Musings from Beyond the Boundary - 24 November

International Cricket

Musings from Beyond the Boundary – 24 November

Praneel HiraInternational Cricket

There’s nothing quite like a test cricket victory, particularly when it is against the odds and the result of significant contributions by so many. In such a close-fought, low-scoring encounter even a small hand in numerical terms proves telling and such was the case in Abu Dhabi. Of course there was the fairy tale debut performance by Ajaz Patel but there were compelling parts played by so many.

And what of the indefatigable Neil Wagner? There can’t be a cricket-follower in New Zealand who would begrudge him even one of the 152 wickets he has now secured in test cricket. That those wickets came faster for him than for any Kiwi other than Sir Richard Hadlee, and the fact that he has taken a wicket in every test he has played, bear testimony to the impression he has made with the ball. Figures can’t speak though to the impact his inexhaustible spirit and unquestioning tenacity bring to the Black Caps.

We’ll see a determined Pakistan in the second test, a match in which the New Zealand batting performance takes on huge significance if the visitors are to turn their first test advantage into a series victory.
On a completely unrelated note, interesting to see a New Zealand test side with six of its number born overseas

Fascinating also to see England performing so convincingly against Sri Lanka. The English side have battled of late in overseas conditions but have turned that trend around in recent weeks, helped, like New Zealand, by their largely unheralded spin attack. After the diet of quick bowling to which we’ve become accustomed in this part of the world it has been a treat to see spinners winning matches for teams better known for the exploits of their seamers.

The White Ferns had to return early from the West Indies having missed out on the semi-finals in spite of convincing performances against Pakistan and Ireland. In fairness, they always faced an uphill task with India and Australia in their Group, but inevitably there has been gnashing of teeth over the team’s early exit and whether the experimentation employed in those first two matches could better have waited until the later matches against less-demanding opposition. In reality, the selectors and management probably haven’t learned too much about their squad that they didn’t already know. The dependence on veterans Suzie Bates, Katie Martin and Sophie Devine for runs must be a concern. No other New Zealander aggregated more than 41 runs across the four pool games.

With the ball, off-spinner Leigh Kasperek had an excellent tournament with 8 wickets at 11.8, while Amelia Kerr, Jess Watkin and Lea Tahuhu all shared five victims apiece. In the end though, Australia and India proved significantly better teams on the day.

Back home, the Auckland Hearts’ Hallyburton Johnstone Shield defence has begun positively with two convincing wins over the Canterbury Magicians. Opening bat Lauren Down was the Hearts’ star of the weekend with innings of 56 and 96, and what a treat to see Sara McGlashan in such outstanding form with an 83-ball unbeaten 93 in the second match. Spare a thought too for Canterbury captain (and former White Fern) Frances MacKay who started her season with scores of 112 not out and 69. She scored 44% of her team’s runs across the two matches. Prior to this season Mackay had played 92 List A matches, averaging almost 42 with the bat. It looks as though that record might improve even further this summer.

This coming weekend the first of the season’s domestic trophies will be decided, with the Final of the Ford Trophy. A fascinating last day of pool play was in store before the rain arrived and spoiled two of the three matches. The wash-out at Whangarei may well have cost the Wellington Firebirds a direct path to a home final, or alternatively kept the Northern Districts XI out of the final three. Instead, after Otago’s nail-biting three run victory over the Aces, the Auckland team will take on the Firebirds mid-week at Eden Park to play for the second berth in next Saturday’s Final in Dunedin.

It was quite a comeback by the Aces to get to this point after they lost some of their early season momentum midway through the competition. An outstanding batting performance by the returning Colin Munro proved decisive in their penultimate match against Northern Districts. Munro took just 93 balls over his 143, which included seven sixes and sixteen fours. Unfortunately he couldn’t replicate that form in the last pool match against the resurgent southerners in Dunedin, and in spite of a consistent all round batting performance the Aces fell just short.

With co-captain Mark Craig suffering a further back injury, Jacob Duffy has led the Otago side from the front, making several telling contributions with the ball and lifting a side which won only two of their eight Ford Trophy matches last summer. Solid efforts with the bat from Hamish Rutherford and Neil Broom have provided the runs for the bowlers to work with and this season there have been seven victories on the way to the Final.
Otago’s last domestic One Day Final appearance was back in 2009, when they lost to Northern Districts. Their last win had been the season before when Brendon McCullum’s unbeaten 170 secured victory over Auckland. Remarkably Otago has won only one other One Day title, way back in 1987/88 when Stu McCullum, Brendon and Nathan’s father, was opening the batting. That season Bruce Edgar was the competition’s top run-scorer and Lance Cairns the highest wicket-taker.

In 2018 they are certainly worthy finalists.

The surprise star of the competition has been Wellington’s South African-born batsman Andrew Fletcher. After four years in the wider Firebirds training squad, the patient Onslow opener was offered the team’s final contract this season. The first round of the Ford Trophy was his first List A match and he marked the occasion with a century against Canterbury. He has since followed that up with two more three-figure scores, against Otago and the Central Stags, and three other knocks in excess of fifty to give him 612 runs in the competition.
To put that performance into perspective, last season’s top Ford Trophy run-scorer was Mark Chapman, who batted eight times in scoring 480 runs, with George Worker’s 370 the next best tally.