Musings from Beyond the Boundary – 6 December

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

What a splendid couple of weeks of cricket we’ve been spoiled with, and with summer weather to match it really has been a great time to catch some superb cricketing action.

The Hearts have started their summer campaign with two weekends at home, firstly hosting Otago and then Canterbury, and they’ve delivered the perfect beginning with six straight wins. They ended up victorious in the two Friday evening T20 encounters and then in all four 50-over matches across the two weekends.

The Canterbury and Otago line-ups contained more than their share of senior White Ferns players including the highly-ranked Suzie Bates and Amy Satterthwaite, but the much-vaunted southern batting line-ups were no match for the Auckland bowling and fielding unit which delivered consistent team performances to secure the victories. With the bat, Maddy Green has been in wonderful touch and heads the national batting aggregates after four 50–over matches, while Hearts and White Ferns opening bowler Holly Huddleston tops the wicket-taker list with 12 victims.

In a long overdue move, New Zealand Cricket has restored the Hallyburton-Johnstone Shield as the symbol of women’s domestic cricket supremacy and this year the grand old Shield is the prize at stake in the 50-over competition.

The Hallyburton-Johnstone Shield was first contested in 1935/36 when Wellington became the first holder, a feat they repeated in the next three seasons. With the rise of sponsorship, the Shield was placed in storage after Canterbury’s victory in 1981/82 and it is very satisfying to see its revival this year, much to the pleasure of many of today’s players as well as those from years gone by.

Auckland are 5 points clear of Wellington in the 50-over competition, but in the T20 contest the team from the capital have a slight edge on net run rate as they share the top of the table. Once again it is Maddy Green atop the national run aggregates, while this time it is Hearts all-rounder Anna Peterson who heads the wicket-takers.

The Aces found themselves comfortably in third place as the Plunket Shield went into its mid-summer recess. They sit 19 points ahead of fourth-placed Northern Districts, and just 21 points shy of leaders Wellington who started so well before stumbling against the Central Stags. With no Aucklanders in the top ten run- scorers, and only Lockie Ferguson amongst the leading wicket-takers, this has been a real team effort from the Aces, with the performances coming from the right person at the right time to build a sequence of three consecutive victories.

Focus has now switched to the fifty-over format and the Ford Trophy, and the Aces have continued where they left off in the red ball game, with two wins out of two. The first came as they dismissed the strong-looking Central Stags for just 224 at Pukekura Park and overhauled that target with nine overs and five wickets to spare.  All the batsmen used reached double figures, yet none reached fifty in another real team display.

The second victory came in spectacular fashion at Eden Park as Colin Munro raced to the highest score for Auckland in limited overs cricket, passing Tim McIntosh’s 161 against Otago in 2010/11. Munro finished on 174 not out as the Aces took just 42 and a half overs to pass Canterbury’s competitive 277/9.

Munro’s innings occupied just 118 balls and included 22 fours and six sixes. His first fifty came in only 27 balls, the next fifty took a relatively sedate 48 deliveries, while the 150 came just 31 balls later. Munro played some astonishing innings for the Aces last season and the only pity for Aces fans is that we are more likely to see him in the national strip this time round as the Black Caps launch their lengthy calendar of white ball cricket in a couple of weeks’ time. It was a lucky few who got to see his demolition of Canterbury this week.

Not surprisingly, Munro tops the Ford Trophy run-scorers at this early stage of proceedings, while Tarun Nethula is the competition’s top wicket-taker.

And if that wasn’t enough cricket, the Black Caps delivered a rousing victory over the West Indies in the First Test at a picture-perfect Basin Reserve. Each day brought yet another dramatic highlight, beginning with Neil Wagner’s rousing 7/39 last Friday. New Zealand’s fourth-best test analysis was due reward for a spell of aggressive, challenging and ultimately penetrative bowling either side of lunch.

Everyone at the ground was disappointed to see Ross Taylor fall seven short of equalling Martin Crowe and Kane Williamson’s record of 17 test match centuries, but those sentiments were quickly dispelled as Colin de Grandhomme set about his work. Last year in the first test of the summer, and the first of his career, de Grandhomme made the headlines with his 6/41. This year he seized the limelight again, starting the season with New Zealand’s second-fastest test century on record, and the quickest maiden test century in history. He took 71 balls to reach three figures, the second fifty coming from just 27 balls.

Watching from the stands, this wasn’t a hundred reached through outlandish stroke play, or requiring a healthy dose of good fortune – this was an accomplished aggressive innings full of rousing stroke play.  There was the bludgeoned drive down the ground, but there was also a lot of finesse to this performance – in addition, it proved to be a very important innings in the context of the game.

The 7th wicket partnership between de Grandhomme and Tom Blundell set a new record for New Zealand, passing the previous mark set by Martin Crowe and Ian Smith back in 1984-85, and Blundell showed his equable temperament in the way he set about his initial test innings.

Finishing the day on 57 and with New Zealand nine down, the idea of a century on debut was probably looking like a flight of fancy. Or perhaps that was just us in the crowd, under-estimating the role Trent Boult would play the next morning. Boult defied the orthodoxies both of batting, and occasionally of running between the wickets, but there was no way he was going to surrender his post and his 60-ball, 108 minute unbeaten 18 was quite remarkable.

It also enabled Blundell to become the 11th New Zealander to score a hundred on test debut. On his home ground, a few blocks from where he lives and with only his number 11 to keep him company at the other end, it was a very special innings. It was also a quality performance from a batsman who averages around 40 in first class cricket. Certainly he never once looked overawed by the occasion.

With the pitch having flattened out, the West Indies top order found batting much easier the second time round, helped along by some wayward New Zealand bowling as they tried to employ some less routine tactics to secure an elusive breakthrough. All of a sudden the runs scored by Blundell, de Grandhomme and Boult were magnified in importance.

However on the fourth morning the visitors probably lost at least one batsman more than they’d counted upon and then with Colin de Grandhomme taking a wicket first ball after lunch and Wagner following up with another at the start of the next over the end came very quickly, the last eight wickets falling for 88 runs, the last five for just 33.

Roll on this weekend’s test match in Hamilton…