Musings from Beyond the Boundary – 5 August

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

The international cricket schedule for the coming summer is out and there are very slender pickings for Auckland, with just a T20 against Sri Lanka and a Black Caps/White Ferns T20 double-header against India – on a Friday.  That’s 80 overs of Black Caps and 40 overs of White Ferns cricket in New Zealand’s biggest city this summer, and for the second season in a row we miss out on a One Day International.

Scheduling this time round carried some extra complexity, with the requirements of the Indian broadcasters around the timing of day/night matches to best suit their schedules and ratings. There was also the need to share some of the Sri Lanka and Bangladesh ODIs around the South Island venues missing out on India tour matches because of the absence of lights. But maybe one of those two ODIs against Sri Lanka at Bay Oval might just have been squeezed in to Eden Park.

The programme for this season does reinforce the need to address the conundrum around international cricket in Auckland. It is imperative for the future of the game in this country that its biggest New Zealand audience is exposed to all formats on a regular basis.

With much debate in the cricketing media about the future of the game, and clouds hanging over Test match cricket in particular, there is a fascinating article in the latest issue of ‘TIME’ magazine about the similar difficulties facing baseball in the United States. In fact one could almost change the word ‘baseball’ to ‘cricket’ throughout the article and it would reflect the position of our game.

The article, ‘Baseball’s Long Game’ by Susan Jacoby, reflects on the challenges baseball faces because of its 3 hour length, in an era of short attention spans and instant gratification just a ‘click’ away. Since 2000 the average age of those watching Major League Baseball games on television rose from 52 to 57.

The game’s administrators are working to reduce the time a game takes – but the average length of a nine-inning encounter this year has apparently come back only five minutes from last year’s record high of 3 hours 5 minutes.

Perhaps most concerning, for baseball, and for cricket, was the outcome of the author’s hundred-plus  interviews of people in their late teens and early twenties who considered themselves baseball fans to at least some extent and who watched snatches of games on mobile devices. They told her that “it made no difference whether a game lasted two or three hours: they would not pay attention for either amount of time.” I recommend the read.

This week has also seen the announcement of the White Ferns contracts for 2018-2019, and congratulations go to Hearts players Holly Huddleston, Maddy Green and Katie Perkins who all made the cut. It is particularly pleasing to see Perkins back in the frame after a serious hand injury forced her to sit out much of last season. Commiserations go to Hearts all-rounder Anna Peterson who missed selection this time in spite of playing spectacular match-winning hands in a couple of T20 Internationals over the last two seasons.

Meanwhile in England the much-anticipated test series against India has begun with an absorbing, and ultimately very exciting, encounter at Edgbaston. The first two innings were marked by the contributions of each side’s premier batsmen, as between them Joe Root and Virat Kohli added almost 41% of the combined first innings’ total.

Big news for Auckland supporters has been the showing by last year’s Super Smash Ace, Sam Curran, turning out for his second test match shortly after his 20th birthday. After an important and patient first innings 24 which helped lift England from 224/6 to their eventual 287, he then came out and took 4/74, including the first three wickets to fall, as India conceded a 13 run first innings lead – crucial in a Test which England ultimately won by just 31 runs.

Then in the second innings, England were reeling at 87/7 before Curran’s flamboyant 63 at just over a run a ball lifted their tally to 162 – for the icing on the cake he managed to bring up his first test match fifty with a  six. And for good measure he picked up a tidy 1/18 as England pushed for victory in the final stanza. In spite of Kohli’s innings of 149 and 51, it was Curran who took the Player of the Match Award.

Elsewhere in England, a number of the New Zealand contingent have continued to perform with distinction in the Vitality Blast and Kia Super League T20 competitions. Yorkshire have had a busy week and Kane Williamson has taken advantage, starting with 35 off 22 balls against Derbyshire. In the return fixture he managed only 4, but Lockie Ferguson enjoyed his spell with the ball for Derbyshire, snaring 3/21.

Next up, Yorkshire took on Lancashire and this time Williamson contributed 77 from 41 balls and then against Northamptonshire it was 52 off 44 balls, as the New Zealand captain re-discovered the form which made him such a dominant force in this year’s IPL.

Not to be outdone, Tom Latham continued his impressive summer for Durham, this time with 78 from 49 balls against Worcestershire, an innings which included fives fours and six sixes and may have had the national selectors wondering whether his omission from the Black Caps T20 side was such a good idea.

Corey Anderson has maintained his consistency in the Somerset middle order with a 24-ball unbeaten 41 against Middlesex, followed up with 32 off 20 balls against Hampshire, for whom Colin Munro could manage just 5.

But it has been with the ball where the Kiwi contingent have really made their mark. Lockie Ferguson backed up his performance against Yorkshire with 2/15 from four overs against Nottinghamshire, for whom Ish Sodhi’s 4/17 wasn’t quite enough to secure victory. For the Birmingham Bears, skipper Grant Elliott had 2/18 from his four against Leicestershire, and followed up with 3/16 against Derbyshire.

And for Kent, Adam Milne grabbed 4/15 from four against Essex and then 3/14 from a three over spell against Hampshire, for whom Munro missed out again, scoring 6.

At this stage of the competition, Ish Sodhi, Lockie Ferguson and Grant Elliott all feature in the top ten wicket-takers, while Tom Latham shares the third highest run aggregate with the Australian Dan Christian.

In the Kia Super League Sophie Devine has had the best week amongst the Kiwi contingent. Playing for the Loughborough Lightning she scored 46 not out off 21 balls in a game against the Western Storm which was reduced by the weather to just six overs. Devine’s innings included four sixes. Against the Yorkshire Diamonds it was a more conservative 24-ball knock for 30, followed up with 2/19 with the ball, and then against the Surrey Stars she returned 1/12 and then took just 32 balls over an unbeaten 61 which incorporated five sixes.

Not to be outdone, Amy Satterthwaite put together an impressive unbeaten 85 from 57 balls against the Western Storm before her side fell victim to the Storm’s Indian opening bat Smriti Mandhana, who has had a superlative week.

In that six over encounter with the Loughborough Lightning, Mandhana and Rachel Priest started with an opening stand of 71 in five overs. Priest hit three sixes in a 13-ball 25, but Mandhana went on to 52 not out off 19 balls, with four sixes. Against the Southern Vipers (for whom Sara McGlashan and Amelia Kerr were the only players to reach double figures) Mandhana added an unbeaten 43 and then she finished her week with 102 off 61 balls against the Lancashire Thunder, before falling victim to Satterthwaite just before victory was secured.

Finally on a sad note, news came this weekend of the passing of former White Fern Delwyn Costello, after a short illness. Costello, who played cricket at school in Wellington before representing Canterbury, played one Test and seven One Day Internationals, touring Australia and India in 1985 as an opening bowler. Our thoughts are with her family and friends.