Musings from beyond the boundary

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

So the first major trophy of the year is decided, with the McDonald’s Super Smash going the way of the Wellington Firebirds in a fascinating duel in New Plymouth.
This was a real comeback victory for the Firebirds who had lost their first four games and jettisoned their overseas players before back-to-back wins over the Aces pulled their campaign back into line. However not to let a good story stand in the way of the facts, it should be added that of those four early losses, one was in a super over, and none was by more than nine runs, so the Firebirds had certainly not been uncompetitive at any stage.

The Wellingtonians also put paid to the story that T20 is a young man’s game. Six of the victorious eleven in Saturday’s final had seen their 34th birthday, and only Matthew Taylor was under 25. It was their experience that ultimately made the difference in the Final, as with bat and ball several of the veterans stood up and delivered the telling contributions against a Stags side who had been the competition front-runners after the Aces lost momentum before Christmas.

This season’s Super Smash proved an excellent competition, not just because of its fairy tale finish. The December/January timing was a big improvement from the perspective of player and spectator comfort and the good crowds (particularly over the holiday period) proved the appeal of this form of the game, even in the absence of the Black Caps. A sell-out Final in the spectacular but intimate surroundings of Pukekura Park was perfect, both for the Taranaki supporters and for the television audience. There must be few better places in the world to watch cricket.
It was a close competition as well, not just for having three sides jostling for two semi-final spots late into the last day of round robin play. Two games were decided in a super over, 12 more were won by 12 runs or fewer, and another was won by just three wickets – so exciting, entertaining cricket and some outstanding individual performances.

Overseas players made a mixed contribution with the best results coming from those who were there for the long haul, all or most of the competition, and who seemed willing and able to embed themselves in their team and make a personal and professional contribution beyond their on-field specialty. In that bracket I place both the Aces’ Tymal Mills and the Stags’ Mahela Jayawardene. The sight on-screen of a despondent Jayawardene, still sitting in the Stags tent with his pads on long after his first ball dismissal in the Final, emphasised just how seriously he took his role in the side.

The burning question for New Zealand Cricket and the major associations is how to capitalise further on domestic T20 cricket, given that this country doesn’t have the resources to compete with something on the scale of the Big Bash. What it has delivered this summer is highly competitive, attractive, low-cost family entertainment, which has thrust several well-performed young players into the selectors’ gaze. Perhaps that is the role of this format for the next couple of seasons at least.

Still, I can’t help wondering about the possibilities when I read of Sussex’s County Ground at Hove in the south of England – with a capacity of 5,750, the county makes £100,000 per T20 match…
The more mature members of the Firebirds weren’t the only veterans to have a good week. Caps off to Younis Khan for his unbeaten 175 at Sydney. While Azhar Ali was the Pakistani batting star of the tour, with 406 runs at 81.2 across the three tests, Younis yet again showed his class, after such a disappointing time in New Zealand in November.

Younis is rarely mentioned when the modern greats are being discussed, but the company he keeps as he moves into fifth spot amongst the highest innings at the SCG perhaps reflects his true standing in the game. Brian Lara, Sachin Tendulkar, Neil Harvey and Greg Chappell are the names ahead of him, and Sir Garry Sobers is one place below – esteemed company.
Looking at his test record, he has scored 9,977 runs at an average of 53.06, with 34 centuries and 32 fifties. His highest score is 313 and there have been five other double-centuries. Throw in innings of 194 and 199 in the same series against India in 2006, and four other scores in the 170s, and you see the appetite this man has for runs. He started his test career with a hundred in his first test in 2000 and bear in mind that he has not been able to play a test match at home since 2009. A test career that bears comparison with the very best.

Back home, another win for the Black Caps as the Bangladesh tour moved on to the Bay of Plenty, and what a hundred from Colin Munro. I wrote last week of how easy Colin de Grandhomme makes six-hitting look. There is no such artifice about Munro – his game is all about power and the Bangladesh bowlers bore the brunt of it in the second T20. The result was a spectacular century which set up the match for New Zealand and thoroughly entertained an excellent Bay Oval crowd.

On the domestic front we move back to 50-over format this week with the Ford Trophy getting under way this Sunday. At Eden Park Northern Districts will be the Aces’ first opponent – should be an entertaining day on the Outer Oval…