A little bit about me and my little blog

This is by far not the first cricket blog to be written and it certainly won't be the last (or necessarily the best). But it's mine.

This is mainly an excuse for me to carry on about a sport that has been something of an obsession since I was knee high to a middle stump. An obsession which has never left throughout the many highs (behave, there have been some) and lows (and boy have there been many of those…..) of being and England cricket fan in the years since.

The views and opinions in this blog are entirely my own. Sometimes light-hearted, occasionally irreverent, hopefully never offensive.

What gives this fool the right to have an opinion on this great sport? Where are his credentials I hear you ask? Well I think my catch at mid-on in the inter-house final at Heath Grammar school in 1981 speaks for itself…..

Sunday, 10 March 2013

Tour of New Zealand 2013 - part 5

First Test - Dunedin

Day 1

"Play may start any minute lads, honest!"

So, after weeks of waiting for the vastly inferior forms of cricket to be done with (of course, as we won both series they are not regarded quite as inferior as they once were) the excitement in me was palpable - England were about to play Test cricket once again! Well as it turned out, they weren't.

Captain Cook continued his tried and tested ingenious ploy of throwing the opposing team into confusion by deciding once again to lose the toss. The New Zealanders took one look at the light and cloud and thought that they may get the odd wicket so decided to put our boys in to bat. However, just as Captain Cook was padding up the weather decided to ignore the fact that I too had fully prepared for the onset of gods' own game - my iPad was fully charged, supper was prepared, a nice glass of wine was at hand…..perfect. That was, except for the rather annoying fact of bad light at the beginning of play and then incessant rain for the rest of the day. Dunedin looks like a nice place, but it's climate is notoriously temperamental (regular drizzle & lots of cloud) - in fact I believe I'm right in saying that the name is actually Gaelic for 'Edinburgh'. It seems the Scots when travelling halfway around the world to find better climes were only finally satisfied when we found a place that was actually wetter and colder than the old homeland….. ( I'm half Scottish and live in the North East of Scotland so I'm OK in saying that - I think!). The perfect place to hold a cricket match then. I know, before anybody says anything, glass houses and all that.

So, no play at all on day one. At least that meant a decent nights sleep for me then.

Day 2

First the good news; the bad light and rain had disappeared, play was starting earlier to make up for some lost time and we were in for a day of England batting. Well in fact it turns out we were in for just 55 overs of English 'batting' as they were scuttled out by the Kiwis for just 167. Oh dear.  

Whether the preparations for the Test series were undercooked, a case of English overconfidence or quite simply (perish the thought) the New Zealand side is better than the English side, this was about an abject first day batting performance that I can remember for a long time. England's batsmen, with the exception of Trott, showed an alarming lack of application on what is obviously a benign surface. However, even Trott, who made 45, was one of many English of batsmen to lose their wickets to reckless strokes.

Even our Captain fantastic, normally the epitome of rock solid dependability caught the reckless bug after meekly hitting to point off Wagner. The New Zealand bowler then annoyingly swung the next delivery back in to trap Kevin Pietersen with a nailed on lbw. A mini-recovery was only short lived when Ian Bell drilled a Wagner half-volley straight to a Kiwi fielder. Joe Root was soon caught at third slip as he fenced at one slanted across him. Martin also accounted for three wickets in two overs after lunch, once again as the result of our boys trying to force the game when it didn't actually need forcing. Prior was out to a long-hop, Trott top-edged a rare sweep and Broad holed out on the boundary to another ordinary short ball.. Finn and Anderson provided a side show stand of 47 with a few nicely selected shots 47 for the ninth wicket. Though England's obsession with their aggressive approach when Finn succumbed to another Keystone cop moment was no surprise.
If that wasn't enough, Hamish Rutherford decided to rub a truckload of salt into England's gaping wounds when New Zealand came into bat. Rutherford's unbeaten 77 led the hosts to 131-0 by the close - trailing by 36.

"You've got to respect the game and today England didn't respect the game. They took the mickey out of Mr Cricket. England's mindset has been over-confident; they weren't prepared to do the hard yards." Michael Vaughan.

A bit harsh methinks, Michael……...

"England's performance was the worst opening day of a first Test I can remember. It was something of a shock and England will be absolutely devastated by the way they performed. They only have themselves to blame." Jonathan Agnew.

I couldn't have put it better myself Aggers……..

Day 3

Something of an improvement for England today - but lets face it, it couldn't have been much worse than yesterday. Yes, we took 7 wickets, with Jimmy Anderson bowling with skill and aggression , particularly during decent looking spell after lunch that brought him three wickets in seven overs, but it was a rare period of England dominance. Jimmy also had a couple of moments that bordered on petulance when the frustrations of the last 2 days came to the surface, particularly showing a rather fiery send off to Ross Taylor when he was given out. Sometimes we need to know the difference between a petulant and aggressive approach to the opposition. The Aussies historically have had the balance practically perfect, we need to do the same. Yes, acting like a bit of a bully and not taking one's foot of the oppositions throat is good ( Steve Waugh, the epitome of good aggressive captaincy and play). Acting like a sulky schoolboy is not. 

For a it seemed that the Kiwis would be limited to a significant but reachable lead. However, this was Hamish Rutherford's day as he transformed his overnight 77 into a bloody good 171 - the seventh highest score on Test debut. So far the match has belonged without doubt to the 23-year-old son of Ken Rutherford, who essentially was even more assured as each over progressed. This guy might turn into a bit of a player..
The standing ovation he was afforded as he left the field, having struck 22 fours and three sixes, was richly deserved. He had scored two-thirds of his side's runs. That was until McCullum came in to bat - so that might change tomorrow. 
I'm still the optimist…….we can still get something out of this…….some may say that I'm delusional, or maybe its just the sleep deprivation that I'm suffering from.

Day three at stumps: New Zealand (402-7) lead England (167) by 235 runs.

Day 4

This day quite simply, is why many of us love Test cricket. From an England performance point of view, the first day of play resembled nothing short of a Keystone Cop level of shambles. The second day was a lighter shade of shambolic perhaps, but still pretty rubbish. Today, backbone had to be restored to the batting line-up, we needed men of substance, calibre and for them to show us their qualities. Step forward Messrs. Cook and Compton.  

Now, regular readers and people who know me (whether they like the fact that they know me or not) will be familiar with my man-love for captain Fantastic Cook. I sincerely believe that by the end of his career ol' square jaw will have just about broken any and all English, and possibly many international batting records. The man quite simply is a run machine. Today, with only the odd hiccup along the way, he was first of the opening pair to reach his 100, his 24th Test century, his sixth in seven Tests as captain at an average of 85.83! He also became only the third Englishman after Michael Vaughan and Ian Bell to score hundreds against all of the other eight Test-playing nations. I like this guy. If I was a young kid again he, and not the more flamboyant players such as KP et al, would be the cricketing hero of mine who would be inspiring me with dreams of playing against the Aussies to secure the Ashes. (I do still have those dreams, but I'll keep that little fantasy between me and you)….. though if Andy Flowers dies ever happen to come across this little piece of online prose - I still have my whites and boots at the ready ;-)

The fact that the opening pair batted for 84 overs, which is a grand total of 29 more than the entire team did on the first day, says much for their application and concentration today. What was even more special was that this came after not only the hugely disappointing first 2 days but also after New Zealand showed us all how to kick a team when they were down after adding 58 in 8.4 spectacular overs at the start of the day. Thus ensuring that any idea our boys had of knocking off a few quick wickets and gain some much needed momentum was well and truly knocked on the head after Brendon McCullum's deliciously contemptuous innings.

For Compton - on a pair, and with all the speculation about his future in the side from media and cricket fans alike - to play the way he did and score a hundred says everything about the man's determination, and character. I can't remember the last time I was so happy to see an English Cricketer reach triple figures.

Bloody hell, one day left, nine wickets left. We might get that draw out of this…...

England close on 234-1 - trailing by 59 runs.

Day 5

Steve Finn doing his best Lieutenant John Chard impression

The final day. Starting nearly 60 runs behind meant that some serious Rorke's Drift type behind the barricades stoicism was needed from our batsmen, a few early loss of wickets would have meant for a nail-biting night. 

So who was going to be our Lieutenant Chard, our Lieutenant Gonville Bromhead, or even our Private James Hook? The usual volunteers were all there and reporting for duty; Trott, stoic and methodical; Bell, master stroke player but flawed; Pietersen, genius and a game changer, but deeply flawed. so who was it going to be?……..

Step forward, er, Steve Finn!!??

Finn had come in the previous evening as nightwatchman for the final few overs. The decision to even have a nightwatchman is always a contentious one, I for one think that more times than not it is a less than effective method, especially if the player survives to the next day and then wastes numerous overs achieving few runs. Until this match, the role for England had previously been filled by Jimmy Anderson, so this was Finn's first jaunt. It turns out that he is a bit good at it, making 56, beating his previous highest first-class score of 32. All in all he stayed at the crease for 203 balls in 286 minutes on his first outing as England’s nightwatchman to frustrate New Zealand efforts and essentially held the innings together, despite New Zealand's best efforts.

By close of play, our boys had held firm, converting the shortfall of 59 at the start of the day into a lead of 128 by the time they closed on 421-6. New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum decided against banging his head against the pitch in abject frustration and instead shook hands on a draw an hour before the scheduled close…… I had fallen asleep by this time, the lack of problems offered by the placid pitch meant that even I of dubious eternal optimism, could only see one result. 

As admirable as our second innings was, we should not forget the abject failure of the manner of the first innings capitulation - 167 runs all out is pathetic, simple as. Why oh why do we seem to constantly struggle in the opening Test of a series? If one was to do ones research, which I have, one would find that England have won the first Test of a tour only once in the last 14 attempts - and that was against blooming Bangladesh in 2010!

I'll leave to Geoffrey Boycott to sum it up perfectly…..

"England will have to look at the plusses rather than the minuses. The plusses are that the two or three batsmen who haven't played much cricket since Christmas did well. Compton got a hundred and Prior got a few runs, so that's looking bright. Cook, Trott, Root and Bell are all in good nick too. The only minus is Kevin Pietersen. He looks rusty, but Kevin is Kevin and he will just have to get into the nets."

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