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Musings from Beyond the Boundary – 4 March

It’s been a good few days to be an opener from Auckland.

First up, Lauren Down scored her first century for New Zealand as her 107 steered the White Ferns into a winning position against the Australian Governor-General’s XI in Sydney. 23-year-old Down averaged almost 32 in last year’s Hallyburton Johnstone Shield and has scored over 340 runs in this year’s competition.

She hadn’t been able to press on after promising starts in the first two ODIs against Australia, but she certainly seized her opportunity last Thursday after sharing an opening partnership of 74 with Suzie Bates. Just to make it an even better evening for the Auckland Hearts contingent, Anna Peterson, took 3/28 to finish New Zealand’s most successful bowler as the Governor-General’s XI were all out for 157.

A day later Jeet Raval reached three figures in a test match for the first time. He made 132 of an opening partnership of 254 with Tom Latham. This is New Zealand’s third best opening stand, behind the 387 added by Glenn Turner and Terry Jarvis against the West Indies in 1972, and the 276 contributed by Stewie Dempster and Jack Mills against England at Wellington in 1929/30, during New Zealand’s second official test match. Both Jarvis and Mills also represented Auckland.

The innings was Raval’s 16th first class century, a record that includes a couple of double-hundreds, and he passed 1,000 runs in test cricket in the course of his innings.

Soon after, his Suburbs New Lynn team-mate Martin Guptill added another hundred at the top of the order for the Aces, against Northern Districts in Whangarei. A century for Auckland on his return from international duty seems almost inevitable these days, so it was a surprise that this is just his 15th first class hundred, one fewer than Raval (although three of Guptill’s have been in tests).

Remarkably, the two Auckland openers’ records are almost identical. Not counting the matches this weekend, Guptill averages 37.7 in 107 matches, while Raval averages 38.8 in 105 outings. Even their strike rates in first class cricket are not dissimilar, Guptill scoring at 53.4 per 100 balls to Raval’s 48.2.

It actually turned out to be a good few days for openers in general. For Bangladesh, Tamim Iqbal scored a dramatic hundred to get the First Test under way, following up with more runs in the second innings until a barrage of advice from Neil Wagner and an awkward evasive manoeuvre against a short ball from Tim Southee saw his demise. His batting has been a beacon in an otherwise disappointing time at the crease for the visitors so far.

Tom Latham scored his third test century of the summer, out-lasting Raval and ending on 161, while elsewhere in the Plunket Shield, the Central Districts opening pair of Greg Hay and George Worker each passed three figures as they compiled an opening partnership of 202 versus Otago. As Kane Williamson enjoyed the platform provided by his opening pair at Hamilton, so too did the Stags’ number three Will Young, who scored 150 as he and the prolific Hay added a further 195 together.

He wasn’t at the top of the order, but Canterbury captain Cole McConchie was another noteworthy centurion, his 162 being his first class best.

There has been some astonishing cricket in the penultimate round of the Hallyburton Johnstone Shield as well. In Hamilton the Canterbury side racked up 308/7 in their fifty overs with Kate Ebrahim and 21-year–old Allie Mace-Cochrane adding 127 for the fifth wicket. Mace-Cochrane’s 84 came off just 60 deliveries.
In reply, both Northern Districts openers failed to score and with two down for just four runs a target in excess of 300 must have seemed a long way off. Felicity Leydon-Davis and Kate Anderson had other ideas though, and Canterbury didn’t take another wicket in the match. The pair added an unbeaten 308 in 42 overs to take their team to victory with six overs to spare! What’s more, this was the Northern Spirit’s first win of the competition.

Neither Leydon-Davis nor Anderson had scored a List A hundred before, and their partnership created a slew of records. This was the highest partnership in women’s List A cricket in New Zealand and the highest third wicket partnership in all New Zealand List A cricket, men’s and women’s. Topically, there has been a higher opening partnership in men’s List A cricket in New Zealand. That was the 321 scored by Jamie How and Jeet Raval, against Northern Districts back when Raval was playing for the Stags in 2012/13.

The Hearts also enjoyed an important win as they looked to secure home advantage for next weekend’s Hallyburton Johnstone Shield Final against the Central Hinds. With four White Ferns away in Australia, Regina Lili’I took the helm for the first time, and with a less experienced line-up than usual. They did well to get to 211/9, but a number of solid contributions from the Wellington line-up had the visitors in striking distance at 189/5 in the 47th over.

However four wickets in seven balls, including two run-outs, put paid to their chances. Holly Huddleston had the final wicket as the Hearts won by 13 runs with five balls remaining.
During the week New Zealand climbed to second in the ICC Test Rankings, following Sri Lanka’s surprising but well-deserved victories in South Africa. Through the first three days of the series against Bangladesh they have continued to look a very high quality side. Bangladesh have disappointed, and they are suffering from the absence through injury of players like Shakib Al Hasan. New Zealand though, have played a commanding hand thus far.

Passing 700 for the first time in test matches, on the back of that opening partnership and an unbeaten double century from Kane Williamson, they overcame an untidy first morning to dominate with the ball as well, led once again by the relentless Neil Wagner. His persistent short-of-a-length attack must be immensely tiring to face, and once again he’s shown how difficult it is to counter. A view of the pitch map at one stage on Day Three highlighted just what control of length he commands, while his trajectory seems to create difficulties which the taller bowlers cannot.

His rise to seventh place amongst New Zealand’s top test wicket-takers is well-deserved – what an outstanding position to be in, with New Zealand’s three strike bowlers sharing well over 600 test wickets between them.

Image Credit: Photosport.co.nz

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