Musings from beyond the boundary – cricketing thoughts through the eyes of Trevor Auger, an Auckland Cricket Society and Supporters Club Member.
The weather may be wintery but there’s been plenty of cricket interest over the past few days to remind us that the new season is fast approaching.
First came the news that the contract negotiations for the men had been successfully concluded, with both David White and Heath Mills remarking on the constructive and collaborative course which the discussions had taken – a very positive outcome given the acrimony across the Tasman last year as Cricket Australia went through the same exercise.
Now the focus moves to the women’s contracts: in an era where income equality is in the spotlight daily, and with the profile of the White Ferns and of the women’s game in general growing almost exponentially, these will be intriguing conversations.
As had been signalled last year, one of the outcomes of the negotiation process is that the Plunket Shield is being shortened from ten rounds to eight, while the Ford Trophy expands to ten rounds, from eight. In a World Cup year the focus on the fifty-over format is understandable (although with the national side’s heavy schedule it is debatable whether the likely World Cup squad will see too much domestic limited over action), but any reduction in first class cricket is always disappointing. It seems an expanded New Zealand A schedule may help fill the gap.
All the same, eight rounds makes for a far more satisfactory Plunket Shield competition than the idea of halving the games to just a single series of five matches, as had been mooted at one stage.
A couple of days after this flurry of announcements came the naming of the Black Caps and New Zealand A teams shortly to tour the United Arab Emirates. Pity the travel agents and the team management having to look after the logistics of this exercise, with players coming and going almost non-stop as they interchange between teams and formats.
I hadn’t counted, but the ‘New Zealand Herald’ tells us that 33 players have been named across all the squads, quite remarkable for a country with just six Major Associations feeding into the national side.
For all that there are no real surprises. Ajaz Patel deserves his chance through sheer weight of wickets and a temperament tested across all formats. Blair Tickner steps up to the New Zealand A side after an outstanding summer for the Stags in the shorter forms – we saw how dangerous his bowling was when Central Districts put paid to the Aces chances in the Burger King Super Smash on a damp Eden Park evening last summer.
He is another to add to the production line for seam bowlers which Central Districts seems to have cobbled together – Adam Milne and Seth Rance also made one or other of the touring squads, while this time round Ben Wheeler and Doug Bracewell missed the cut. They had played for the Black Caps last summer.
Meanwhile there has been plenty happening on the field as well, particularly for the New Zealanders in action in England.
Top of the headlines for the week is Auckland’s own Martin Guptill, who played an astonishing innings of 102 for Worcestershire to guide them to a nine wicket T20 win over Northamptonshire. Guptill reached three figures in just 35 balls, the equal fourth fastest T20 hundred, and he was out to the first ball of the innings’ 11th over, concluding an opening partnership of 162. Worcestershire chased down Northamptonshire’s 187/9 in 13.1 overs, with Guptill the only casualty.
In other Vitality Blast action, Colin Munro has continued his good form for Hampshire with 38 off 17 balls in a tied match with Essex and then 58 off 28 balls against Middlesex, also chipping in with 1/24 from 3 overs.
Good to see former Ace Matt Quinn back in action for Essex after being away from the top side for more than a year following a season-ending injury in 2017. In that match against Hampshire he and Neil Wagner picked up a wicket apiece, while in this week’s practice match against India he’ll have been delighted to have bowled opener Shikhar Dhawan for a third ball duck.
For Yorkshire, Kane Williamson shrugged off a sluggish start to his English campaign with a 30-ball 49 against the Birmingham Bears, before falling to the bowling of Grant Elliott. He’d done enough to help his side to victory, in spite of a late unbeaten 38 off 19 balls by Colin de Grandhomme as the Bears pressed unsuccessfully to reach their target.
A few days earlier, in a round of County Championship matches which popped up in the midst of the T20 competition, Williamson had endured the least fruitful match of his first class career, falling for 0 and 1 and facing just five balls in the game.
In the first innings he fell first ball, in the middle of an extraordinary hat-trick by Lancashire all-rounder Jordan Clark – Clark’s three victims were Joe Root, Kane Williamson and Jonny Bairstow. Clark, who has 41 first class matches under his belt, ended the innings with five wickets for the first time in his career. He is only the second Lancashire bowler to nab three in a row against Yorkshire since 1890.
Yorkshire did go on to win the match – Lancashire were 190/5 chasing 323 when Williamson caught Jos Buttler for 59 off the bowling of Joe Root, starting a collapse which saw the team from Old Trafford slump to 204 all out, thanks in large part to Joe Root’s 7.4 over spell which delivered four wickets for five runs.
In contrast to Williamson’s struggle to get under way, Tom Latham continued his fine run of form for Durham. After such consistency in the T20 competition he translated his form back into the four day game batting right through Durham’s first innings against Gloucestershire before being last out for 147, out of a total of 275. Kieran Noema-Barnett, having dismissed Ben Stokes, then contributed a telling unbeaten 69 in Gloucestershire’s second innings, and although Latham added another 45 in his second turn at bat, it wasn’t enough to stop his side going down by 41 runs.
The women’s T20 competition, the Kia Super League, has also just got under way, with a healthy smattering of Kiwis around the six sides in the tournament. Sophie Devine is with the Loughborough Lightning and she has already had returns of 3/15 against the Lancashire Thunder and 3/21 against the Southern Vipers. One of her victims in that second performance was Suzie Bates, who has yet to hit her straps with the bat. Ultimately the Loughborough team made it two wins in a row, in spite of a remarkable four over spell for the Vipers from Amelia Kerr, who took 1/6.
The Lancashire Thunder came back from their initial loss to beat the Yorkshire Diamonds, helped along by Amy Satterthwaite who scored an impressive 57 not out from 34 balls, combining with 19 year old Ellie Threlkeld in an unbeaten 109 run fifth wicket partnership. Threlkeld, the Thunder’s wicket-keeper, then went on to secure four stumpings, to seal the Yorkshire side’s fate.