Friday, November 23, 2012

Six quick singles – more records than Elvis

The start to the 2012/13 Plunket Shield season has seen records broken like plates at a Greek wedding. For a competition steeped in history, the play has been fascinating – domestic cricket’s cream has risen quickly to the top.

A mixture of youth and experience continued to show through in the most recent round. Michael Papps, Dean Brownlie and Peter Fulton all dominated with the blade, while promising young international Tom Latham led his Canterbury team mates to an unlikely victory in Rangiora. But the most encouraging performance came from Central Districts’ young quicks, Adam Milne and Ben Wheeler – if only they can stave off injury that so regularly strikes down bowlers with any pace in this country.

Northern Districts 183 (A Wheater 53, C Cachopa 3/15; 70.3 overs) and 252 (D Mitchell 83, I Sodhi 50, B Wheeler 4/38, A Milne 4/53; 93.5 overs) lost to Central Districts 341 (J Raval 73, B Smith 64*, J Baker 4/59; 121.5 overs) and 95/2 (J Raval 57*; 20.3 overs) by 8 wickets at Harry Barker Reserve, Gisborne. 

Wellington 239 (M Gillespie 77, A Ellis 6/58; 60.3 overs) and 364/5 decl. (J Brodie 74, M Papps 206*; 99.3 overs) lost to Canterbury 301/8 decl. (P Fulton 79, D Brownlie 133, M Gillespie 4/74; 90.2 overs) and 303/4 (P Fulton 104, S Stewart 57, T Latham 53*; 59.3 overs) by 6 wickets at MainPower Oval, Rangiora.

1. An exciting pace duo
It’s not often that two young quicks come along at the same time in New Zealand domestic cricket – Central Districts will be glad that the promising youngsters lead their attack.

20 year old Adam Milne and Ben Wheeler, just a year older, have the potential to destroy domestic batting line-ups for many years to come, if only they can stave off the inevitable injuries. Between them the pair took 12 of the Northern Districts’ wickets on a deck that offered assistance in Gisborne. Harry Barker Reserve, so often a road for batsmen, offered enough to encourage the young speedsters. Milne, having just returned from Sri Lanka, would have been happy just to get some cricket – young men don’t develop bowling in sub-continent nets, held back by a lack of confidence from their coach and skipper.

The left-arm Wheeler complements Milne’s right-arm pace, keeping all the batsmen on their toes, and often the back foot. Central will be hoping the new ball pair continues to develop through the rest of the Plunket Shield – if they can, there are few batsmen who will relish the thought of opening up against the youthful duo.

However, with just 20 first class matches between them, Milne and Wheeler are just starting out. The pair has 60 scalps at under 30, and those numbers will only grow as they get into their work. Regardless of what side we support, it’s hard not be excited at the prospect of two young quicks embarking on what we can only hope will be a long partnership. What chance of seeing Wheeler follow Milne into the black cap in seasons to come?

2. Conversions are key
Central Districts dodged a bullet in Gisborne, though they had turned the gun towards themselves.

After dismissing ND for 183 on a helpful deck, CD established a lead of 158 but they missed an opportunity to close out the match and only bat once. Seven of their batsmen went past 20, but only two were able to convert their starts into half-centuries – on difficult decks, it’s important batsmen fill their boots after doing the hard graft early on.

As it was, two poor batting returns from the Knights let CD off the hook. A strong knock in either innings from Northern Districts and the result could have been very different – hopefully the older heads in the Central line-up will ram home that point as opposed to letting a comfortable victory paper over the cracks.

On the plus side, it was encouraging to see ex-Auckland opener Jeet Raval getting amongst the runs. If he can build during the season and get a strong start at the top of the order, it will allow Central’s two stroke makers, Sinclair and Cachopa, to come to the crease with conditions stacked more in their favour – when they get that opportunity the runs will flow, as they have previously, and Central will be hard to topple.

3. The internationals return
After a rain-affected yet wholly unsuccessful limited overs tour of Sri Lanka, the returning internationals would be glad of the extended game time – Ronnie Hira excepted. As he did so often in Auckland, Hira was left to carry the drinks for Canterbury in Rangiora – in form off-spinner Tom Johnston again got the nod. The other three made the most of their extended opportunities in their first Plunket Shield matches of the season.

Central Districts’ speedster Adam Milne got through 37 overs on a helpful deck at the Harry Barker Reserve, for a match return of 6/94. The Northern Districts’ batsmen struggled to cope with the combined pace of he and Ben Wheeler. Though he is unlikely to force his way into the test side for the South African tour, regardless of his returns leading up to Christmas, Milne’s bowling fitness will only improve with a sustained stint in first class cricket. It will be interesting to see whether Hesson and Taylor opt for him on the limited overs section of the tour, or whether he’ll be left on ice until England arrive.

All-rounder Andy Ellis fits more comfortably into the domestic game than he does the international arena – it’s been disappointing to see him squander a chance to find a permanent spot as New Zealand’s limited overs all-rounder. However, he fitted easily back into Plunket Shield cricket. Ellis snared 6/58 off 15 incisive overs at MainPower Oval and he must continually question why he can’t transfer his ability to the next level. He knocked the top off the Wellington order at Rangiora and the capital side never quite recovered. He did little with the bat but must be looking forward to some more substantial time in the middle as the season progresses.

20 year old Tom Latham struggled against the pace of Mark Gillespie in Canterbury’s first innings, though he wasn’t alone in that. However, he showed his class in leading his side to victory late on the final day. He displayed a maturity that New Zealand want to see in the limited overs arena, though having him occasionally take the gloves can’t be helping him settle into the side. He will be looking to build a wealth of runs in the coming weeks to ensure he heads to Africa, though his best may still be a few years off.

The disappointment was that BJ Watling remained in Sri Lanka to cover an injury scare to his Northern Districts’ team mate Daniel Flynn. Northern could have done with his presence, though how he’s not in the test side as a batsman is perplexing. But for an injury after his century against Zimbabwe last summer it’s likely he would have remained a permanent fixture in all three international formats. Watling is set to return in ND’s next match against Canterbury in early December, and there’s a whisper he may be joined by Dan Vettori on his comeback from long term injury.
4. Milestones
  • Northern Districts’ Graeme Aldridge belatedly celebrated his 35th birthday by going past 2000 first class runs in the match against Central Districts. He achieved the milestone when he went to 22 in his second innings score of 38. Already on 286 wickets, he should end the season having achieved the 300 wicket, 2,000 run, first class double – just reward for a fine stalwart. 
  • Northern Districts’ seamer James (Jimmy) Baker bettered his previous best innings’ return with 4/59 off 25 overs against Central in his 11th first class match. 
  • Batting at four in Northern Districts’ second innings, 21 year old Daryl Mitchell struck a career high 83.  His maiden first class half-century in his third match nearly doubled his previous best of 42. 
  • Ish Sodhi eclipsed his previous high score of 48, struck on debut earlier in the season. His second innings 50 was his maiden first class half-century in just his third match – the 19 year old leggie could have done with a little more support from his more senior cohorts. 
  • Youngsters Ben Smith and Adam Milne set a new mark for a 10th wicket partnership for Central Districts against Northern Districts. Their 55 bettered the previous milestone of 48 set by Michael Mason and Lance Hamilton in Blenheim 2001/2. However, it’s still well short of the CD record against all comers – 133 by Gary Bartlett (ex-New Zealand quick) and Ian Colquhoun versus Auckland in 1959/60. 
  • In his ninth first class innings, Adam Milne compiled his highest first class knock of 38, surpassing his previous mark by two. It was part of a strong Plunket Shield return after the limited overs tour of Sri Lanka. 
  • Jeet Raval struck back to back fifties in a low scoring affair at Harry Barker Reserve. His scores of 73 and 57 not out for a match total of 130 was the highest individual aggregate in the match. In his 30th match, the scores were Raval’s seventh and eighth half-centuries at Plunket Shield level. 
  • At lunch on the first day on the match against Central, ND was 60/4 off 31 overs - top score was extras with 16! 
  • CD’s Carl Cachopa finished with match figures of 4/28 off 14 overs – 3/15 off nine in the first innings followed by 1/13 off five in the second. In 25 previous matches he’d only taken 11 wickets, yet he turned ND inside out. His returns bettered both his best innings and match returns. After dismissing Daryl Mitchell and James Marshall with consecutive balls in ND’s first innings, Adam Wheater denied him a historic hat trick. 
  • Wheater, Northern’s Essex CC wicketkeeper doubled his season aggregate in just the third match of his Southern Hemisphere summer - his 53 was his first fifty for his adopted province. 
  • Mark Gillespie and Andy McKay combined for a run a ball 10th wicket partnership of 113 – the pair were well clear of the next highest partnership in the Wellington innings; 59 for the first wicket. Six pairs didn’t get past one! In a little under 20 overs they went close to doubling a poor total from their Wellington side. The partnership bettered the previous best for Wellington against Canterbury – 87 by Newman Hoar and Ray Allen in 1944/45. Regardless of how remarkable the knock, it still falls short of the Wellington record against all comers – 138 by Ken James and William Brice against Otago in 1926/27. 
  • Mark Gillespie’s 77 was the fourth occasion he’s passed 50 in 14 seasons, though it fell just shy of his best of 81 not out. 
  • Like Gillespie, Andy McKay's 33 not out fell marginally short of his highest score of 36 not out – a final boundary from either and they’d have been celebrated even more records. 
  • A point worth considering – when was the last time in a Plunket Shield match that number 11 led the scoring, while the man above him was second? If anyone knows, please share.  
  • Returning international Andy Ellis took just his third five wicket bag in his 59th first class match. His 6/58 off 15 overs fell slightly shy of his best innings return of 6/54.  
  • Dean Brownlie’s 133 in Canterbury’s first innings was his sixth first class century in 53 innings. 
  • Brownlie passed 2,000 first-class runs when his score reached 104. 
  • A match double of 79 and 104 from Canterbury’s 1.97m Peter (Fulton) was his 52nd time past 50 in 183 innings (29% success rate). However, in 16 knocks at test level he’s achieved the feat only once (6% success). 
  • Fulton’s second innings 104 was his twelfth first class century and set his side up for victory.  
  • When Fulton got to 50 in the second innings, he passed 1,000 first class runs for Canterbury against Wellington. The half century took him just 26 balls and 47 minutes! He passed the 1,000 run mark in his 15th match against the capital side, but for all his success his average is his lowest against the five major associations.
  • Wellington’s Michael Papps went into match with 7,888 first class runs – he brought up the 8,000 run mark during his second innings ton, when he went past 81. 
  • Papps hit his highest first class score, 206 not out, in the second innings – his previous best was 192. The mammoth knock was Papps’ 22nd first class century. 
  • George Worker went to 2,000 first class runs when he got to five in Canterbury's second innings - he was dismissed for a fourth ball duck in the first innings. The 23 year old ex-CD opener, playing in his 45th first class match, has also represented NZ U19, Scotland and NZA, but with an average in the mid-20s he has yet to live up to his early potential.

5. Hi ho, hi ho, it’s off to work we go
A fine second innings double century by experienced Wellington opener Michael Papps should have closed the door on his former province’s chances of forcing a victory, but the pace and number of his runs left it slightly ajar and the Canterbury side snuck through.

That 33 year old Papps ended on the losing side shouldn’t detract from a remarkable innings. His maiden first class double century led a major turnaround from a Wellington first innings that only achieved a modicum of respectability thanks to their final pair. Papps’ 206 not out took him past 8,000 first class runs and leaves him in second spot behind the evergreen Matthew Sinclair in the highest aggregate list in Plunket Shield cricket.

With over 130 first class matches under his belt, the vast majority in New Zealand’s domestic competition, Papps has become one of our most successful provincial cricketers. When he went past 100 in Wellington’s second innings, he had gone into triple figures against each of New Zealand’s six provinces – only the sixth player to achieve the feat - after playing his first 95 Plunket Shield matches for Canterbury. Had he stayed in the southern city, Papps would now sit atop the pile as the most capped Canterbury first class cricketer, easily moving past Paul McEwan’s 103 – his former teammate Peter Fulton will ascend to that mantle before season’s end.

Embarking on his 15th first class season, Papps would likely give it all back for another shot in the international arena. Eight tests and six ODIs don’t do justice to the man, given the chances afforded many of New Zealand’s top order batsmen. The final blow, excuse the pun, in his international career was a Brett Lee thunderbolt. He returned to test cricket after a 1,000 run first class season in 2006/7, but he was never the same cricketer.

Papps struggled against genuine pace at the game’s highest level. The diminutive opener was prone to prop forward early, regardless of his lack of height that meant the back foot should have harvested the majority of his runs – it didn’t take much for international quicks to spot the technical flaw. Lee’s 90mph missile in Papps’ final ODI was a stark reminder of the potential for the gentlemen’s game to cross into brutality at the highest level. Papps retired hurt for three, nursed from the field on his way to a night in hospital – he didn’t play again in the 2004/5 international summer. The head knock, coupled with a broken finger and a dislocated shoulder, all in quick succession, meant Papps didn’t get another opportunity until 2006, but the demons inflicted by Lee effectively wrecked his emotional stability in the game’s upper echelons.

But it’s better not to dwell on what Papps missed out on, his career should be celebrated for his success and longevity in the domestic arena – many of his records will take some beating.

6. Every cloud has a silver lining
Prolonged rain should have destroyed a meaningful cricketing contest, but no one told either of the combatants.

When rain led to the abandonment of the second day’s play in Rangiora, the odds of a result widened substantially. Canterbury declared eight down with a lead of 69 midway through day three - the chances of anything but a tame draw were minimal. The final result a day and a half later continued a remarkable start to the 2012/13 Plunket Shield competition.

Wellington declared their second innings at 5/364 after Michael Papps had raised his maiden double ton, leaving a strong Canterbury line-up 303 to score in a minimum of 61 overs. Five an over gave Canterbury a strong incentive to have a crack at the chase, though Wellington must have felt secure that they could knock over their southern rivals at home. 1.97 metre Peter (Fulton) had other ideas – he dismantled former international Mark Gillespie who had wrecked Canterbury’s middle order in their first innings.

The Cantabrians raised their first fifty at a run a ball in 35 minutes – the tone was set and Fulton kept a metronomic rhythm. He raised his hundred in 73 balls, and though he departed just four runs later, at 2/175 Canterbury needed only 128 off a minimum of 24 overs - less than 5.5 an over, with 8 wickets in hand. With Shanan Stewart nearing 50 and first innings’ centurion Dean Brownlie entering the fray, the larger part of the chase was done, and it had suddenly become the red and blacks to lose.

Stewart departed soon after and Brownlie exited for 30, but two of Canterbury’s rising stars got their side across the line with six wickets and nine balls to spare. 20 year old Tom Latham and Bradley Cachopa showed the steadiness of old hands, pacing the final stages of the chase like seasoned pros. Latham, returning to the first class arena after the limited overs tour of Sri Lanka, took the lead with 53 not out at quicker than a run a ball, and Canterbury had won the rain affected match inside three playing days.

Wellington’s willingness to make the chase achievable when they declared may have been overly generous, but such opinions are borne out of hindsight – each over they batted was one less they’d have to push for victory with the ball.

Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. The Plunket Shield has been fantastic early doors – long may it continue. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.

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