, alongside Jeetan Patel’s 2/25, kept the Kiwi flag flying  for the Birmingham team.

There have been a couple of Division 2 County Championship games happening in the background as the intensity of the T20 action has picked up, and former Central Districts skipper Kieran Noema-Barnett returned impressive match figures of 27-8-53-5 in Gloucestershire’s drawn encounter with Worcestershire.

The disappointment of the week has been the White Ferns rather ignominious exit from the Women’s World Cup. An imposing 170-run partnership between Tammy Beaumont and century-maker Natalie Sciver made England’s mid-week victory look more comprehensive than it actually was. No other English batsman scored more than 11, as Amelia Kerr picked up another four-wicket haul. Hearts player Katie Perkins scored an unbeaten 43 after Suzie Bates had made 44 at the start of the New Zealanders’ unsuccessful chase.

That set-up a ‘must-win’ final round robin match against India, and sadly that was that: all out for 79, as India secured their biggest-ever World Cup win, 186 runs being the margin.

This is the first time that New Zealand has finished outside the top four at a Women’s World Cup, and let’s remember that the first of these tournaments was back in 1973, two years before the initial men’s event. This premature departure, following so closely upon the Black Caps’ early demise in the Champions Trophy, will provoke some head-scratching in the corridors of New Zealand Cricket.

There were some impressive performances: the bowling of Amelia Kerr and Hannah Rowe mark them out as special talents who could have a very big future in the game. Leigh Kasperek made an immediate impact on her return to the side. Holly Huddleston opened the tournament strongly but struggled to take wickets later in the competition.

With the bat, Rachel Priest (90) and Sophie Devine (93) played telling innings against the West Indies and Pakistan respectively, but across the competition only Suzie Bates made a three figure score, with her 104 against Sri Lanka. Apart from these three, only Amy Satterthwaite was able to play another innings of more than 60 during the tournament.

Against Australia, England and India, no White Fern scored more than Katie Perkins’ 52 against our neighbours from across the Tasman.  With the bat, the White Ferns struggled to take charge against the top sides, and this, alongside the remarkable advances being made by teams like South Africa and India, has seen New Zealand slip suddenly from the top table.

On a cheerier note, congratulations are due to umpire Kathy Cross. Hailing originally from Taumarunui, Cross became the first woman to stand in fifty ODIs when she took her place for the match between South Africa and Sri Lanka earlier in the week.