My corner of the oval

… thoughts from a Kiwi cricket fan

Feeling annoyed … when I should be feeling proud …

The English cricket team have been touring Australia for what seems like forever, and now, for the next few weeks, they have brought their team across to New Zealand to entertain and show us their cricket skills, alongside our own highly-rated national men’s cricket team, and so last night the One Day International match was scheduled to be held at the Westpac Stadium in Wellington.

I had been looking forward to this match for months, it seemed and I’m sure many other cricket fans in my region were likewise similarly anticipatory of the game, particularly when the first two matches in the five-match ODI series went down to the wire and the series’ score was 1-1.  So it was everything to play for as the teams headed to our nation’s capital city to battle again on the cricket field.

But there were two things that put a major dampener on what turned out to be a sensational and enjoyable game of cricket, which was full of all the ebbs and flows of a 50 overs cricket match that makes it one of the more enjoyable formats of the game.

The first reason for annoyance was everyone’s infatuation, particularly those in the media, with the pitch at cricket matches these days.  I mean, where in the rules of cricket does it state that a “good” pitch needs to be a pitch in which the batsmen are never troubled to play their shots, and they can smash the ball over the boundary every second or third delivery to amount totals in excess of 300 runs in every game?

In my opinion, a “good” pitch is actually one which gives both bowler and batsman the chance to show their skills, and the chance to work hard to come out on top of the other team’s shown skills.  Which is exactly what was had in Wellington last night!

Just because a pitch is “ugly,” Mark Richardson (as you so callously expressed at the “pitch report” before the game, and henceforth I switched off from anything else you said after that!), does not mean that it is not an adequate pitch to play a game of cricket on.

Cricket is supposed to be about testing your skills, with bat and ball, to be able to be victorious which is what Kane Williamson did emphatically last night!  When his teammates, aside from Colin Munro who batted exceptionally well to get himself set on a pitch offering plenty to the bowlers) were falling around him because they had been so used to “roads” as we like to call them and pitches that don’t test their skills in any respect, he set his feet as it were and used every skill he had in his cricketing brain to make sure he was not going to be dismissed, and also score plenty of runs along the way!  And in doing so, he scored his 11th ODI hundred!  As well as reaching the sum total of 5,000 ODI runs at the same time (Only a few handful of batsmen in history have reached this milestone in fewer number of matches, just by the way!)

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But he did it because he has the skills to be able to bat on any pitch that is put in front of him!  He doesn’t need to wait until he gets an Eden Park flat pitch with short boundaries to score runs at will; he does it through the thick and the thin of cricketing life, and every batsman around the world should be paying close attention to how he does it so, unlike last night, they can stick with Kane and win games for their country, instead of falling away and coming close but not close enough!

It actually brought tears to my eyes as I stood at Westpac Stadium last night, along with 12,000 others and applauded Kane Williamson (for what seemed like an excessively lengthy ovation!) as he stroked the ball over long off to score the boundary that brought up his 11th ODI century … tears of pride because so many people around me recognised just how good this player is, and wanted him to know that too!

Which brings me to my second gripe from the evening …

When did we get so hung-up on how many people go to whichever sporting event in the country?  Why do we always have such an infatuation with criticising the “number of yellow seats” you can see in the stands when sporting events are held, particularly in Wellington I have noticed?  For some reason, the rest of the country has decided that sports fans in Wellington don’t deserve to have sporting events held in their city because there’s “always” so many empty yellow seats for the TV cameras to pick out so easily!

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“We love you, Jonny!”

Well, can I just point out first and foremost, last night’s crowd at the Stadium was one of the best I can say I have been a part of for a LONG time!  Everyone was in such good humour throughout the game, even when it was clear that our home side was going to lose the match, and everyone had the most enjoyable evening, joking with each other as well as the New Zealand and English players on the field.   As we walked away from the ground following the event, I could overhear people around us as we walked saying what a fantastic match they had just witnessed, and how great a game that was … Isn’t that more important than pointing out all the other people who obviously had other things to do with their Saturday night and couldn’t make it to the game?  Or the other people who actually don’t like sport and had other things to do with their Saturday night?  How come we never hear criticism after rugby matches (which is apparently New Zealand’s “national sport”) in which the stadiums are nowhere near their capacity and filled up?  How come we always only criticise when it comes to cricket matches which, in my opinion are a heck of a lot more enjoyable (just saying!)?

Oh, and then you get the people (which I have heard from a few over the last 24-hours) complaining that, how come we can’t sell out the Stadium when every other ground around the country for this NZ v England ODI series has been sold out?  Did these people stop to look at the ground capacities for each of the grounds involved in this ODI series?  Well, I did and I can tell them that the grounds which have “sold out” only have a capacity of about 3,500 people.  And they are comparing these grounds with a ground that has a 34,000 capacity?!  Well, of course it’s always going to look better on paper to say a ground is “sold out” but when that ground has such a limited ground capacity, it kind of puts things in perspective, doesn’t it?

And then you have the people who whinge, why don’t they have all the games in Wellington at the Basin Reserve then?

These people clearly do not realise that the Basin Reserve and the Westpac Stadium management have agreements in place as to which ground holds which events during the year.  And they also don’t seem to realise that the Basin Reserve’s ground capacity is currently only 6,000 (but you would have to talk to the Wellington City Council about why they are not doing more to increase that – that is another burden we in Wellington must bear!) … and so if the match from last night had been scheduled to be held at the Basin Reserve, more than half of the crowd at the Stadium last night would have had to have been turned away and told that they couldn’t go and watch their sporting heroes live.

Is that what we are about now – turning people away from getting the chance to witness such milestones and expeditions as the one Kane Williamson turned on for us last night?

And not many people seem to realise that the Stadium management had actually blocked out the seats in a large segment of the stadium so that they didn’t have to open food and drink outlets in that area, and pay more staff to manage those outlets in that area, and limit the crowd to only the sections that they deemed available.   When I looked at the ticketing website to see ticket sales in the weeks leading up to the match, I noticed that they were not even making seats in that section available for purchase.  The Stadium management clearly had little regard to how this would make our city and sports fans appear to the TV cameras and the analytical minds of people scrutinising and criticising everything about Wellington sport from a distance.

Why have we become so caught up in criticising and whinging about every little thing in life, that we forget that sport is supposed to be enjoyed and supposed to be entertaining.  Which is what the many people who made the effort to attend at the Stadium last night go, for my mind!

I think you’d be hard pressed to find ANY major sports ground in any large city in our country at the moment “selling out” seats to any sporting fixture, when there are so many other distractions and experiences vying for people’s time and attention every day and night of their lives.  Does this mean we need to punish those who do want to head along and enjoy these events live, when they do?

Do yourself a favour, people and stop whinging for a while and see just how much more you can enjoy what you do each day!  Life is for enjoying, not for complaining and criticising every step of the way.  And especially when you haven’t made the effort to get up off your couch and head out the door to enjoy a sporting event yourself, please do not criticise and discourage all those people who did and had a jolly good time and enjoyed every moment!

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NZ v Windies  live blog from the Basin Reserve, Wellington

I’m going to try and add observations from day two at the Basin Reserve, mainly cause I need to get back into blogging again … 

First of all, I want to know what Chris Donaldson was saying about me as he drove the team van past the Basin Reserve as I was waiting outside … I know it was about me as he looked at me at the same time! 

Also, I was glad Tom Blundell walked past me on his way to the nets as I was able to complement him on a good first day of test cricket! And I even got a reply from him. It’s funny; he plays for Wellington at the Basin every season and yet that’s the first time I’ve spoken to him.

But why are some of the West Indians wearing beanies during their warm ups?! Is it really that cold for them in summer in New Zealand? 

The Windies  had a very competitive game of football to start their warm ups too …

Oh, and the “Taylor Squad” are really nice and friendly too! 

Blog deleted everything so I’m going to have to remember my lunch time update … 

Nice wee session for NZ with Ross Taylor getting to ten thousand first class runs, plus a half century, as well as a half century partnership with Henry Nicholls! 

NZ 181/3 at lunch.

Oh, and Nicholls is pretty speedy between the wickets too!

The day two pitch at the lunch break … 

That winning feeling when you get your flat white before the Black Caps next order of 8! 😉 

Gutted for Ross Taylor to be dismissed 7 runs short of a well-deserved test century. I gave him a standing O anyway! 

NZ 267/4 at the the break. So pleased for Nicholls to bring up a half century in that session too. Always been a fan of him in the middle order. 

Been wanting Tom Blundell to get the chance for a bat, all day, and now I’m nervous for him …

Well, that’s been a very entertaining, and brisk, 50 run partnership between de Grandhomme and Blundell! 

So great seeing Colin de Grandhomme scoring freely and getting to a half century as well! 

And a thoroughly entertaining century from Colin de Grandhomme!

50 runs on test debut! Simply outstanding Tom Blundell!!! 

What a brilliant day of test cricket for NZ! 447/9 at stumps – can’t wait for day 3!!! 

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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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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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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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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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India versus NZ, third ODI match from Mohali – my thoughts

Have people forgotten that it took 13 years for our New Zealand Black Caps to get their first match win in India against India, and that was in the last match?

Did you really think India were just going to roll over easily and allow our team to get another win in India again so quickly?!!

As someone who stayed awake all night, willing our team on and cheering every success (and yes, there were quite a few successes actually:
  • Tom Latham showing again how well he has adapted to pitch conditions in India with another brilliant batting effort;
  • Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor showing what a bit of time in the middle can achieve by getting their batting timing back and contributing with the bat;
  • James Neesham stepping in to the vital lower order/bat with the tail role and scoring his maiden ODI half century;
  • our bowlers bowling tight overs and making it as difficult as they could for the Indians to score the required runs, in the face of magnificent batting genius from MS Dhoni and Virat Kohli!)

… it is incredibly pleasing to see how far our team has come so far on one of the most difficult tours in world cricket!

And don’t forget, it’s only 2-1 in a five match series; if our team take what they have learned so far, and build on it (again) in the next match, it could very well be 2-2 going into the last match, and that would REALLY be an historic occasion to be celebrated!
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