Thursday, December 6, 2012

Six quick singles – a rose amongst thorns

After a run-filled November, December has been a return to the “bad old days” of domestic cricket – inclement weather, cavalier batting and totals that would raise the wrath of club coaches. Colin Munro continued his dominance in Kingsland but Otago’s Dr Jekyll won out over Mr Hyde. Northern Districts’ James Marshall showed loyalty is a virtue, but his female contemporary Nicola Browne took the early honours, setting a new benchmark in the women’s game.

Northern Districts 200 (G Andrew 3/46, R McCone 4/48; 73.5 overs) and 410/5 decl. (J Yovich 128, J Marshall 61, D Mitchell 73, BJ Watling 68*, C Anderson 69*; 122.0 overs) drew with Canterbury 186 (G Andrew 89, B Arnel 3/48, G Aldridge 5/45; 45.3 overs) and 112/2 (P Fulton 68*; 33.5 overs) at Seddon Park, Hamilton

Auckland 196 (C Munro 59, I Butler 5/57; 51.2 overs) and 274 (C Munro 118, I Butler 4/61; 56.4 overs) lost to Otago 253 (A Redmond 98, H Rutherford 70, D Bartlett 5/53; 97.0 overs) and 223/7 (N McCullum 77, C Martin 3/62, M McClenaghan 3/48; 60.3 overs) by 3 wickets at Eden Park Outer Oval, Auckland


Browne sits atop the mountain
At risk of stating the obvious, Nicola Browne doesn’t play in the Plunket Shield, but that’s irrelevant – if a male counterpart set a new benchmark I’d shout it from the digital rooftops.

I pondered writing a separate piece on one of the greats of New Zealand Cricket but without sounding condescending, how many of you would have clicked to read more? Browne’s achievement is a landmark one and should be read and celebrated as a fantastic cricketing feat not side lined because it’s in the women's game. Browne’s gender is secondary - laud her efforts simply as a remarkable cricketer.

During the second round of the women’s domestic one-day competition, Browne struck her third career century, 115, to lead the Northern Spirit to a comfortable victory against the Wellington Blaze. When she passed nine, Browne moved ahead of Emily Drumm as the highest runs scorer in domestic one day cricket – six runs later she became the first woman to pass the 3,000 run mark, ending her innings on a career high 3,100. To put the feat into context – the next highest career aggregate for the Spirit is 1569 by retired former skipper Anna Wilkins, while the closest current player is Natalie Dodd on 948.

In the process of eclipsing her previous high score of 111 not out, Browne paired with Dodd, who struck a fine 106 not out, for a partnership of 236. The achievement mirrored efforts in this season’s Plunket Shield, scything through a myriad of long standing records:
  • Prior to raising three figures, the pair bettered the previous best partnership for Northern against Wellington – 94 by Janice Fraser and Anna Wilkins in 2006/7
  • 164 – the highest partnership for any wicket by the Northern Spirit – Nat Dodd and Katie Pulford against Otago for the first wicket in 2007/8
  • At 168 the pair matched the best partnership for the third wicket in domestic cricket , held by Amy Satterthwaite and Haidee Tiffen for Canterbury against Northern in 2007/8
  • When Browne and Dodd passed 200 they became only the second partnership to achieve the milestone, before surpassing the previous record for all wickets – 227 by Nicola Payne and Debbie Hockley for the second wicket for Canterbury versus Wellington in 1999/00  
  • Browne now features in the top partnerships for the Northern Spirit across five wickets – fourth, fifth, sixth, ninth and now third!  

Besides setting the new benchmark, and sitting atop the career aggregate list, Browne is in clear second on the wicket taking list with 123 and has 41 catches to sit in third. 

At 29, the White Ferns’ all-rounder has some of her best years ahead of her. If she chooses to play on her all round domestic record may never be bettered, while the international game offers prolonged opportunity. As it is, her international numbers see her as arguably our best cricketer of the past decade, when compared statistically with her peers.  The numbers may pale in comparison to the men, but so do the matches played – it’s a matter of context. Browne’s New Zealand record is fantastic reading:
  • Third most international wickets – 77. Browne will likely go past Catherine Campbell, on 78, during the Rose Bowl in Australia, moving into second behind Aimee Watkins on 92
  • 108 ODI matches places her third behind Haidee Tiffen with 117 and Debbie Hockley on 118
  • Browne sits fifth on the list of catches in the ODI game
  • With 1745, Browne is seventh on the ODI run scorers’ list, behind luminaries such as Debbie Hockley, Haidee Tiffen and Emily Drumm

Thanks to Bill Andersson, Northern Districts’ scorer/ statistician, for the numbers – his help in the wake of a dearth of women’s statistics is greatly appreciated.

The Ford Trophy’s in February, lads!
Auckland and Otago were in a hurry on the Eden Park Outer Oval – why is anyone’s guess. Our typical golden summer threatened heavy rain throughout, and a little fell, but the scorecard read more like numbers you’d expect for a Hawke Cup qualification match. Even with time and overs lost to the weather, Otago still prevailed over an Auckland side that surged to 9/658 just a few days prior.

Auckland were twice dismissed inside 60 overs – their first innings ending two balls into the 51st over, the second lasting only 32 balls longer. Had it not been for knocks of 59 and 118 from in form middle order batsman Colin Munro, it’s unlikely either innings would have even got close to one day numbers. That Munro was able to strike at 100 across his two knocks dispels any myths about a poor deck – application and attitudes seem a greater crutch for the blue and whites.

Otago were only marginally better – their 97 over first innings was propped up by the combined efforts of their opening pair. Aaron Redmond and Hamish Rutherford contributed two-thirds of their side’s total – two wickets fell in the first 47 overs; the last eight fell in the next 50.

If patience is a virtue, both sides appeared disingenuous – many appearing to treat our great game as little more than an amateur pastime, a distraction to whittle away the summer sun.  In a season dominated by the blade, neither side managed 300 and only Munro made it into three figures, though Redmond fell just short. On a good Outer Oval deck, everyone expected more – in 10 matches leading into this round there have been 25 centuries and runs have flowed like Codys’ on a Saturday night in West Auckland.

It was left to Otago’s middle and lower order to drag their side over the line late on day three. Leading into the final hour before stumps the only certainty was that the match wouldn’t go the distance – the result had all the surety of a coin toss. Jimmy Neesham and Neil Wagner, returning from international duty in Sri Lanka, put together an unbeaten eighth wicket partnership of 54 to earn Otago their second victory of the season by just three wickets – Dr Jekyll was more prominent this week. 

Milestones
This week the records are as plentiful as New Zealand’s international quality cricketers – fingers crossed NZC don’t ostracise one of the few…
  • Auckland’s Colin Munro struck (read: bludgeoned) his third first class century of the Plunket Shield season. His second innings 118 took him to an aggregate of 623 runs, more than 80 clear of Aaron Redmond who’s played 4 more innings. Munro is averaging a shade under 125 at a season strike rate of 92.70. More than two-thirds of his runs have come in boundaries – 76 have gone to the rope; 21 have cleared it, most by some distance
  • The diminutive James Marshall, sans dyed Movember slug, played his 121st first class match for Northern Districts, moving ahead of Wellington’s Evan Gray as the most capped player for one province
  • 1/22 off nine overs may not seem noteworthy, but it’s unlikely Graeme Aldridge will forget it in a hurry. His solitary scalp in a rain curtailed final innings at Seddon Park was enough for him to move to 283 first class scalps for Northern Districts, taking the mantle as the provinces’ leading wicket taker from Cliff Dickeson, who had held the record for 25 years
  • Northern’s Joey Yovich struck his second century of the season, 128, against Canterbury. It moved him to fifth in the 2012/13 aggregates
  • Dean Bartlett, subbed after two days, took a career best 5/53 off 18 overs for Auckland, easily bettering his previous 3/54

Come and go as you choose
Rolling substitutes should be restricted to rugby sevens – cricket is too pure a game to sully with mid-match changes. It’s nothing new, and is generally in the best interests of our international side, but the traditionalist in me questions the spirit and benefit of such moves.

With New Zealand returning home from Sri Lanka on the back of a rare test victory in the sub-continent (though that seems to have been brushed by the wayside in favour of public debates concerning the captaincy), a decision was made to get those in need of cricket back into Plunket Shield at the earliest opportunity. With the side due to head to South Africa after a short, yet turbulent, stop at home, some of those on the periphery need time in the middle, be it a day or two.

Chris Martin replaced Dean Bartlett for Auckland after day two though it was a harsh end to the match for Bartlett who took 5/53 in Otago’s first innings, standing head and shoulders above his team mates. Martin took 3/62 in the second innings in a losing effort to give him a good run before South Africa though Wellington’s Mark Gillespie may be nipping at Tommy’s heals.  

Neil Wagner took the spot of promising young quick Jacob Duffy after day one of the same match. Wagner’s 14 overs showed he is short of a gallop as the Auckland top order took him for a shade under seven an over - but for the generosity of his captain he may well have raised a maiden first class century. However, Otago would have been grateful for his experience at the finish, as he put on an unbeaten eighth wicket partnership of 54 with ex-Auckland player Jimmy Neesham to guide his side to a three wicket victory.

In Hamilton, one international replaced another. Pigeonholed as a limited overs’ specialist, Ronnie Hira made way for returning leggie Todd Astle. Like Wagner, Astle joined the fray for day two and struggled with the ball. However, he struck 53 at quicker than a run a ball and added more than half Canterbury’s poor total of 186 in a seventh wicket partnership with Gareth Andrew. That he was unable to take a wicket in 18 overs shows that New Zealand are still struggling to find a replacement for Daniel Vettori, though the young man has definitely come on in a short time. 

Loyalty isn’t dead
In an era where cricketing mercenaries are becoming more the rule than the exception, it’s heartening to see a modern player play out his career with a province he holds dear to his heart. With the explosion of T20 and the opportunity to stockpile for a lengthy spell in retirement, many players change their allegiance more regularly than their tools of the trade – that’s not a dig at those chasing the dollar to secure their future, it’s human nature, but it has detracted, in a small way at least, from the traditions of our great game.

Northern Districts’ James Marshall never quite reached the heights many hoped he would at international level, but it will be a sad day when an ND side regularly turns out without a Marshall twin in the line-up. Hamish is now based overseas, but James sits atop the domestic heap – surpassing Wellington’s Evan Gray for the most first class appearances for a New Zealand province. With 121 matches under his belt and at least a couple more seasons left in his legs, Marshall could push 150 when he finally gives the game away – whether the modern cricketer has the will to challenge that is debateable – life and priorities change.

Africa bound?
A number of players have stood up in the early rounds of the Plunket Shield - with the New Zealand side due to board a plane for Africa, will Littlejohn, Buchanan, Hesson et al. take a punt on any of our domestic warriors?

There have been muffled suggestions in some quarters that Northern’s elder statesman Joey Yovich may be the answer at the top of the New Zealand order, though it’s questionable whether a converted all-rounder about to celebrate his 36th birthday offers any answers at international level. Yovich is a fine domestic cricketer who, had he made the change as a younger man, may well have been able to assimilate a la Mark Richardson. In the twilight of his career and with eyesight and reflexes on the decline, international cricket is a step too far, more’s the pity.

Auckland’s Colin Munro has taken the Plunket Shield by the scruff of the neck and treated its bowlers like inexperienced net fodder. He has hit attacks to all parts at close to a run a ball, but could he replicate that against the game’s best attack, on decks with pace and bounce? Steyn, Morkel and Philander have humbled some of cricket’s greats – asking Munro to step up may end in a similar vein to Ken Rutherford in the Caribbean. 

The South African born left hander has played just 16 first class matches in six seasons – let the selectors revisit his potential ascension if his purple patch continues and opportunities arise against the English. A poor man’s Jesse Ryder perhaps, but there are few in this country who can better him. Time will tell if Munro has the mental stability to go with his precocious talent, but if he is going to make the step up it needs to happen soon.

Another South African born batsman seems the most likely contender, with Rob Nicol unlikely to need his passport for five day cricket. Since leaving the City of Sails behind, a more rural lifestyle and a chance to learn from Mathew Sinclair is paying huge dividends for Carl Cachopa. He is comfortably the best domestic batsman in the past twelve months and it seems a matter of when, not if, he will don the black cap. South Africa would be a tough first up assignment but Cachopa seems to enjoy the challenge and he’d at least be comfortable off the pitch.

Cachopa’s opportunity may exist in whether the panel continues to persevere with Kruger van Wyk and where BJ Watling fits into planning – whether as a ‘keeper or a batsman, New Zealand need to find a spot for him. Nicol and James Franklin continue to struggle, and even if he didn’t get a start, Cachopa should be headed back to the country of his birth if only to get a taste of all that international cricket has to offer. However, given the latest captaincy saga he may be better building his bank of runs at home for a little longer.


Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. The Plunket Shield needs a profile – we all have a part to play in its continued relevance. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi. 

5 comments:

  1. How good are the Cachopa brothers? Carl Cachopa should get a chance in SA instead of someone like Nicol or Guptill. With regards to Colin Munroe. Players like him, remind me of Peter Ingram and I don't think anyone wants to go back there at an international level. It's too early to tell if he could handle international cricket as you say.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. The three Cachopas have a long future ahead as a trio - each has got better when they've changed provinces. I'd agree that Munro is a work in progress - more time in the middle will prove if his current form is a one-off or here for good - for NZC I hope it's the latter.

      Delete
  2. Couldn't agree more on the rolling substitutes issue. This is first class cricket. Having players replaced after two days seems ridiculous. Do you know other countries that have this provision?

    Wonder if Peter Fulton could be another contender for the plane to Africa?? Has had plenty of opportunities already but he's another who's been scoring quite heavily of late.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Cheers for the comments, it makes writing more worthwhile. Australia have used the substitutes rule in Sheffield Shield, this season included but not sure about elsewhere.

      Nice all on Peter Fulton - Nostradamus! I'm not sure it's an inspired choice, but the likes of Carl Cachopa have likely missed out as Hesson looks to replace Taylor with an experienced head at the top of the order. On the whole I'm disappointed at the two squads. It's great to see Watling get his dues and de Boorders promotion is warranted, but for me that's it!

      Delete
  3. I wanted to comment on one of your subtopics, in particular about "loyalty isn’t dead" and I think you are right, loyalty in cricket sport is not dead, but it is very rare to find

    ReplyDelete