Musings from Beyond the Boundary – 4 March

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

What a pleasure to see the Plunket Shield resume and to return to the fascination of the longer game after three months of limited overs affairs.

And what a good resumption it was for the Aces as they saw off Northern Districts by a comfortable 140 runs.  Auckland made the play from the first day when Glenn Phillips’ 93 led the way to a solid first innings of 339. Returning four-day skipper Michael Guptill-Bunce, Sean Solia and Ben Horne all helped with half centuries of their own, in spite of James Baker’s six wicket haul for the visitors.

Another back on duty after the white ball interlude was Matt McEwan, and after Jamie Brown had got his first class career under way with the first two wickets of the innings, it was McEwan who ripped the heart out of the Northern Districts middle order. Any hat-trick is impressive, but one comprising Dean Brownlie, BJ Watling and Daryl Mitchell is about as good as it gets in local domestic cricket.

It was remarkable that this hat-trick came within an hour of Logan van Beek’s matching achievement for Wellington against Canterbury, the first time in New Zealand first class cricket that two hat-tricks have been claimed on the same day.

McEwan finished with five wickets, and Northern Districts only made it to 237 thanks to an aggressive 78 from Tim Seifert.

Solia followed up his first innings 56 with 45 to make it a useful double for the match, and a valuable eighth wicket partnership of 47 between Horne and McEwan enabled Auckland to set a fourth innings target of 302.

Northern never looked likely, and only BJ Watling got past 25 as wickets fell steadily to the medium-fast attack. Ben Lister and Matt McEwan finished with four apiece while Brown added another pair to the double he’d snared in the first innings, a promising start for him. Again his wickets were big ones – Brownlie and Seifert – and he’ll take confidence from his promising debut.

The other two games in the round saw victories to Central Districts and to Wellington, so the Aces remain in third spot in the competition, but leaders Wellington are only 18 points in front, so still within overhauling distance.

Mind you, Wellington also enjoyed their return to the first class game with a 10 wicket win over struggling Canterbury. Honours were even after a low-scoring first innings which saw just 10 runs separating the two sides, but then Canterbury slumped to 53 all out in just 18.4 overs. Van Beek’s hat-trick helped him to a five wicket haul while Iain McPeake made it ten for the match with his own five wicket bag.

Michael Papps and Luke Woodcock chased down the 44 runs needed for victory in just seven overs and two balls and the game was over before tea on the second day.

It is of concern is that Hagley Oval should produce such a low-scoring match, dominated by the seamers, just a week out from ODIs there for both the Black Caps and the White Ferns.

Central Districts had to work much harder for their win over Otago. A 101 run sixth wicket partnership between Derek de Boorder and Jimmy Neesham helped the southerners recover from 105/5 and ultimately reach 289 in their first innings, with Seth Rance taking five wickets and Doug Bracewell four.

Neil Wagner (5/45) and Mark Craig (4/43) returned the favour as the Stags conceded a 101 run lead but Otago wasn’t able to take advantage of their position quite as they’d have liked. This time it was Ajaz Patel with the five wickets and Central’s target was 264.

That they got there for the loss of just three wickets was due to an imposing unbeaten 134 from Nelson batsman Greg Hay. Hay batted well over 6 hours and faced 289 balls in completing his tenth first class century since his debut back in the 2006/07 season (when he scored an unbeaten 98 in his first innings at this level).

The 33 year-old averages over 42 in his 63 first class matches and already this season he has two hundreds and another four half-centuries to his name – another unsung hero of the domestic first class game.

Meanwhile at international level it’s been a week of cliff-hangers and hundreds. At Hamilton it was Taylor’s turn to extend his impressive record, with his 18th ODI hundred lifting his average in the format above 45. Then it was Mitchell Santner’s heroics at the end which got New Zealand home with four balls to spare.

England were well and truly the better side in the second match at Mt Maunganui, in spite of another impressive innings by Santner who made an unbeaten 63.

Then in Wellington it looked for all the world as if Kane Williamson and Santner would pull New Zealand out of the fire and put them in front in the series until the desperately unlucky run out which split the partnership. Williamson went on to his 11th hundred (he averages just over 47 in this format) but couldn’t get his side over the line in the last over, as England triumphed by just four runs.

As if we needed any reminding of Williamson’s class, in the course of his innings he became the fifth fastest in the history of ODI cricket to reach 5,000 runs.

The worry has been the erratic and unsuccessful batting from the rest of the New Zealand line-up, a failing underlined in Wellington as the captain watched from the other end as four wickets fell for six runs between the 21st and 25th overs. Apart from Williamson, Taylor and Santner, only Latham and Guptill have passed fifty in any game, and then only once each. Add in Munro’s 49 in Wellington after scores of 3 and 1 in the first two matches and that has been about it in terms of innings of substance.

Unfortunately Mark Chapman didn’t seize the opportunity presented to him by the injuries to Williamson and Taylor and he hasn’t looked comfortable in his first two outings. He is a class player though and he will have learned from the experience. And coming in at number three against a very good English attack with the score 6/1 is not the sort of start he would probably have chosen.

Poor Henry Nicholls has had a horror run and in his last four 50 over innings, stretching back to Canterbury’s loss to the Aces in the Ford Trophy Elimination Final, he has managed just one run.

Colin de Grandhomme made an important 38 at Mt Maunganui, but failed when he was needed in both Hamilton and Wellington, although his bowling was crucial in that third match.

So work to do for the Black Caps if they are to win the final two matches and take the series.

The White Ferns also survived a nail-biter, winning their first ODI against the West Indies at Lincoln by just one run. Off-spinner Leigh Kasperek was entrusted with the last over, with the West Indies requiring 11 to win. Number 11 Shamilia Connell faced the last ball needing to hit a boundary, but she managed just two and New Zealand had gone one-up in the three match series.

Earlier in the match the experienced Sophie Devine had led the way for New Zealand, scoring her third ODI hundred off just 99 balls and guiding New Zealand to 278/9. She had been helped along the way by Suzie Bates who made 44 in a 76-run first wicket partnership, but the next best score was Amy Satterthwaite’s 27.

Like the Black Caps it would appear there is work to be done with the batting before the next match on Thursday, a day after the men battle England again in Dunedin. Meanwhile on Friday the Aces are back on the Outer Oval and up against the second-placed Stags. It’s an encounter they can’t afford to lose if the Plunket Shield  is to stay within reach.