Musings from Beyond the Boundary – 25 June

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

The mid-winter solstice is behind us, another small milestone on the road to summer and the return of cricket to our shores.  Not that the last week has left us short of cricketing conversations – in a week dominated by the Lions Tour and the America’s Cup there has been plenty of cricketing news to keep us interested.

First up was Pakistan’s wonderful Champions Trophy victory, sealed so surprisingly with such an emphatic victory over India.  This was a team which the Indians had trounced in the opening round of the completion, a team that almost never gets to play at home, and a team without any of the cricketing ‘superstars’ who featured in almost all of the other seven line-ups.

They had lost that first match in almost humiliating fashion, before crafting a weather-affected win against South Africa. They snuck home against a competitive Sri Lanka and surprised everyone, maybe even themselves, with a crushing defeat of the hosts to make the final. And then it was a record-setting margin of victory in an ICC tournament, as the outsiders stormed home.

On paper it looks a little like their path to victory in the 1991-92 World Cup, when they’d been dismissed for 74 by England before losing consecutive matches to India and South Africa through the ‘round-robin’ stages. But the World Cup-winning XI could call on the leadership, experience and cricketing genius of the likes of Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and Wasim Akram.

In 2017 there was no such core to the side but a blend of good cricketers driven by immense pride, selfless passion and an uncompromising determination to rise above the difficulties their sport and their nation have confronted in recent times to make their mark on cricketing history.

In the end their victory was something of a fairy tale, and one which would have brought a smile to the face of cricket supporters all around the world (except perhaps in India). The rapturous welcome the players received on their return to Pakistan was heart-warming and the success must help a sport facing such unique challenges in the absence of local exposure to the international game. And of course we are left wondering whether opening batsman Fakhar Zaman will be the discovery of this tournament, as Inzamam-ul-Haq became after the 1991-92 World Cup.

A week later and the Women’s World Cup is under way with the White Ferns making an imposing statement with their first-up win over Sri Lanka.  The Sri Lankans had never beaten New Zealand previously, and had only once avoided being bowled out for under 150, so nerves would have been jangling in the White Ferns’ camp as their opponents cruised to 141/1 in the 36th over.

That’s when the wheels fell off, as Holly Huddleston’s return to the crease coincided with Sri Lanka losing eight wickets for 46, finishing at 188/9. Auckland’s Huddleston had finished her opening spell of three overs conceding 14 runs. Now she bowled seven overs on the trot, picking up 5/21 and the Player of the Match Award as well. It was her third ODI five-wicket haul.

Captain Suzie Bates then took over, scoring the tournament’s first century (and her eighth), and Amy Satterthwaite just picked up where she had left off following her phenomenal home season last summer, scoring an unbeaten 78 in the pair’s unbroken 170 run partnership to bring New Zealand home.

A mention too for 16 year old leg-spinner Amelia Kerr who picked up the first wicket to fall, a catch in the deep for Anna Peterson, and finished with 1/13 from five overs. As ESPNCricinfo so nicely put it, she is the only player in the competition who was born this millennium.

Just to show that the upsets haven’t finished with the Champions Trophy, England fell to India in the other game played on the first day of the tournament. New Zealand had comfortably beaten India in a warm-up match last week before being soundly defeated by the English side: the assertions that this is the most competitive Women’s World Cup yet are surely true.

Over the coming week New Zealand have two tough encounters, against South Africa on Wednesday and against Australia on Sunday – we’ll be watching with interest!

On the local scene, New Zealand Cricket announced the list of players invited to take up central contracts for the coming season, and Jeet Raval and Colin de Grandhomme join Martin Guptill, Colin Munro and Mitchell McClenaghan as the five Aucklanders on the 21-strong list.

There has been some comment that the opportunity had been missed to introduce some of the younger players to the fold, but it is worth remembering that the absence of a name from the contracted group certainly doesn’t preclude selection. Raval and de Grandhomme are a case in point, both being picked for the first home test of last summer and ultimately both becoming fixtures in the side through the season.

The names missing from last year include Mark Craig, who underwent significant back surgery late last season to address his injury problems, and also Luke Ronchi, who announced his retirement shortly before the list of contracted players was announced.

Last week this column discussed Ronchi’s One Day batting, in the light of some of the criticism he has received – his record, once he has navigated the start of his innings, proves to be very impressive.

Amongst all the tributes that have been paid over the week, his record-setting unbeaten 170 against Sri Lanka, part of a 267-run partnership with Grant Elliott, received most of the attention. I prefer to highlight Ronchi’s batting in the home series against South Africa played at the very start of that 2014-15 summer. The third match of the three match series was lost to the weather, and New Zealand were well-beaten in the first two games, but in those two matches at Mt Maunganui Ronchi scored 99 and 79 against an attack including Steyn, Morkel, Philander and Tahir.

Ronchi’s 178 runs in the two matches, was 133 runs better than the next best of his team-mates, Tom Latham, whose 29 and 16 gave him 45 for the series.

On top of his batting, and some very significant runs in his few test outings, Ronchi has been an excellent gloveman, and a superb tourist and team man. Touring as the reserve wicket-keeper is a tough job, knowing you are unlikely to see a lot of game time and yet being ready to fill the breach at any moment should injury or loss of form strike. Ronchi was a hard-working and popular member of the New Zealand team and his value to the side may have been sorely under-recognised.

Another to announce his retirement from international cricket this week was Jeetan Patel who returned to his Warwickshire side following the Champions Trophy only to fall to a big innings defeat by Essex.  It was a good match for Patel at an individual level though, as he took 4/138 in Essex’s 541/9 declared, and then scored 71 in Warwickhire’s first innings. Neil Wagner didn’t have a bad match either, with an unbeaten 24 in that big Essex total, followed by 2/95 and 1/18 with the ball.

On the international scene England and South Africa have resumed battle, while India are in the West Indies, minus coach Anil Kumble who resigned after comments from Indian captain Virat Kohli had seemingly made his position untenable.

In the Netherlands, a third match victory for the home side prevented a Zimbabwe white-wash in their ODI series. A familiar name in the Netherlands XI has been Canterbury all-rounder Logan van Beek (who moves to Wellington next season). Van Beek, the grandson of Sam Guillen who famously represented both West Indies and New Zealand, has had a good series, picking up a wicket in each game and scoring 64 not out and an unbeaten 31 in a losing cause in the first two encounters.

One final retirement noted this week was the news that Henry Blofeld will leave the commentary box for the last time at the end of the English summer. Blofeld’s idiosyncratic style did not win him universal favour, but few could argue with his love of the game. He was not only a distinctive and knowledgeable commentator, he was also a fine, and very entertaining, writer on the game.

Blofeld was a promising young cricketer, scoring a hundred at Lord’s for the English Public Schools as a sixteen year-old and he later represented Cambridge University, despite a serious bicycle accident while still at Eton.  The highlight of his brief first class career was another hundred at Lord’s, for Cambridge University against the MCC, but he enjoyed less success in the exam room and duly made the decision to join the working world.

There was some more Minor Counties cricket for Norfolk, but by the early 1960’s he had won the break which saw his media career begin…