Monday, 29 September 2008

Ben duds for summer

Looks like the Black Caps are getting their own version of the Walla-bra. The Black Caps have a new sponsor and are getting a new look, shown off here by the team's designated models Scott Styris and Chris Martin.

The new uniforms are produced by Canterbury (hence the faux futuristic look and that bloody bra). They are lightweight and highly breathable. They can also tell the player how cold or hot they are by little sensors on the shirts that change colour with temperature – as if a player standing about on a cricket field isn't highly sensitive to the sun on the back of his neck or the chill making his fingers ache. It gets better though. There are three types of 'super' trousers, for bowling (with a ball polishing patch), fielding (shock-proof) and batting (ventilated).

Friday, 26 September 2008

Ben on...Solid Energy NZ A, limp and listless

New Zealand A (who NZ Cricket seem to like to call Solid Energy New Zealand A) started the A Team Triangular Series in southern India with a hiss and a roar, thrashing Aus A by 129 runs. This gave them a good headstart on the table with 5 points. However, they then proceeded to lose the rest of their games by wide margins, and under the humiliating points system used at this tournament, saw their points dwindle away to a final total of 2.

Still, there were a couple of good performances.

Peter Fulton, with four solids scores and an average of 55.5, pushed his claim for a spot in the Black Caps should any of the incumbents not perform in Bangladesh. And on the basis of this A performance, Redmond with his 28 runs from three innings has his work cut out for him holding his place against Fulton.

Mark Gillespie took 7 wickets from his four matches at a SR of 30-odd. Jeetan Patel also did well with 6 wickets at a good average of 23.

Beyond these three though, there wasn't much to write home about. Apart from a 50 by Neil Broom, none of the non-internationals did anything impressive.

I don't really understand the point of A series cricket, but I can see three things that might come out of an A-team tournament.

The first is that it gives out of favour players an opportunity to play themselves back into contention. Fulton is a beneficiary in this case. James Marshall is not.

A series give fringe players the opportunity to find form and get practice. Gillespie, Patel and Elliot have made use of this opportunity. Redmond, not so much. Daniel Flynn could have benefited from a run in this tournament.

The third advantage of A series is that it gives up-and-comers the chance to impress. It is pity that the emerging players, the likes of Greg Hay and Martin Guptil, didn't manage to draw attention to themselves.

Thursday, 25 September 2008

Ben on...close shaves

I didn't find the time to comment on the controversy around the Champions Trophy in Pakistan and its postponement. My position would have been that I support NZ Cricket's decision not to send a team to Pakistan. I actually think that the threat posed by terrorism is very small and I typically wouldn't agree with a decision that allows terrorism to impact on our regular lives in this way. However, the NZ cricket team has had several close shaves while touring terrorism-wracked countries, so I think it is only reasonable that they are reluctant to put themselves at risk.

Recall these close shaves:
  • 2002 tour of Pakistan called off after a suicide bomb was denoted outside the hotel they were staying at.
  • 1992 tour of Sri Lanka disrupted after a terrorist attack outside their hotel, the grisly after-effects of which several of the NZ team were to witness.
  • 1987 tour of Sri Lanka curtailed after a bomb blast at a bus station that killed over 100. It didn't occur close to where the team was at the time, though they had passed the bus station half an hour earlier.
It was reported last night that the Black Caps were scheduled to stay at the Marriott Hotel at the very time it was hit by a terrorist attack that killed 53 people and injured hundreds more. If they had been there, there is every likelihood that some of the team could have been injured or killed.

Even though the Marriott bomb occurred half a world away, it must qualify as another close shave.

Friday, 19 September 2008

Ben badly hit is Bangladesh?

Shock news out of Bangladesh, less than a month ahead of the New Zealand tour, is that 13 Bangladeshi players, including six current internationals, are joining the ICL and effectively leaving international cricket.

New Zealand will be the first team to try out the newly weakened Bangladesh, with our own weakened side, and the powers that be are not happy.

So just how badly will these defections affect the Bangladesh team?

The internationals amongst the rebels include Habibul Bashar, Aftab Ahmed, Alok Kapali, Shahriar Nafees, Farhad Reza, Dhiman Ghosh and Mosharraf Hossain. Of these, the biggest losses are Bashar, with his 50-test experience, and Nafees, the 22-year old prodigy and the only other of these players to have a test batting average over 25. All the others are, quite frankly, replaceable. The sad fact about Bangladesh cricket is that many of its players have simply failed to add anything to the team. Another point to note is that Bashar was approaching the end of his career and his form had already slipped away. Losing Bashar is analogous to losing Fleming – clearly a big loss, but one that the team could ride out. Losing Nafees is more like losing a Ross Taylor.

My feeling is that most of the talent in the current Bangladesh team has remained. Their talented captain Mohammad Ashrafal is staying (reportedly turning down a $500,000/year offer from the ICL), as are Tamim Iqbal (who scored a couple of 50s against us last year) and Shahadat Hossain, their only bowler to have a test average of less than 40, amongst others.

Losing 13 players will certainly hurt Bangladesh. Several of the rebels are first choice picks for the national team, while the others would otherwise be the replacements for the first choice players. Take 13 players out of the top two tiers of NZ cricket and...well, it doesn't bear thinking about. Bangladesh apparently has a robust domestic cricket scene, so it could well be that the weaker of the rebels could be replaced fairly easily. I therefore think that the impact of the defections will not be as great as the numbers suggest. However, the fact that they have a large pool of mediocre players to replace losses in this way, highlights the great loss that Nafees will be.

In the longer term, the damage could be greater, but I might consider the long term implications in another post.

Thursday, 18 September 2008

Ben on...ruminations on the summer schedule

I'm pretty happy with how my tabulation of the cricket summer came out. It makes it quite easy to see how the various tours are laid out:
  • Tour to Bangladesh
  • Half month break
  • Tour of Australia begins, then is broken just as it gets up to speed
  • Players have about a week to disassemble and make it home before the first test in the leisurely series with West Indies
  • Another half month break in the international schedule for some domestic cricket
  • Then back to Oz for some one-dayers that really should have been part of a tri-series
  • More domestic cricket
  • Rushed tour by India
The two month gap in the Oz series is the stand-out head scratcher, but the four-day break between the WACA and MCG ODIs in Oz is a mystery (or does it just take that long to cross the Australian continent?). The Boxing Day 20-20 makes an unwelcome return and climaxing the Oz series with a 20-20 is a real 'who gives a fuck'.

My biggest beef with the schedule though is the number of tests. You'll note that each of the four tours includes only two tests. Two-test series are for losers; either the other guys just don't want to play with you or they don't have time for you. Obviously we're not going to agree to more than two tests with the Bangladeshis, 'cause we just don't rate them. Equally, India don't want to hang around for longer than they have to. Australia are usually pretty fair with us, so two tests is probably all they can reasonably spare this summer. The real disappointment is the West Indies series, the showcase of the summer. It's a shame the Windies couldn't give up one of their tests against England to allow them to extend their tour here by a test, but that's probably too much to ask.

I'm hoping that this pattern of short test rubbers is not the way of the future. I suspect that it has been necessary this year because Australia's window is the same as ours, so we have had to fit one of our away tours within our home window.

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Ben on...Basin facelift

So we all know the Basin is a great cricket ground. But don't you think it's just a bit shabby? Especially that bit at the northern end – when the game's gone a bit boring and you're thinking of heading into town, you walk past the R.A. Vance Stand sightscreen...then something happens, a batsman starts opening up or Mark Gillespie is brought into the attack, and you have to stop and watch in that open area by the gates, in the cold shadow of the grandstand with the breeze down the Cambridge–Kent wind tunnel up the back of your shirt, standing amongst the autograph hunters and tomato sauce covered food wrappers from the carts beside the city's worst toilet block.

Well. The happy news is that the Basin is getting a new stand (maybe), right in that area, between the R.A. Vance Stand and the Bank.

The City Council has plans for a 'flyover' to take traffic past the northern face of the Basin, and the new stand will hide the new road from view within the ground. There are a couple of other interesting details. It seems that the flyover will allow the Cambridge–Kent boulevard to be extended right up to the entrance to the ground. The flyover might also be further back than the current road, allowing the Basin to extend its boundaries out a bit. Also, Adelaide Rd is currently being examined for improvement, so the whole area might be get a facelift. (I understand chances of light rail running to the Basin is pretty slim though.)

Only one international match scheduled for the Basin this season, and it's the last of the summer: 2nd test v India, 3–7 April.

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Ben on...Boock's gone soft

Richard Boock is quite a combative cricket writer. He often rubs me the wrong way with his whinges about the crapness of the Black Caps and how they should be winning more. Recently, he has caused a storm at the Sunday Star Times. Two weeks ago he wrote an article in response to Brian Lochore's denunciation of political correctness. The article attracted such vehement response (no surprise perhaps when even the title of the article makes reference to "Brian the Bully") that he devoted last week's article to the responses he received.

They are a couple of very good articles. Well written and with their points well presented. And clearly heartfelt and very brave.

But anyway. It seems that he got enough feedback on his article to continue the topic for a third week. In the latest Sunday Star Times, Boock writes about a cricket team that included J.M. Barrie, Arthur Conan Doyle, A.A. Milne, P.G. Wodehouse, E.W. Hornung and Rudyard Kipling, a team that you might expect did not enjoy a lot of victories. He uses this team as an example to rebut the idea that sport is just about winning and losing, and to make the point that it is really about participation. I found this to be a pretty temperate attitude coming from Boock.

It's a fine sentiment and one that extends to following sport as well as participating. You get knocked back a lot being a Black Caps' supporter. On one hand, those many defeats make the victories all the sweeter, but on the other hand, setting aside the disappointment of the defeats and the joy of the victories and cricket remains an exciting, beautiful, compelling game. Roll on summer.

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Ben on...bad boys

So the news about Andrew Symonds is that he has been dropped from the Australian team for the upcoming tour of India for reasons of poor discipline, most notably his failure to show up for a team meeting, choosing to go fishing instead. He was dumped from the series against Bangladesh for this misdemeanour, after which he went to ground and was reportedly considering quitting international cricket. Apparently, we were told, he was suffering the stress of being a top-flight cricketer, like Trescothick and Tait before him, and that he is seeing a psychologist to get back on track.

For someone so evidently self-confident and reportedly laidback, this seems an unlikely theory. This report suggests that Symonds is less like Trescothick and Tait and more like Shoaib Akhtar, with alcohol in place of performance enhancing drugs and fishing in place of intraparty biffo. It isn't stress that's getting in Symonds' way, but his over-sized ego.

Whatever the reason, he's going to have to scratch India off his to-do list. And you'd have to say that that is a damn shame – Symonds' form has been outstanding recently and he has a great record against India. Myself though, I've never been a fan of the clown makeup, and his naked unfriendliness on the field makes him an ugly player to watch. No doubt he'll be back for the series with NZ, but I just hope that he has been knocked down a peg or two.

Meanwhile, our own larrikin Jesse Ryder is set to make his test debut in the Bangladesh series. Ryder knocked himself down a couple of pegs and is returning to the team chastened and apparently ready to make amends. This means not drinking while in Bangladesh, which might not be too much of a challenge.

It's awesome to see him back. He's tipped to play at 4, where he will fit right in to a top order with the promise of talent but bugger all experience. Assuming a top 5 of How, Redmond, Taylor, Ryder and Flynn, we're looking at a total of 26 caps.

Saturday, 13 September 2008

Ben on...the summer schedule

With the election date having been announced, we now know all we need to know about the summer's entertainment.

It's a good summer too, with trips to Bangladesh and Australia, then a visit by the West Indies (who we have seen quite a bit of recently, which I heartily approve of), followed by a return to Australia (seriously, the tour is interrupted by a whole other tour) and then the Indians visit (who we see too rarely sadly).

I have compiled the 08/09 cricket fixtures into one big table that also shows the days between fixtures. I always seem to find it difficult to find a comprehensive list of matches, so I've done one for myself. I'll put a link in the sidebar so we can come back and check it any time we want. (And please do come back and check it. It took frickin' ages to do all the CSS, so I would like to think my table will be appreciated.)

October 2008

Tue 7To be confirmedTo be confirmed

Thu 91st ODI v BangladeshShere Bangla National Stadium

Sat 112nd ODI v BangladeshShere Bangla National Stadium

Tue 143rd ODI v BangladeshChittagong Divisional Stadium

Fri 171st Test v BangladeshChittagong Divisional Stadium
Sat 181st Test v Bangladesh
Sun 191st Test v Bangladesh
Mon 201st Test v Bangladesh
Tue 211st Test v Bangladesh

Sat 252nd Test v BangladeshShere Bangla National Stadium
Sun 262nd Test v Bangladesh
Mon 272nd Test v Bangladesh
Tue 282nd Test v Bangladesh
Wed 292nd Test v Bangladesh

November 2008

Thu 13v New South WalesSCG
Fri 14v New South Wales
Sat 15v New South Wales
Sun 16v New South Wales

Thu 201st Test v AustraliaThe 'Gabba
Fri 211st Test v Australia
Sat 221st Test v Australia
Sun 231st Test v Australia
Mon 241st Test v Australia

Fri 28
2nd Test v AustraliaAdelaide Oval
Sat 29
2nd Test v Australia
Sun 30
2nd Test v Australia
December 2008
Mon 1
2nd Test v Australia
Tue 2
2nd Test v Australia

Fri 5Auckland v West IndiesEden Park Outer Oval
Sat 6
Auckland v West Indies
Sun 7Auckland v West Indies

Thu 111st Test v West IndiesUniversity Oval
Fri 12
1st Test v West Indies
Sat 13
1st Test v West Indies
Sun 14
1st Test v West Indies
Mon 15
1st Test v West Indies

Fri 192nd Test v West Indies McLean Park
Sat 20
2nd Test v West Indies
Sun 21
2nd Test v West Indies
Mon 22
2nd Test v West Indies
Tue 23
2nd Test v West Indies

Fri 261st Twenty20 v West IndiesEden Park

Sun 282nd Twenty20 v West IndiesSeddon Park

Wed 31
1st ODI v West IndiesQueenstown Events Centre
January 2009

Sat 3
2nd ODI v West IndiesAMI Stadium

Wed 73rd ODI v West Indies Westpac Stadium

Sat 10 4th ODI v West IndiesEden Park

Tue 135th ODI v West IndiesMcLean Park

February 2009
Sun 11st ODI v AustraliaWACA

Fri 62nd ODI v Australia MCG

Sun 8
3rd ODI v Australia SCG

Tue 10
4th ODI v Australia Adelaide Oval

Fri 13
5th ODI v Australia
The 'Gabba

Sun 15
Twenty20 v Australia

March 2009

Fri 6Twenty20 v India Westpac Stadium

Sun 81st ODI v India McLean Park

Wed 11
2nd ODI v India Seddon Park

Sat 14
3rd ODI v IndiaEden Park

Tue 17
4th ODI v IndiaWestpac Stadium

Fri 20
5th ODI v IndiaAMI Stadium

Sun 22
NZ XI v IndiaBert Sutcliffe Oval
Mon 23
NZ XI v India
Tue 24NZ XI v India

Thu 261st Test v IndiaSeddon Park
Fri 27
1st Test v India
Sat 28
1st Test v India
Sun 29
1st Test v India
Mon 30
1st Test v India

April 2009

Fri 32nd Test v IndiaBasin Reserve
Sat 4
2nd Test v India
Sun 5
2nd Test v India
Mon 6
2nd Test v India
Tue 7
2nd Test v India

Tuesday, 9 September 2008

Ben for cricket

It's been deathly slow here at Mike on Cricket, but then it has been deathly slow for New Zealand cricket recently. There hasn't been much going on, so I've been spending my time reading political blogs instead of trying to keep up with the world of cricket.

As you must know, the general election has to be held by 15 November. So the election campaign could be an interesting distraction until the summer really gets started with the first test against Australia on 20 November. I can't help but see cricket everywhere however, so all the politics I have been reading has been making me wonder what effect the result of the general election will have on NZ cricket.

I have checked the websites of the major parties, but no one has any policies for reversing the decline of the NZ cricket team. In fact, no one seems to have a cricket policy at all. National is promising more sports equipment for schools but less funding for sports programmes. Labour claims to have increased funding of sport and recreation during their term by a factor of 67.

Perhaps history is a better predictor of which party will do well for cricket.

History of NZ cricket in terms of the government


NZ started playing test cricket in 1930, during the government of the United Party, which would merge with the Reform Party to form the National Party. This government was followed by the Liberal–Reform coalition. All of which means that the first six years or so of NZ cricket was played under the predecessors of the National Party.

In this period, NZ played 11 matches and lost 4.

To follow the trends, I am going to refer to the graphs of the Test Cricket Rating Service. I believe they use a rating system derived from that used for chess. Whatever. I am just using it because it has historical graphs. The beginning of the graph is going to be iffy statistically, and it rather generously shows NZ occupying a lowish mid-table position for this period.


The Liberal–Reform coalition was followed by 14 years of Labour government, which established the welfare state in NZ and an interventionist economic system, which were to characterise New Zealand for several decades.

World War II severely curtailed test cricket during this period. NZ played 9 tests and lost 2. It was however a pretty good period for NZ cricket. Burt Sutcliffe and JR Reid were playing. We were outclassed by England and Australia (our only opponents in this period), but if we could have played more cricket of longer duration (we only played three-day tests) there is every possibility our first test win could have occurred in this period.

The graph shows us pretty much holding steady, which is probably fair.


Early on in this period, the graph shows a downturn in NZ's cricket fortunes, that turns into a collapse. This period was the long dark night of NZ's cricket history. Our record of an occasional loss amongst numerous draws turned into a bucketload of losses (40) interspersed with draws (35) with an average of about 1 win every 3 years.

This was the long period of the first two National governments. The first ran till '57, the second from '60 to '72. The Second Labour Government filled the gap, just long enough to raise taxes on luxuries and secure NZ's first test victory. Despite the tragic cricket, this was a fairly positive time for New Zealand, with agricultural exports to Britain keeping us relatively prosperous and our alliance with USA giving us greater prominence worldwide then we perhaps deserved, though at the cost of having to join the US in the Vietnam war.


Our cricket fortunes showed a bit of a turn around at the end of the last period, to allow the Third Labour Government, '72–'75, to enjoy a small plateau, that included our first ever win over Australia. Shortly after Labour was replaced by the Third National Government, our results dipped for a few years before rising steadily if unspectacularly.


The Fourth Labour Government was perhaps the most controversial government in our history. Our economy and international alliances were upended and several progressive social policies were enacted. NZ was reinvented and, in some ways, reinvigorated. It was also an exciting time for us in cricket. The rise that began under Muldoon accelerated and we somehow lost our habit of losing. By the time the government was re-elected in '87, the graph shows we were the third ranked test nation, ranked above Australia.


It couldn't last however. In 1990, National were elected. They cut spending, cut welfare and cut wages. The nation went into a funk and the cricket team went with it. We returned to our losing ways and our ranking slid away.


The end to the '90s doldrums came in 1999 with a sudden claw back in our rating, shortly after the election that would lead to the Fifth Labour Government. After this recovery, our rating continued to rise, taking us close to the heights enjoyed under the Fourth Labour Government. Similarly, the country has gradually clawed its way back from the despair of Ruthenasia to real prosperity.

The Test Cricket Rating Service hasn't been updated since July 2006, so the last couple of years of the Fifth Labour Government haven't been captured. However, it is clear that NZ's position has weakened recently. In the ICC ranking system (which can't be compared with the Test Cricket Rating Service unfortunately) we have fallen from 97 points to 83 points. Interestingly however, that hasn't changed our position in the ranking; we were 7th on 97 and are 7th on 83. Another interesting point is that while our rating rose during the '00s, so did that of most of the other countries, so we didn't actually increase our ranking above 7th for anything but a short period.


So, so what? Well I can't tell you who to vote for, but I can give you a couple of perspectives.

From a historical perspective it is clear. The two periods of plenty have come during Labour governments, while the two periods of famine have come during National governments. You would have to expect from this trend that a National government would turn the recent drop in performance into a longer drought. Could re-electing Labour prevent a collapse?

Ignoring the lessons of history, you might interpret the recent downturn as a symptom of a tired, overdone government bereft of ideas and vision. And perhaps the '00s renaissance was illusory anyway, just a consequence of a general cricket-wide trend upwards. So could electing National dodge the impending collapse?

So there you go. Make sure you vote, vote wisely, and vote for cricket.