Musings from beyond the boundary – 2 April

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

So close, but yet so far.

That could be the story of the Aces’ season. In both the McDonalds Super Smash and the Ford Trophy the side entered the last round with an outside chance of making the play-offs only for the results not to go their way. In the Plunket Shield, the title was within clutching distance.

Wellington played their part by defeating the front-runners, Canterbury, on an exciting final afternoon of the competition. But despite Anaru Kitchen’s maiden double-century in Dunedin, Northern Districts chased down an imposing 347-run target to win by three wickets.  That meant that for Auckland a win would retain the Plunket Shield, a loss would see the Aces come home third.

And that was how it turned out. The Central Stags, not for the first time this season, proved the Aces’ nemesis as they successfully scored the 301 runs they needed for victory for the loss of seven wickets. It was George Worker’s 130 which proved the telling factor, after an aggressive batting display by the Aces had set up the final day’s run chase.  Auckland’s loss was Canterbury’s gain, and the Plunket Shield heads to Hagley Oval for the third time in four years.

The Aces will be disappointed not to have finished the season on a winning note, but they can look forward to next year with optimism.  This year was a very challenging one – Jeet Raval and Colin de Grandhomme played a very limited part following their elevation to international honours, and they had been key contributors in 2015-16.  Colin Munro and Lockie Ferguson made a huge impact when they were available, but they also missed games through international commitments and injury. Mitch McClenaghan missed a big part of the season through injury as well, while Martin Guptill’s always limited opportunities were curtailed even further by his hamstring issues.

To be absent so many players of real quality would have placed a burden on any side but the Aces took the challenge head-on. The senior players filled their roles splendidly. Skipper Rob Nicol scored 663 runs, his highest Plunket Shield tally since 2002-03, when he scored just one run more. Tarun Nethula’s 43 wickets made for his best season’s tally to date, and he was just one victim short of leading the Plunket Shield wicket-takers’ table.

Colin Munro, who finished the season with twin fifties at quickfire pace and five wickets in the match, made a massive contribution with the bat, and latterly the ball as well. His 685 runs came in just six matches at an average of 85.6, while his 11 wickets cost a miserly 17.6. Michael Guptill-Bunce, who had scored so heavily last season, passed 500 runs again this summer, adding another hundred, and four fifties to his career record.

The encouraging feature though was the development of the younger players in the side.  We’ve already mentioned Lockie Ferguson’s well-deserved call-up to the Black Caps, while Glenn Phillips, Sean Solia and Ben Horne all made huge strides as they enjoyed their initial foray into first class cricket. Raja Sandhu showed a capacity for taking big wickets, and real pluck as a lower-order batsman. Mark Chapman continued his promising development and the likes of Donovan Grobbelaar, Robbie O’Donnell, and, before Christmas, Brad Cachopa, all contributed.

To reinforce how bright the future looks, the men’s Under-19 and Under-17 teams, and the women’s Under-21 side all won their national competitions, so there is plenty of talent coming through to supplement the younger players who made such an impression this summer.

Glenn Phillips was the stand-out amongst the youthful brigade. Not many players make their international debut in any format without having a first class match under their belt, but Phillips emulated Dave Warner in achieving that feat when he was picked to open the batting for New Zealand in their T20 encounter against South Africa. First class honours quickly followed and he averaged 36.3 in his first four matches.  A hundred for Auckland in each format this season was a unique accomplishment.

Phillips deservedly took away the prize for the McDonalds Super Smash Player of the Year at the New Zealand Cricket Awards Dinner last Thursday evening. Next year will be very important in his development.

Also on stage at the Awards Dinner was Martin Guptill, as the Men’s ODI Player of the Year – while injuries blighted Guptill’s season, those two centuries at Sydney and then in Hamilton meant there was little contest for this honour.

As always the Awards Dinner was a very enjoyable occasion, celebrating a season where there was much success in both the men’s and women’s games. A rainy Wednesday in Hamilton may have dampened the celebrations of the summer, but putting aside the disappointment of that match, and that unfortunate Saturday in Wellington, there was plenty to savour in the international calendar.

The Awards themselves were fairly predictable, although Amy Satterthwaite must have mounted a significant challenge for the Sir Richard Hadlee Medal. Once Neil Wagner had deservedly taken the Test Player of the Year title, Kane Williamson, on the back of his magnificent innings in the Third Test, was an obvious choice for the big award, but Satterthwaite’s name must have been near the top of a short list.

For those familiar with Taranaki Cricket and the delights of Pukekura Park, it was a pleasure to see Neil Sulzberger receive the Bert Sutcliffe Medal for Outstanding Services to Cricket.  Taranaki Cricket has no finer ambassador, nor a warmer host.

Talking awards, congratulations to Takapuna on securing the Hedley Howarth Trophy for the second consecutive year after seeing off Parnell in the season’s finale, while the Tom Hellaby Trophy will be on the city side of the bridge over winter, in the Grafton clubrooms.

The end of the playing year inevitably brings its farewells, and 2017 is no exception. Auckland Cricket will not be quite the same when play recommences next October as Parnell will be taking the field without the retiring Tim McIntosh.

McIntosh made his debut for Auckland as a 19-year-old in March 1999 and he went on to play 131 First Class matches, averaging 34.1 and scoring 19 hundreds, the highest of which was 268 against Canterbury.  Included in that tally were two test match centuries, and he averaged 27.5 across his 17 tests. McIntosh has been a fine servant of the game for a very long time.