My corner of the oval

… thoughts from a Kiwi cricket fan

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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#savetheBasin

Often over-used and misused in social media and other media outlets, in this case, the above phrase fits my thoughts precisely.  In this case, we need to #savetheBasin from ill-informed and short-sighted people who might sadly get listened to!

For some reason, my local newspaper, the Dominion Post, has decided to continuously publish a plethora of ill-informed and one-eyed “Letters to the Editor” suggesting that one of the premium cricket grounds in the world, the Basin Reserve in Wellington, is past it’s use by date, is never used, and horrifyingly, suggesting that, in order to fix the traffic congestion problems Wellington commuters endure every day, the Basin Reserve should be demolished entirely!

Have you ever heard anything so ridiculously absurd and shortsighted?

So, by this logic, because I never use the Newtown athletics track, or the National Hockey Stadium, and instead of providing them care and attention to keep them up to date and looking nice for the people who DO use them, we should just demolish them and put something else in their place?

I can’t believe there are people out there who actually seriously think demolishing things instead of looking after them and taking pride in them, is a viable solution to anything.

But the main reason people seem to have such a strong opinion about the roundabout at the Basin Reserve intersection is because they seem to think this is what is causing the traffic congestion delays in the city every day.

Let me be clear.  The roundabout at the Basin Reserve is NOT responsible for the congestion in Wellington every day!  And doing something rash and horrifying like removing the Basin Reserve, will NOT remove the traffic congestion problems at that part of the city.

Do you know what will remove the traffic congestion problems?  Well, for a start, motorists using commonsense when it comes to merging with other traffic into a single lane from three lanes, like did you know that you can’t actually fit two cars side by side into a single lane?  So maybe, if we gave each other a bit of space BEFORE we get to the single lane situation, traffic might move a little easier.

Also, this habit motorists in Wellington have of following blindly behind the car in front of them into an intersection when the Road Code clearly states that you should not enter an intersection if you cannot exit it on the other side.  We seem to have this idea that we might somehow miss out or get left behind if we don’t somehow get through the light change, not realising that if we left the intersection clear, it would free up the other intersections around the city and everyone would actually get home that little bit faster, ourselves included.

Another argument against the Basin Reserve is that it is never used.

Clearly the people with this idea really do have no idea what goes on behind the fences of the cricket ground throughout each year; fences which, incidentally have to be in place to prevent idiotic vandals doing damage and causing money to be spent on fixing up the damage caused by this, rather than using that money to do things like, oh, I don’t know, refurbish the RA Vance Stand, or do up the toilet facilities for the patrons who attend matches and events at the ground throughout the year, or install lights at the ground so that the Basin Reserve can be utilised for even move events, not just sports events either.

People for some reason have this idea that the Basin Reserve is only used during the months of November through to March.  Which, while this may be the peak time for the summer sport of cricket to be using the ground, couldn’t be further from the truth.

I mean, just this weekend coming, the Armageddon Expo is in Wellington, and they have booked out the use of the Basin Reserve over the weekend for one of their events.

And last year, the Basin Reserve was used for several musical events, notably the concert by Robbie Williams.

And currently, the Basin Reserve groundstaff have installed rugby and soccer goal posts so the ground can be used as a club rugby and soccer ground during the months of April to October.

And on the rare occasions you might drive past and see “nothing happening” at the Basin Reserve, don’t be fooled; the facilities are used by an event company, Scarlet Events, which have held many occasions and gatherings over the years, and in the years to come.

Also not forgetting that the Cricket Wellington offices are actually based AT the Basin Reserve so the ground gets “used” every day by these staff also.

Just last week, New Zealand Cricket released the schedule of matches to be fitted in to cricket grounds around the country and the Basin Reserve for the next season of cricket is being used for two international test matches, which means training and net sessions leading up to and during the matches, as well as the matches themselves.  And we haven’t even had the schedule released for the domestic cricket season, either, which means the Wellington Firebirds and Blaze cricket teams will be using the ground for training, net sessions, matches, and other functions, for the days, weeks and months in between the international cricket schedule from October through to April next year.

How can people say the Basin Reserve is never used?

Do other premier cricket grounds around the world get this much flak and disrespect?

And just in case you were thinking the Basin Reserve should be demolished because it’s an “eye-sore” or “ugly” (I mean, how can a green field surrounded by trees ever be  described as ugly, I ask you?!) these things take time and money (a lot of money, actually) and so they have to be planned out and the Wellington City Council and Cricket Wellington have got this plan set out, which you can read here if you would like to be better informed.

I would like to invite all those detractors and correspondents to actually enjoy the Basin Reserve for what it is, over the next summer months:  an oasis of green in amidst the busy hustle and bustle of commuting life, and maybe they will learn to appreciate the nice things that we have in this city of ours, instead of wanting to destroy all things pleasant and positive!

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Reasons why the NZ World T20 campaign was a success

How can it be a success, I hear you say; our team failed. They were beaten in the semifinal stage.
Yes, they were.  And the team that beat them in the semifinal played better T20 cricket, and earned their place in the final of the tournament.  And naturally, as an ardent Black Caps supporter, one is always preferring to reach the ultimate goal in tournaments such as these.

However, if you take a step back from your disappointment for a moment, you will see several successes and hopes to build on in the future.
Well, my successes and hopes for the future, anyway …

Kane Williamson’s captaincy:
Some may criticise and deride Kane for calls he made in the semifinal, but for a young captain, leading a team for the first time in a major tournament, throughout the competition he gained praise from around the world about his confident and positive captaincy.  His fledgling captaincy shouldn’t be judged on this one game, and from what we have seen so far, he has the makings of yet another “great” NZ cricket captain!

Colin Munro:  Everyone (by that, I mean the usual keyboard warriors!) didn’t always give Munro the credit he deserved for his batsman ship and, while some of that may have been sometimes deserved in previous years, since being recalled to the national team, it is clearly evident that he has really worked on his game (anyone watching domestic cricket in NZ this season would agree too) and he seemed to take his promotion to number three in the batting order seriously, taking the time on many occasions to build an innings, and partnerships, to work towards the team totals.  And he hasn’t lost the flair and creativity that we love about him either!  One of my lasting T20 World Cup memories will be his audacious reverse late cut!

Ish Sodhi:  Okay, I make no secret of it – I’m a Sodhi fan-girl, but I have been for a while actually.  But when you watched a bowler develop his craft over the years, taking his chances in the national side when given them, it is immensely pleasing to see him being praised on the international scene after his efforts at the T20 World Cup!  And when he can, together with Mitchell Santner, out-spin the “spin kings” of India, the future for NZ spin looks bright, even with the retirement of Nathan McCullum!

Mitchell McClenaghan:  Another player who is often misunderstood by critics of NZ cricket, Mitch seems to have gone from strength to strength this year!  Self-confessed as wanting to be the number 1 T20 bowler in the world, Mitch steps up time and again in matches, this season in particular, with cunning bowling strategies and proving he is more than just the “bouncy and aggressive” bowler we’ve seen in the past.  If he keeps on this road, number one won’t be too far away, I reckon!

Well, that’s just four of my highlights and positives from the Black Caps World T20 trip … and I haven’t even mentioned Martin Guptill, or Mitchell Santner, or Nathan McCullum, among others!  All I can finish with is that it is so great to have a cricket team, enjoying playing all variations of cricket (ie  T20, ODI and Tests) and enjoying being part of this team, and improving as individuals and as a team while they do it; the future looks bright for us fans!

PS Thanks Mike Hesson and Mike Sandle, and the rest of the team, for once again bringing our team so well through a world tournament!

PPS Thanks Nathan McCullum for a wonderful limited overs cricket career for NZ; you will really be missed, but we thank you for passing on your knowledge and experience and leaving our spin bowling stocks in good shape!

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The legacy lives on …

As I sit and watch archive footage courtesy of Sky NZ of the “Max Blacks” playing Cricket Max cricket, with expert commentary from the man behind the idea, Martin Crowe, I wish I could find the words to express just how much I owe to New Zealand’s greatest batsman for just how much I appreciate what he meant to myself, and I’m certain many, many cricket supporters and players around the world. 
Instead, I think I’ll let pictures say thank you for me …

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The noticeboard of the Streetwise coffee cart on my roadtrip this week

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I will treasure this signed copy of Out on a Limb forever!

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The Rememberence Book at the NZ Cricket Museum that I could express my thoughts in

Thank you Martin Crowe for instilling a love of cricket in me and many others!
We shall keep the enjoyment and love going as you would have wanted us to.

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