Sunday, 30 May 2004

Don't go West young man

Bangladesh just knocked 400 off the Windies. How much lower can West Indian cricket get?

Friday, 28 May 2004

Back from the dead

Yesterday, the back page of the Dominion Post was capped by a Jonathon Millmow obituary for Shane Bond. Today, we found that Bond's injury is almost certainly nothing more than a soft muscle tear and he is staying on tour.

Yesterday, I was miserable. Today, I am perky.

Wednesday, 26 May 2004

Failure against England

A tired, average performance. The side let down by their middle order and disappointing bowling on the final day. Two tests, two almost identical losses.

Tuesday, 25 May 2004

Memories (1) - the Greatbatch series

New Zealand in Australia

Perth. 24-28 November 1989. Australia 521/9 dec (Boon 200, Jones 99, Morrison 4-145, Snedden 4-108), New Zealand 231 (Greatbatch 76, M Crowe 62, Hughes 4-51) and 322/7 (Greatbatch 146*, J Crowe 49, Snedden 33*, Hughes 3-92).

Australia in New Zealand

Wellington. 15-19 March 1990. Australia 110 (Hadlee 5-39, Morrison 3-22). New Zealand 202 (Wright 36, Franklin 28, Alderman 4-46, P Taylor 3-44), Australia 269 (Border 78*, P Taylor 87, Bracewell 6-85) and New Zealand 181/1 (Wright 117*)

The first series of the 1990s (and the last series of the 1980s) was an odd split affair straddling the tour by India and including one test in each of Australia and New Zealand. The first match, in Perth, was a hell of a way to mark the transition between decades and, in retrospect, marked some important differences between the two eras. After a long period of decline through the 1980s, Australia’s star was on the rise once more. The 1989 tour to England marked the start of a new period of Australian dominance, led at this stage by the batsmen - Waugh, Taylor, Boon, Jones and Border. And for New Zealand the decade began worryingly with Richard Hadlee missing from the attack.

Australian cricket-writer Trevor Brindle wrote after the Perth game that “it is clearly no coincidence that the only living holder of two Victoria crosses is a New Zealanders”. And this is one game in which it is possible to use the word “hero” about a sportsman without devaluing the meaning of the word too badly. For 876 minutes (14 hours and 36 minutes) Mark Greatbatch defied the Australians and led a badly trampled New Zealand side to the safety of a draw. And for almost all of those 876 minutes those of us watching believed we were simply watching him hold up an inevitable Australian victory. It was one of those matches where as a spectator I had given up hope very early on and watched merely in the hope of seeing some moments of individual redemption. Watching the hated Dean Jones dismissed on 99 (to a very dubious lbw) was one. Seeing Martin Crowe and Mark Greatbatch score some runs in our disappointing first innings was another. Seeing Greatbatch bring up his second innings century was an absolute joy. But to have him remain at the crease for another three hours after this, with only Martin Snedden for company, and to drag us through to safety, was simply astounding.

For Greatbatch this game was to mark the pinnacle of his career. Never again was he to show as much concentration, application and technique. This is no real criticism. I do not believe any player in New Zealand cricket history has demonstrated those qualities as well in a single innings. But Greatbatch’s decline was, and still is, mystifying to me. How could a player who did THAT, turn into the muddling slogger with a penchant for leg-side heaves that marked the latter stages of his career? It was those leg-side heaves that always got me. I remember marvelling in the Perth innings that Greatbatch was looked such a restrained player. There was one cross-bat stroke I can recall, a crashing cut when the game started to look safe. For the remainder of his time at the crease he was a model of self-control. “Why”, I thought to myself so many times over the next few years “could he not keep that bloody leg-side heave in his bag today, like he did that time in Perth?”.

I shouldn’t really be focussing on Greatbatch’s decline here. The brilliance of this innings was such that it can, and perhaps should, overshadow the rest of his career. And its value can be seen in the result of the return fixture at the Basin Reserve some months later. Instead of going into the second match of a two test series one down, we went in with honours even. And thanks to some outstanding performances from the old stalwarts, Hadlee, Bracewell and Wright, we took not just this game, but the series.

The second match of the series was played during one of those horrendous Wellington northerlies and after a period of torrential rain. The sort of weather which marks my memory of all Basin Reserve tests up until the introduction of the Boxing Day fixture in 1997. The highlight of the Australian innings was a scything spell from Danny Morrison which took the top off the Australian order and followed by some of the controlled brilliance which defined Richard Hadlee. His ball to dismiss Steve Waugh seemed to do everything - swung, cut, dart, weave, teleport - before nipping through the normally rock-solid defences of the Australian and remove his off-stump. It was, as Hadlee recalled in a post-match interview, a jaffa.

After a slow grind of a New Zealand innings on a wicket that appeared increasingly low and slow, it was John Bracewell’s turn to show the kids how things are done. With his face fixed in a grimace and with the ball gripping and (surprisingly) bouncing he battered the Australians into submission by as much force of will as talent. Danny Morrison certainly needed a little direction from his elders. One ball he delivered ending up pitching at his toes and rolling gently out to midwicket, where Border wandered casually before smiting the stationary ball to the boundary.

The victory target looked tough, and there was much speculation about whether Australian off-spinner Peter Taylor could replicate Bracewell’s demolition job on a wicket that looked to be wearing. But John Wright came out and played one of his best knocks to put New Zealand’s name on the Trans-Tasman trophy for the first time since 1985/86. After a slow and solid start he blossomed and the series ended with Wright in complete control, driving fluently and attacking Taylor and Australia’s part-time spinners with a look of absolute relish etched onto his craggy face.