My corner of the oval

… thoughts from a Kiwi cricket fan

Basin Reserve tour ticked off the bucket list …

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Is there a better feeling in the world than a bright, sunny Spring day, looking down from the heavens across the lush green outfield of the Basin Reserve?!

Well okay, not quite the heavens, but the dizzy heights of the media rooms in the RA Vance Stand certainly feel like you can touch the sky …

How did I get there, you ask … Well, you can get there too, if you take a tour of the Basin Reserve courtesy of the NZ Cricket Museum, which I was privileged to be able to do today!

Personal highlights for me included the “Bat Room” in the Cricket Museum, where there are rows and rows of historical and souvenir bats from NZ and international cricket history.  I have forgotten exactly how many bats are in the Bat Room, but if you get the chance to see it, you won’t be disappointed!

Another highlight was walking through the corridors beneath the RA Vance Stand, walking past the indoor nets, many photographs of the Basin Reserve through the ages, along with the many portraits of Wellingtonians who went on to represent the New Zealand national cricket team …

Another interesting observation for me, and being the Black Caps “number one fan,” another highlight was seeing the players’ dressing rooms … and taking in the quite marked differences between the away team’s changing shed and the home team’s luxurious, in comparison, home base!  Even just the fact that the away team’s room had a single plain entrance-way door, whilst the home team gets a double-door with security access to gain entrance!

Continuing on with the personal highlights was taking the “batsman’s walk” through the players’ pavilion, across the elevated pathway, down the stairs and onto the hallowed turf of the Basin Reserve …

I mean, how many talented cricketers have walked these steps over the decades?!

I could’ve stayed at the Basin Reserve all day today, especially considering it was such a glorious hot Spring day in Wellington, but all good things have to come to an end, I guess, and I just have to say thank you to Jamie and the NZ Cricket Museum and Cricket Wellington staff for making things like Basin Reserve tours possible for cricket fans and history fans to enjoy!  I had such a brilliant time, and highly recommend the tour to anyone else who is interested, if you ever get the opportunity to go along!  28 Oct - Basin Tour20a

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Breakfast with the Black Caps … 2017 edition

“Can we join you?” Trent Boult asked as he stood beside our breakfast table this morning in Wellington.

Like really, Trent, I’m going to say no?! was what I felt like replying, instead stammering out a, sure, no problem, or words to that effect, and then sitting back with my cup of coffee and watching as Tom Latham, Jeet Raval and Tim Southee collected their choices from the breakfast buffet and sat alongside him.

No, I don’t usually make a habit of having breakfast with million dollar men, but sometimes you are honoured with invitations to attend sponsor and supporter breakfast events when the New Zealand Black Caps are in your town for a test match, this time during the South Africa tour of 2017.

But have you ever actually finally had the chance to sit down with players you have watched and supported and admired the skill of for years, and then not had anything to say?  That pretty much summed up my morning, as the men opposite me tucked into their breakfasts and joked with each other, and other attendees who approached them.

It was a very cool experience, though, all things considered to chat to the likes of Tom and Jeet who you only ever see with helmets on in the middle of a cricket field.

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NZs test opening batting partnership

After breakfast was eaten, it was time for the formalities of the morning, starting with a brief summary slideshow of the cricket season matches against Bangladesh, Australia and South Africa.  Although, as Tim remarked, it seems to be a batsmen’s game, judging by the highlights that were selected to be screened!

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Brilliantly MC’d by Willie Nicholls, social media and communications expert, videographer, and twelfth man extraordinaire, it was time for the “question and answer” part of the morning and I have to say, some fascinating and interesting insights and stories were shared by the players, particularly their “cricketing heroes” and “how you got started in cricket” stories, although it’s good to hear there’s less of the “do that again and I’ll smash you!” going on between Tim and Trent these days!

How about that headband, though, Trent?!

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Trent Boult playing for a Bay of Plenty development side in 2006 

It was also great to hear the players’ thoughts and insights into things like county cricket and playing in the IPL.

I have to say a huge thank you to NZ Cricket, in particular James and Perri, for setting up and inviting me to this event, as well as WN and the players for waking up so early (especially those of them who aren’t morning people … *cough* Tim!) to share breakfast and stories and laughs with us.  I’m really hoping the Wellington weather warms up (a lot!) and dries up even more over the next few days, and wish you all the very best of success and enjoyment over the next week of test cricket at the Basin Reserve.  And if you see me sitting on the terraces, guys, don’t be a stranger; give me a wave or a hello!

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NZs test opening bowling partnership

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Getting back to what’s important …

At the end of the day, cricket is what we love and cricket should be what brings us together, not drives us apart! 

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Why do we have a media beat-up before every single cricket tour in this country?!

Because the media hates success, that’s why and they can’t stand the fact that the Black Caps are playing well, and climbing to the top of the rankings, and so they try and create drama and rifts and discord that is non existent!  Time and time again, before every cricket series starts in this country for the last few home summers, the media has tried to “blow up” a huge non-story (in this case, why wasn’t Ross Taylor called into the squad for a one-off T20 match when another player was ruled out with injury) and it’s all because they want the public’s attention not focussed on the players, who are playing extremely well at the moment and succeeding, and they’d rather create a barrier between the fans and the team and management.  Why?  Because the media can’t stand the fact that the Black Caps are at the top of the rankings in nearly every form of cricket, and Mike Hesson has a LOT to do with that!  They’d rather drag the man down, rather than congratulate him and get behind him to support him.  And that truly is sad, NZ media people!

I don’t know why everyone’s upset that Ross Taylor wasn’t called into the Black Caps squad for a one-off “hit and giggle” T20 against South Africa this Friday when Martin Guptill was unfortunately ruled out due to a hamstring injury!   For a start, he’s not as young as he once was and a T20 is the ideal opportunity for the selectors to bring someone new in to the line up to give them some international experience.  Hence the fact that Glenn Phillips has been called into the squad to cover for the opening batsman spot.

I mean, it should have been Tom Blundell, in my opinion, but that’s another story …

Also Ross Taylor isn’t actually an opening batsman so why on earth would he be brought in as cover for an opening batsman’s spot!

If I was Ross Taylor, why would I be upset at missing a one-off T20 match when I have five One Day matches and three TEST matches to be fit for!  That’s where the real glory lies!

Don’t fall into the media’s plan of making you hate NZ Cricket and in particular, Mike Hesson, people!  They hate anyone succeeding, remember, and will do their utmost to drag them down at any opportunity, including by creating rifts that aren’t actually there!  Don’t fall for it!

NZ Cricket in conjunction with Mike Hesson, Mike Sandle, Craig McMillan, Shane Jurgenson, and others in the support team, have brought the NZ Black Caps to the top of the rankings in almost every cricket format!  They have to be doing something right; and the media doesn’t like that because they can’t criticise them when they’re doing so well!

Don’t fall into their trap of believing that there’s rifts and discord – just get out there and support the team, while it’s doing so well!

 

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This is what we should be reporting on and celebrating today …

Kane Williamson

104 not out!  144 minutes, 90 deliveries, 15 boundary fours.

NZ v Bangladesh, Basin Reserve, Wellington, 16 January 2017

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Kane Williamson’s run scoring wagon wheel, courtesy of http://www.cricinfo.com

I felt incredibly blessed and fortunate to be able to be seated at the Basin Reserve in Wellington this week, as the New Zealand captain, Kane Williamson, not only guided his side’s run chase on towards victory over the Bangladesh cricket team, but he also managed to score his fifteenth test century in the process!

When Kane walked to the crease at the fall of the first wicket in the run chase, the side was in danger of losing their way in reaching a relatively small target of 217.  Kane needed to get himself settled at the crease, on a pitch that had already seen a number of runs scored and wickets taken over the last four days, then establish a partnership with Ross Taylor after the second wicket fell at the other end of the pitch, and look to score runs reasonably quickly as there were only a finite number of overs left in the day’s play.

The fact that he did all this is just another indicator of his incredible cricketing mind and amazing skill and technique in being able to take whatever the Bangladeshi bowlers threw at him, and judging by the above wagon wheel and noting how many runs Kane scored onto the legside of the ground, you can be sure there were also a number of short-pitched deliveries thrown in there for him to deal with also.

I actually found myself thinking when Kane was on about 60 runs that if he played well enough, he could actually score himself a century on that afternoon.  It seemed every run and moment from that point was captured by the ever-growing crowd on the embankment and terraces as everyone, it seemed, was willing him onwards to the target.  Not only the target of a test match win, but the target of a fifteenth test century.  You had to feel for Henry Nicholls who was Kane’s team mate at the other end of the pitch who, upon Ross Taylor’s dismissal for a very well played 60 runs, had to try and balance between scoring runs for the team and ensuring his captain received enough of the strike in order for him to reach his goal.  In fact, I could just imagine Kane walking down the pitch between overs and saying to Henry, just have a go, mate, and let’s go and have a beer (to paraphrase something Jimmy Neesham once said!)

Another reason to love Kane Williamson.  Ever the team player, he was more intent on reaching the final target for the team, than worrying about whether or not he’d be left stranded on 99 not out!

My view of that historic moment

But he did it, and the very next ball achieved his ultimate goal of winning the match for the team, as the Black Caps reached 217/3.  There were no histrionics, or lavish displays of joy and excitement as Kane reached both milestones either; just a quiet smile and confidence in himself and his team to come through five days of testing and intriguing cricket victorious!

And so I say thank you.  Thank you to the New Zealand Black Caps for five days of victorious test cricket, overcoming when most around the world at written them off, but mostly thank you to Kane Williamson, for allowing me to watch you go about the business of scoring test centuries, and winning matches for your team.

Courtesy of the Black Caps support team, the moment captured when Kane Williamson scored his 15th test century!

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NZ v Bangladesh, test series, 2016/17

Being unemployed has its benefits, despite suffering from JHFS (that’s Job Hunting Fatigue Syndrome, for the uninitiated!)  
One of those benefits is being able to visit the Basin Reserve when the New Zealand Black Caps are training for a test match the next day.  
Highlights from this morning’s visit included:
  • Getting totally blanked by Shane Jurgenson as he walked past me, despite me saying hello and his name … okay, so maybe that’s not a highlight!
  • Spending half an hour standing at the end of the practice nets, watching Tim Southee, Matt Henry and Neil Wagner perfect their bowling craft.
  • Neil Wagner leaving the nets to do an interview and seeing me, and waving and calling out hello!
  • Pretending not to eavesdrop as Bryan Waddle and Ross Taylor chat through the net fencing in front of me.
  • Wonder just why Dean Brownlie has grown that beard to be so long and scruffy!
  • Seeing Henry Nicholls leave his gear at the nets and wander off to do something, then fifteen minutes later, hear Tom Latham asking those around him where Toey had got to and being able to inform him just which direction he had disappeared to.
  • Observing the on-field advertising being applied by just a few of the many hands making light work of the pre-game preparations.  It’s a hive of activity at the ground in the days before a test match!
  • Finally being able to introduce myself to Willie Nicholls from the Black Caps media team.
  • Taking note of just how many people use the NZ Cricket Museum windows as a mirror as they wander past!
  • Shaking the hand of Don Neely, cricket historian extraordinaire!

 

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Close encounters of the furry kind …

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For my birthday last year, I was very blessed to be gifted with a “close encounter” opportunity at Wellington Zoo.

For those who may not be able to figure out what this means, a “close encounter” is the chance to get up close and personal with selected zoo animals, for a fee which goes towards the work at the zoo as well as the conservation fund to protect the animals in the wild.  For my close encounter, I got to meet the Wellington Zoo’s delightfully cute and adorable red panda family!

I have felt an affinity for the red pandas since the day Reka, a former tenant of the zoo, escaped from her enclosure and made her way to my family’s property in the southern suburbs of Wellington, and so I was very excited to be able to feed and pat a red panda in person … or in animal, as the case may be!

We were guided and taught expertly by Anna, who works with the red panda at the zoo, as we first called on Ishah, the eldest male of the group, who at first was rather apprehensive at intruders in his enclosure, but soon warmed to us when he detected the delicious fruit we were holding in our hands for him to jump onto our laps and eat from.

Don’t you just love his black sleeves?

After a short time as Ishah didn’t seem to be very hungry on this day, we moved next door to visit Sundar and Khosi, immigrants from Hamilton and Auckland Zoos respectively, who will hopefully be able to breed (on the one day of the year available for red pandas to mate) and increase the red panda population soon.

Sundar and Khosi were extremely excited and keen to have visitors, and were clambering over our laps even before we had vittles for them to eat!

Despite the red pandas not having too much of their trademark stripey tails, due to shedding their thick winter coats for the “summer” season, it was still a fantastic opportunity to see up close such beautiful and trusting animals.  And to feel their long claws used for expertly climbing the narrowest of tree branches, digging into our legs as they searched our hands for more fruit.

All good things have to come to an end, sadly, and it wasn’t long before the fruit bowl was empty and Sundar and Khosi were checking for any final stray scraps, before saying their good byes and heading back into the trees, to groom themselves after eating and to have an afternoon sleep …

Thanks again to everyone at Wellington Zoo, especially Anna, Ishah, Sundar and Khosi, for giving me such a fun and fabulous encounter with three beautiful and friendly red pandas!

P.S. I did ask if I could take one home, but sadly, it wasn’t allowed!

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Good things take time …

Chappell-Hadlee Series game two debrief:
I read something very interested on Monday, which still applies today, and I think needs to be taken into consideration before so-called fans start slamming our New Zealand Black Caps players after trying their utmost to win this week:
1. We just lost our best batsman in Ross Taylor barely a week out from the series due to injury.
2. Our middle order is extremely inexperienced, boasting 84 ODIs between them.
3. We’ve recently lost the experience of Grant Elliott to calmly guide a run chase, as well as not having Corey Anderson or Luke Ronchi’s experience.
4. We are playing an Australian team at home desperate to give their public some results.
But on the flip side, if you are wise, you can clearly see the positive points too:
1. Martin Guptill’s form continuing and him striking the ball cleanly and elegantly.
2. James Neesham showing just why the selectors gave him the enormous responsibility of filling in the number four role in Taylor’s absence, and despite everyone’s uncalled for negativity about speed and the fact that he wasn’t ‘bashing the ball every second,’ his and Williamson’s partnership was actually keeping NZ ahead of the required run rate the whole way they were together. And they easily put on the same score that Warner and Smith had in the first innings.
3. Tim Southee also showed again how much his experience and abilities were missed in the first match, through his wisdom and skill to bowl to individual batsmen, Steve Smith included.
 
I know people don’t want to believe it, but this is a team that is rebuilding. We’ve lost hugely in McCullum, Taylor, Vettori, Elliott, Anderson, McClenaghan (to name a few) being unavailable through injury and retirement, and if you thought they were just going to be able to continue on where the above mentioned players left off at the end of the last season, you would be mistaken.  
There’s no way anyone can expect Kane Williamson to be the same captain that Brendon McCullum was, and to have the same knowledge and skill and experience in setting fields and rotating bowlers, for example, in his first couple of games in charge.  
And there’s no way you can start this ridiculous call for players to be “dropped” because of one or two failures early on in their careers (FYI I really hate that word, and I don’t use the word ‘hate’ lightly either; fans are always very quick to bandy about such-and-such should be dropped after one or two games, when the players in question haven’t even been given the chance to find their feet in international cricket and be allowed to gain the experience to let their skills shine!  I mean, there’s people out there who figure that Henry Nicholls has had more than enough time to forge a test career and has had his chance and should be “dropped” (there’s that word again!)  For goodness sake, the man’s played NINE test matches!  Nine!  That is nowhere near long enough for a player to have gained valuable experience playing in different conditions and against different opponents in order to build a cricket career!  
No doubt the media this morning will be full of the so-called experts slamming our team for disappointing them, when they really should take a step back, not be so reactive and think about what went right for the team and what they worked on from the last match, and get behind them and support them for the next match!  I don’t care who you are, no one anywhere performs anywhere near their best when they are constantly slammed and criticised and not given the chance to learn and gain experience.
Sorry for getting so worked up, I’m just so passionate about this team and watching them hone their skills and craft, and I get so annoyed with the constant negativity and people not allowing them to forge their own paths and careers.  Sure, it hurts when the team loses (we all hate that) but you have to look at the big picture sometimes, and realise this is all working towards a better team, with a huge season ahead of them, and we’d all do well to get in behind them and sit back and enjoy the journey with them!
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Ronan Keating has the Time of his Life in Wellington!

I had been keenly looking forward to Ronan Keating’s visit to Wellington’s Michael Fowler Centre since the tour dates were announced several months ago, and this weekend, my anticipation was finally satiated as Ronan brought his Time of my Life world tour to Auckland first, and then Wellington for two nights.

Not even a slight delay between the warm-up set from support act, Ciaran McMeekin in order for Ronan and the band to be able to enjoy the annual Sky Show fireworks display in the adjacent harbour could dampen my spirits, and the band was soon rocking into the opening number, Time of my Life.

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Although at times the vocals were lost within the sound mix of the instruments, the extensive setlist was a journey through the last 23-plus years of Ronan’s life in music.  From the ever-popular Lovin’ Each Day, to the poignancy of Landslide and Breathe, there was something for everyone to enjoy (although perhaps not the gentleman beside me who had clearly been dragged along by his more-of-a-fan wife – heh heh!)

Snippet from Ronan singing “Breathe”

Of course it was also entertaining to be treated to stories and anecdotes which Ronan shared with the audience along the journey through the concert, including joining him “in his kitchen” for a brief break-down set of songs, including a tin whistle solo which Ronan was impressed that after 67 concerts across the world since August, the only audiences that applauded the tin whistle were the New Zealand audiences!

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The “break down” set in which Ronan invited us into his kitchen where he wrote a lot of his latest album, Time of my Life

Of course, the biggest crowd favourite, When You Say Nothing At All, towards the end of the show, brought everyone to their feet with delight, and from there, the concert finished with a crescendo, through Van Morrison’s Brown Eyed Girl and Life is a Rollercoaster.

After a brief pause in which Ronan and the band left the stage after the “fake last song,” and the audience continued to applaud, chant and clap, the band reappeared and, to the delight (and probably annoyance of the two Cantabrians I was seated beside!), Ronan emerged again wearing a signed Hurricanes rugby jersey and holding the Super Rugby trophy aloft (the Wellington based team, the Hurricanes, were the winners of this rugby tournament this year).

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Ronan went on to thank members of the Hurricanes’ team for making his song, When you say nothing at all, so popular this year after he visited with them when their visits to Sydney, Australia coincided earlier this year, before signing off the show with the always-meaningful One More Song, and The Long Goodbye … in which Ronan seemed to promise that he would be coming back to Wellington again soon!

We’ll hold you to that, Ronan, but thanks for making the trip this year and for sharing your music and your story with us in New Zealand again; you make the world smile and that’s what is needed right now!

Short snippet of my favourite song, If Tomorrow Never Comes

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Black Caps Indian tour wrap-up

Well, that was disappointing.

The New Zealand Black Caps full test and One Day International tour of India finished yesterday with the fifth (and deciding, I might add!) ODI played in Visakhapatnam.  And sadly, yet again on this tour, the result of the game came down to the toss of a coin.

Like the Black Caps showed in the fourth ODI when they were finally able to win a coin toss and bat first, the pitch slowed up and was more difficult to bat on for the team batting second.  Not quite 79 not out, difficult, though, I am sure … but still, had the roles been reversed, and it been India who were struggling to bat second in Visakhapatnam, would we be critiquing them as harshly as we are critiquing the Black Caps now?

Just a thought.

Sadly though, this tour came down to the difference in the teams, which for my mind, was the brilliant batting of MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli (who I’m quite surprised was not named Man of the Series; he was definitely the difference as far as I was concerned).  What our Black Caps really needed was this confident and solid backbone in the middle of their batting order which, ordinarily would be strong in Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, as they have been for us in the past.  Maybe it is too much to expect Williamson to be the captain of the team in all three formats of the game just yet, or maybe Taylor is still just at a loss after the passing of his close friend and mentor, Martin Crowe, earlier this year.  We don’t really know what is going on in the players’ heads and can’t possibly know unless we talk to them ourselves, but I do know for sure that they are gutted and hurting after this tour.

And rightly so, as they will only be focussing right now on the last match that was played.  But if they take a step back, in a couple of days, they will see that there were a few things they can take away and be proud of from touring one of the hardest countries in cricket to tour:

  • After only one pitiful warm-up fixture on a pitch surface which would bear no resemblance to the pitches played on for the rest of the tour, taking the first test of three into five days, after previous visitors to the subcontinent haven’t been able to achieve this, is definitely a good thing.
  • A century opening partnership between Tom Latham and Martin Guptill in the third test, showing that each player was adapting to the difficult pitch and environmental conditions, was also pleasing.
  • Jeetan Patel returning to the Black Caps after a couple of years out of the game, being rewarded for strong first-class cricket performances, and performing again at the top level with skill and wisdom.
  • Neil Wagner bringing himself, through strong, determined bowling performances, into the top 10 test bowlers in the world rankings.
  • Tom Latham’s test series scores of 58, 2, 1, 74, 53 and 6 showing, despite getting the occasional good delivery to be dismissed early, that he learned throughout the tour and improved as a result.
  • Tom Latham’s ODI series scores of 79, 46, 61 and 39 proving that he’s not just going to be cubby-holed as a “test” batsman; he has the skills and expertise to perform well in limited overs cricket also.
  • Kane Williamson scoring a determined ODI century, despite crippling cramps, to anchor the team innings.
  • Martin Guptill finding form and timing in his 72 runs in the fourth ODI, proving that time and experience in foreign conditions is often all that is required.
  • The successful return to the test and ODI bowling crease by James Neesham and Corey Anderson, especially after it was thought that Anderson would only ever be able to bat on this tour, after his return from back injury.

So, plenty to work on … but also plenty to be pleased about also.  It’s very easy to just look at the last outing by any sports team, but you sometimes have to step back and look at the big picture too.  I have no doubt that this may have been the last test tour for some in this Black Caps squad, but you also have to consider how much knowledge and experience you just cast aside if you go about making rashly thought-out changes.

It’s definitely looking at being an exciting home season, in light of the positives from this tour, with the likes of Pakistan, Bangladesh and South Africa visiting our shores.  You’d be an idiot if you let one poor batting performance at the end of an exhausting and draining nearly two months away, keep you from getting to a ground near you this summer and enjoying the top class cricket that will be there to see!

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