Thursday, November 15, 2012

Six quick singles – the battle for Southern supremacy

Few domestic encounters in New Zealand cricket evoke the same passion at the clash of the two Southern sides – Canterbury and Otago. The provincial neighbours have already met in the first round of the Plunket Shield, with Otago securing a comfortable victory in Rangiora on the back of Aaron Redmond’s pair of centuries.

The return encounter at Dunedin’s University Oval flattered to deceive. A low scoring affair, both sides has opportunities to win the match in the final hour, and neither would be overly satisfied with the draw. But it was what Southern derbies are all about – two sides giving all they have, grafting for every inch.

Canterbury 254 (P Fulton 102, S Stewart 76, J Duffy 3/35, M Craig 3/28; 95.3 overs) and 252/9 decl. (P Fulton 108; 105.3 overs) drew with Otago 272 (T Johnston 3/88; 101.1 overs) and 203/7 (A Redmond 61, N Broom 49, B McCord 3/35; 68 overs)

1. That’s two for Fulton, and Fulton for two
Peter Fulton was to the fore for Canterbury hitting back to back hundreds (102 and 108) – the third time this season a batsman has achieved the double in a Plunket Shield fixture. Aaron Redmond and Jesse Ryder doubled up in the opening round – now in just the sixth match of the summer Fulton has joined the elite group. 

33 year old Fulton, who played his last test for New Zealand in late 2009, has amassed 105 first class matches, though given his prodigious talent an average only just shading 40 is a below par. His efforts against Otago left Fulton head and shoulders, literally and figuratively, above his contemporaries with the willow, a patient half century by Shanan Stewart in the first innings the one exception - no other player scored more than 28 in either innings. After helping his side to 1/176 in the first innings before falling to Jimmy Neesham, Fulton’s dismissal was the start of a 9/78 capitulation from the red and blacks as they threw away the strong position he and Stewart had built.

2. Life begins at 40...
...or an innings dies.

After the Otago bowlers had dismissed Canterbury for a below par 254 late on day one, their batsmen had the opportunity to build a sizeable lead against an attack including two debutants and with the combined experience of just 32 first class caps. That they could only muster a first innings lead of 18 is a tribute to the tenacity of the young Canterbury attack, but a poor reflection on an Otago line-up rippled with international experience.

Nine of the Otago eleven made it into double figures – four ventured into the forties. Unfortunately for the blue and golds, that’s where the good news ended. None of the four made it to 50, and only one partnership achieved the feat. Consistency is a treasured asset but it’s of greater value when it leads to more than mediocrity.  Neesham, Craig and Butler cannot be excused simply because they bat at seven, eight and nine respectively. They may have helped their side to a total that looked a long way off at 5/105 but responsibility still rests with them to make the most of the starts they’d toiled hard for.

However, it is the dismissal of 23 year old Hamish Rutherford which is the most disappointing. In 10 innings’ in the past two seasons, the young opener has gone past 50 six times, three of them converting into hundreds, another ending on 91 in the opening round of the summer. This isn’t meant as a witch hunt or to be overly critical, but when batsmen get a healthy start at the top of the order they need to go on – Rutherford has shown he’s capable. The “son of” looks a likely prospect and a strong domestic season should see him in the frame for a tour of England in 2013. However, to take the step up he, like other aspiring international cricketers, needs to convert as many of his opportunities as he can – youth and relative inexperience is only a defence for so long.

That none of the four converted cost Otago dearly - they missed an opportunity to take the match away from their Southern counterparts and it came back to haunt them on the final afternoon. There will be times when batsmen are sawn off or get the "unplayable" ball - when they get a start they need to make the most of it. One of the strongest ways to move our game forward at all levels is for batsmen to place a sizeable premium on their wicket – satisfaction and complacency at a good start counteracts that.
3. Milestones
  • Peter Fulton hit hundreds in each innings – his 102 and 108 (his 10th and 11th first class centuries) was only the fifth time a Cantabrian has achieved the double in domestic cricket. Michael Papps was last to achieve the feat, against Auckland in 2009/10, while Johan Myburgh and Gareth Hopkins both went back to back in the early 2000s. The only other instance was in 1966/7 when Keith Thomson, a two test veteran, struck 102 in each innings against Otago. 
  • When he went to 93 in Canterbury’s second innings, Fulton went past 7,000 first class runs. 
  • If Fulton can remain fit and play in Canterbury’s remaining eight Plunket Shield matches he will go past 100 first-class matches for his side and draw level with Paul McEwen as Canterbury’s most capped player – 103 matches is a long career. 
  • Three players made their first class debut in the match – Blair Soper for Otago, and Cole McConchie and Will Williams for Canterbury. 21 year old Soper was straight into the action dismissing George Worker in his fifth over to get his first class tally underway. With 22 in Canterbury’s first innings, McConchie was one of only four players who made it into double figures, before chiming in with two quick wickets at the end of Otago’s first turn at bat. Will Williams made an inauspicious start, but claimed the scalp of Ian Butler in Otago’s first innings to get his tally underway. However, his debut will be remembered for many a year – Williams was out handled ball in Canterbury’s second innings. When was the last time you saw that? 
  • When Hamish Rutherford got through to 32 in Otago’s first innings, he had raced to 1,000 first class runs in just his 14th match, with three centuries and a knock of 239 under his belt.  
  • Century watch – in just six matches, Fulton’s second century took the number of Plunket Shield hundreds to 17 for the season. Three other innings have been ended in the nervous nineties.

4. Butler bounces back
As he approaches 31, Auckland born Ian Butler is finally getting back to the player he was in his mid-twenties, in essence he has probably left Butler version 1.0 far behind. A return to international test cricket may be a bridge too far in a side full of exciting young bowling talent, but don’t rule out seeing him in a black shirt in the coming months, most likely in the game’s shortest form.

Butler has started the 2012/13 season in an aggressive mind set and has been to the fore for his adopted province. He is starting to get a spring back in his bowling action and his ball striking has developed substantially from his debut 11 seasons ago. For a man in his thirties, Butler plays with the excitement of a schoolboy and his athleticism in the outfield belies his physical stature.

With just three wickets in the match, and a heavy hitting 41 in the first innings (he only last two balls in the second), Butler’s progress continues to be steady rather than striking but his star won’t fade. His 11 wickets from the first three matches of the season see him sitting behind only Mark Craig and Bruce Martin, with another two spinners directly beneath him. Butler is averaging over 47 with the blade, albeit helped by two not outs at the end of the innings.

It may be a long shot, but with Jacob Oram moving into the twilight of his international career and Andy Ellis looking more like a good domestic player, there may still be a pathway back into the New Zealand side after a two year hiatus.

5. One to watch
18 year old quick Jacob Duffy is a promising cricketer with a big future ahead of him, if only we leave him to do it in his own time without the pressure of trying to be the next Shane Bond – a version that spends more time on the field than in a doctor’s surgery. With Bond ascending to the bowling coach for New Zealand Cricket, will he make time to pass on his knowledge and experience to a young man who while unlikely to be quite as sharp, has his eyes on the silver fern down the line?

The former New Zealand Under 19 representative has played just three first class matches after debuting for Otago at the tail end of last season as a 17 year old. If the Southland school boy can make it through his first full season, it’ll be intriguing to track his progress. Regardless of how Otago skipper Derek de Boorder manages the length of his spells and his overall workload, Duffy will undoubtedly have peaks and troughs, but if he comes out the other end then it may be time to sit up and take notice.

It is encouraging to see young bowlers making their way in the domestic game. A balance needs to be found between nurturing their talent while allowing them to build into the rigours of domestic cricket – youngsters don’t learn the game as net bowlers. The body only knows what its limits are when it is asked to push them. The balancing act is ensuring they can return to the crease the next day - the warning signs are evident with Adam Milne and Pat Cummins.

In three first class matches Duffy’s taken just nine wickets, including seven in his two outings this season. He hasn’t set the world alight but he’s been consistent for the most part. Duffy may amount to little more than a journey man in years to come, but there isn’t a cricket fan who doesn’t appreciate pace. Isn’t it nice to dream?

6. The one that got away
In the first three innings, the average runs per over struggled to get to 2.6 but 235 for victory was a worthy chase. With only 3.5 runs per over required for a win when Otago got their chance after another rain delay, the odds fell slightly in their favour, and the opportunity for an unlikely win grew as the day progressed. As in the first innings though, the one big innings they needed never came. Redmond and Neil Broom both made strong starts but fell just as momentum was swinging firmly in Otago’s favour. Bracewell and Neesham both got underway but as so many did in the first innings, they couldn’t hang around long enough to build a winning partnership with either Redmond or Broom. Individual efforts often win matches, but in Otago’s chase team work should have won the day.

Going into the final hour, and with 15 overs at their disposal (Canterbury eventually got through 17 in their push for victory), Otago needed another 65 runs with 5 wickets in hand. With Neil Broom and Derek de Boorder at the crease they should have been able to get their side across the line. However, when both fell early in the final hour for the edition of just 15 runs, Otago simply batted time.

An opportunity to take a hatful of points was wasted – there have been 17 centuries so far this season, one more from Otago, in either innings, and they would have taken victory at a canter. How many will regret the starts that went unconverted?  For those who believe my comments unfair, consider this – the four Canterbury bowlers used in the second innings (I’ve excluded George Worker – his one over is insignificant) had a total of 31 first class caps between them, 22 of those for Willie Lonsdale – Otago’s experience should have been enough to get the better of a quartet still wet behind the ears. 

There may be no radio coverage of the Plunket Shield and even Twitter only features sparse updates, but has live scoring of every match, coupled with boundary and wicket video highlights within 24 hours of the completion. It may not have the same ambience as the weathered tones of Ron Snowden, Allen McLaughlin or Garth Gallaway but it’s better than reading about it in the paper the next day – or a blog a few days later…

Tell me what you think – I’d love your thoughts. I’m enjoying writing about our domestic game, but I’d love your feedback – let me know what else you’d like to read about. Post a comment below or tweet me @aotearoaxi.


  1. Going into the last 90 minutes, with Broom and Neesham (who's 4 boundaries were exceptionally clean and authoritative) we should have won that game. We didn't. Credit to Canty, but there were some soft wickets, coupled with some demons on a variable 4th day track.

    As for Duffy, certainly in an Otago team without Wagner, McMillan, McSkimming, he's a key bowler for us now. But he's learning and needs some experience and bulk. That will come and Otago could realistically have a front line bowler at their disposal for a very long time.

    Despite only taking 3 wickets, Butler for me was Otago's best bowler of the match. Looked the most dangerous.

    1. Thanks for the comments, Mark. From having a look at the scorecards, the wicket did appear a difficult one but its disappointing to see batsmen not convert. A youngster Canterbury attack did well to hold the Otago side - I'm keen to see a bit more of Johnstone.

      How is Mark Craig looking? He's had a great start to the season all round and has been one of the spinners doing well at a time of the year that is so regularly the domain of seamers,

      I would love to see Ian Butler make it back into a black shirt, he still has a lot to offer. I remember him playing as a batsman in the ND provincial comp a few years back - he looked less polished than he does now but he could hit the ball like few I've seen.

      Hopefully Otago can learn the lessons and put the draw behind them. They look like a good side this year but they'll need to win as a team, not individuals, and that means everyone needs to take their opportunities.

      Plunket Shield cricket is alive and well!

  2. Following on from your earlier comment, Mark Craig is consistent with his line but I thought he needs to toss it up a little more. Even in situations where they had Canty well under control,he was bowling it flat for atleast 4 balls every over.

    This looked a strange track for November. It was flat and looked a great batting wicket on day one, and as play progressed, it started to offer uneven bounce. But you're absolutely right in holding the batsmen who got starts resposnible for the low totals.

    I have to say I thoroughly enjoyed watching the long spells Butler and Neesham put in with the old ball on day one. Butler, especially, was running in hard towards the end of the day and displayed strong fitness levels. Similarly, Canty worked on some reverse swing after 45 overs on day four. And Fulton set great fields throughout both the innings.

    Rain played a big part in the end. Although Otago were intent on chasing it down, they lost wickets regularly and credit to Canterbury for maintaining attacking lines and field settings.

    1. Thanks for the insight into Mark Craig - that's the problem with a lack of tv or radio coverage, there is no context.

      I've heard from a couple of people at the ground just how well Butler bowled - I love that s many if the more experienced cricketers are to the fore this season, though there are a good crop of youngsters coming through to.


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