First class cricket is upon us and summer is underway - the first two matches of the Plunket Shield are done and if the season continues in the same vein supporters would do well to get to their local oval. In an early season reversal, bat dominated ball with the top order leading Otago and Wellington to comprehensive victories over Central Districts and Canterbury respectively.
If you missed all the action, have a read of my six quick singles and keep abreast of our great game.
Canterbury (297 and 352) lost to Otago (383 and 267-2) by 8 wickets
Central Districts (383-8 decl. and 298-7 decl.) lost to Wellington (340 and 343-5) by 5 wickets
1. Ryder defeats Central Districts
Exaggeration? Perhaps, though it’s more a slight stretch of the truth. Leading into the first Plunket Shield match of the season, Ryder struck two pre-season hundreds. His 36 ball effort against his team mates in a wider squad match can be written off as little more than hit and giggle, but a repeat effort in 46 balls against Northern Districts in a T20 match a few days later increased curiosity and heightened expectation.
However, neither innings signalled the dominance that was to follow in Napier. Ryder bludgeoned 291 runs, dismissed only once after victory was assured. His first innings 117 not out at a run a ball held a brittle Wellington innings together and got them closer to Central effort than they deserved.
Ryder’s second knock was a class above. He dominated the latter part of the game; his 174 off 136 balls accounted for half of Wellington’s winning chase of 343-5 and made a mockery of CD’s challenging declaration. From the moment he entered the fray at 34-2 Ryder set about changing the course of the match as few cricketers can – the Central bowlers were running out of options within half an hour of a Ryder’s entry. None were spared – test star Doug Bracewell, left at home to work on his technique, would have learned little other than where not to bowl, and Tarun Nethula’s lagging confidence will have continued its lengthy holiday.
It would take an eternal optimist to script a better domestic return, but Ryder should be left to make his own choices – he’ll return to the international game when he’s ready, regardless of the increasingly loud calls for his immediate reinstatement. His batting, not his lifestyle, is to the fore and he is rightly staying out of the media – the lack of a NZC contract allows him that flexibility.
If I had to put a timeframe on it, I’d love to see Ryder return for next year’s England series at home, skipping a tour to South Africa. When Ryder is ready, an international spot should be his – no questions asked. By all accounts he has worked hard on his off-field issues, but regardless, cricketers aren’t role models – they’re paid to score runs, take wickets and win matches.
We have a small pool of international quality players; Ryder is one of the few. If there are concerns about his conduct in a team environment then managers and administrators need to do their job, and players need to concentrate on their own roles – that’s the professional game. It’s important Ryder continues to put himself at the top of his priority list – it’s paying a strong dividend at the moment, both on a personal front and with willow in hand.
2. 100 to mark 100 - not one but two
When Aaron Redmond returned “home” from Australia to play for Canterbury as a leg spinner, many Kiwi fans were disappointed – the folklore that surrounded his father, Rodney, meant we all hoped he would transform our international top order with the attacking flare of his “old man”. 13 seasons later, “the son of” has been in and out of the national side as a batsman, his leggies now little more than an afterthought.
Otago’s Plunket Shield opener against Canterbury was Redmond’s 100th first class match. He has become a valued member of the side, the rock at the top order when all around him looks uncertain – his modest record belies his value in the Otago setup.
A first innings hundred at the top of the order was a fitting celebration; a second to lead his side to a comfortable eight wicket outright victory made it a match to remember for Redmond and Otago. As the careers of domestic cricketers continue to shorten, few will get the opportunity Redmond has – Otago stalwarts should raise a glass of pinot to their adopted son.
3. Seven tons in eight days
At a time in the season when ball so often dominates willow, it is rare to see more than an odd hundred in the early rounds of the Plunket Shield – seven in the first eight days of domestic cricket beggars belief, regardless of how true the decks were.
Jesse Ryder and Aaron Redmond, as mentioned, amassed four between them but three others hit triple figures. As if like clockwork, Mathew Sinclair began his 17th first class season with a masterful ton, ably supported by Carl Cachopa whose move from Auckland is starting to pay dividends for the small town heroes; Central Districts. Dean Brownlie started his long journey back to the national side with a patient hundred in Rangiora after a series of technical setbacks at the highest level.
A number of others fell short in a first round full of runs. Doug Bracewell flayed 85 for Central Districts, though the national selectors would have preferred he was amongst the wickets. Otago’s two youngsters, Hamish Rutherford and Michael Bracewell both got agonisingly close in a start that many hope will see one, or both, lift their game and deliver on their undoubted potential. But the standout was new Black Cap, Todd Astle, who was last man out for Canterbury in both innings with scores of 95 and 78 batting at eight and nine respectively. Though he now holds his place as a leg spinner, it seems a waste for a man who started his career as an opening bat to be forced so low in the order.
4. Leggies - one in, one out
An international leg spinner in the New Zealand ranks is a rare commodity. Developing one who makes the grade is akin to finding the proverbial needle – many of today’s youngsters wouldn’t even recognise the name Jack Alabaster. That Todd Astle will get his chance in the Sri Lanka test series after Tarun Nethula was sent back to Plunket Shield to regain his form and confidence is a sign that New Zealand is at least trying to find a long term replacement for the aging Daniel Vettori.
While Astle excelled in the Canterbury lower order, neither showed enough with the ball to convince New Zealand supporters that they’ll bowl us to a test victory any time soon. Central Districts’ Nethula snared just three wickets in his 28 overs that cost in excess of five and a half an over. Nine no-balls in the second innings illustrated just how far his confidence has waned – he seems more concerned about where the batsmen will hit him than where he wants to pitch it. The scars of disappointing and somewhat demoralising tours of the Caribbean and India could take a long time to heal.
Todd Astle meanwhile, played second fiddle to young off spinner Tim Johnston, playing in just his fifth first class match. Astle delivered only 12 overs in Otago’s first innings while Johnston laboured through 41 for a maiden five wicket haul. 24 overs in the second innings gave Astle a chance to ease into his work but a return of 1-105 won’t have the selectors penning him in for a debut test cap on the sub-continent.
Leg spinners don’t develop overnight – Nethula may struggle to be given another chance and Astle is still new to the art after an early career focussed on runs not wickets. While Vettori is still available, and with Patel the next option, both hopefuls would do well to spend time in the sub-continent learning from senior pros, but they still require their domestic captains to show faith in them if they are to progress – it is debateable that will happen.
5. Night watchman
Those who read my blog regularly will have read my rants about New Zealand’s use of a night watchman – now it has surfaced again in domestic cricket, with the same poor result. As Kane Williamson had hid behind Neil Wagner in the Caribbean, Canterbury’s Shannon Stewart was “protected” by Willie Lonsdale in Rangiora. Lonsdale was skittled by Wagner for a third ball duck before Stewart, who figured his evening was done, was removed LBW first delivery to leave Canterbury at two for the loss of three going into the third day – they never recovered.
To ask a lower order batsman to face the new ball at the end of the day, after having toiled for much of it with the ball, is a big ask - to “protect’ a colleague whose selected to bat defies logic. Batsmen at all levels need to take a step forward and do the job they’re paid for – they are best equipped to face a quick with his tail up, not a lower order batsman who simply props forward in hope.
6. If only we could hear it
At the risk of sounding like a broken record, live scoring, 140 character tweets and radio updates from a studio every 20 minutes don’t do justice to our great game. I understand that T20 has appeal to the masses, but those who have followed cricket over a more substantial period still need their first class fix. Last season New Zealand Cricket relented and worked with Radio Sport to add commentary to the station’s second frequency and made it available via the web and on digital platforms. This season, without warning, we’re back to updates.
The provinces, Canterbury excepted, have a strong Twitter presence and New Zealand Cricket have done a fine job with their live scoring, but throw away lines and numbers don’t provide content – they give no insight into the individual battles, the missed chances or the majesty of an effortless cover drive. I understand that the cost outweighs the financial benefit but as a fan that concern sits low on my list.
Look at what we missed in the first two games – unfortunately, a change may be a bridge too far this season so make sure you can connect to your employer’s wi-fi network to keep abreast of our domestic game.
For a more in-depth look at the options and my unedited views, have a read of Second rate coverage of a first class game.
Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. Let me know if you’d like more six quick singles on a regular basis and I’ll give it a crack. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.