Monday, May 27, 2013

Day three at Headingley

After staying up till midnight to follow the first session of day three, I was beginning to enjoy New Zealand’s batting again. I thought too soon as England’s Steven Finn struck twice removing both openers, Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford, just before lunch. A good start of 55-0 quickly became
In the morning, checking the score, I found another mediocre New Zealand batting display, with the opening wheels of the innings well and truly fallen off: 174 all out.
Reviews by commentators of the day’s play were fairly scathing of New Zealand’s batting. Two stanzas from Michael O’Leary’s witty ‘Ballad of Reading Oval’ (a rewrite of Oscar Wilde’s ‘Ballad of Reading Gaol’) came to mind in the case of Hamish Rutherford, Peter Fulton, Martin Guptill and Dean Brownlie:

Some play careless strokes when they are young
And some when they are old
Some leave such a gap twixt bat and pad
That the ball, like an arrow of gold
Straight to its target blindly goes
Leaving the batsman out in the cold

Some hit too little, some too long
Some wait for an extra or a bye
Some leave the field almost in tears
And some without a sigh
For each man pulls the stumps on himself
Yet none can answer why

Guptill, a very good bat, always looks the part and stylish, and he did look the part again, showing his front foot defensive technique as he leaned forward to defend the ball from Swann. Just one problem: he left ‘such a gap twixt bat and pad’. Oh well.
But you know something definitely isn’t right when Trent Boult’s tail-end slogging is the main highlight of New Zealand’s batting in news footage from a Test. His three sixes off Graeme Swann were clearly T20 shots rather than Test level cricket. Good on him, however, for helping avoid the follow on, which Cook didn't enforce.

I can’t see New Zealand squaring the series from here. England’s well placed to set a big run chase, and Boult is now injured.
I said after the Lord’s Test that our batsmen need to find the ‘necessary mettle’ and today’s play highlights that comment. In good batting conditions, they needed to make much more of their first innings in a must-win match.
It’s difficult to say how poor our current 2013 batting is. I can remember sitting through a number of batting disasters at Basin Tests in recent years.
Another poem came to mind again, written ahead of the 1937 England tour:

Cricket Ballade

(Written after witnessing some “highlights” recently on the Basin.)

Glumly I sit by the Basin rail.
  The play’s so poor I’ve a mind to quit;
A feeble stroke and a flying bail,
  Or else it’s caught off a woozy hit!
And as the batsmen process, I grit
  My teeth in despair, and groan: Oh dear,
This isn’t the cricket we “uster git”!
  Where are the players of yesteryear?

Where are the men whose bat, like a flail,
  Beflogged the ball, till it well nigh split?,
Who seldom knew what it was to fail
  To lift on the score a tidy bit!
Who scorned to potter and poke, or sit
  On the splice, if the wicket was somewhat queer.
Hiddleston, Dempster, McGirr, to wit!
  Where are the players of yesteryear?

The prospect’s gloomy. No stars prevail.
  Dull is the cricketing sky, unlit!
The bowling’s weak and the batting “tail,”
  And that’s about all there is to it.
Send forth these crudies with fern and kit!
  Absurd! The Pommies would grin and jeer.
Scarce one of ’em’s worth a “thrippenny bit.”
  Oh, where are the players of yesteryear?

Percy, the fans to your care commit
  Their woeful case. If you’d raise a cheer,
Prevail on the gods—can you smooge a bit?—
  To give back the players of yesteryear.


(From Postscripts, The Evening Post, 6 February 1937)

Percy, in the poem, is Percy Flage [aka C A Marris, editor of the “Postscripts” column]. I’m unable to uncover who the author ‘C.V.L.’ is.
It’s a very pertinent poem (after Villon’s French ballades) outlining a New Zealand cricket fan’s past frustrations. Of course, the bowling for New Zealand (unlike in this poem) has been the strong point on this current tour. Trent Boult’s five-for was a standout today.
Yet despite the poem’s protest, it’s never as simple as just wishing for a Bert Sutcliffe, Martin Donnelly, Stewie Dempster, Herb McGirr, Glenn Turner or Martin Crowe to materialise again.
I believe we have the nucleus of a good batting line-up in the young Hamish Rutherford, Ross Taylor, Kane Williamson, Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill. They do need to show more application at international level than they are currently doing but they do have the talent and class when you see their better shots, such as Rutherford’s cover drive in the first session.
Not much hope left for this Second Test. We can wish for rain. 1-0 is always better than 2-0 on a tour of England. A bit like the 1958 Test series, which New Zealand lost 4-0 with one match drawn. 4-0 was a lot better then than a 5-0 whitewash.

Article © Mark Pirie 2013

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