Category: New Zealand (page 2 of 16)

Kane Williamson: Lord Megachief of Gold 2015

Our annual Lord Megachief of Gold award is the highest honour in cricket. The title is recognition of performance over the previous calendar year. Here are all the previous winners.

Last year, the Lord Megachief of Gold award was split with both Brendon McCullum and Angelo Mathews honoured. This year, one man is out there on his own.

Photos by Sarah Ansell

Photos by Sarah Ansell

All aboard the Kane train

Destination: who knows? But the journey will take a while and it’ll feature many, many runs.

A number of players have made 200-300 Test runs more than Kane Williamson in 2015. All of them have played at least 50 per cent more matches. He averaged 90.15 for the year.

New Zealand only get short tours – batsmen don’t get long to acclimatise – but yet in every series he played, he made a hundred. Against England, at Lord’s, he made 132. Against Australia he made 140 at Brisbane and 166 at Perth. The year was also bookended by contrasting hundreds at home against Sri Lanka.

In Wellington, back in January, he made light of a 135-run first innings deficit and made 242 not out in the second innings. He trumped Kumar Sangakkara’s 203 and New Zealand won. It would have been a passing-of-the-baton moment if cricket had a baton to signify its finest batsman – which it doesn’t. It has a mace for best Test team though. Against that backdrop it doesn’t seem all that ludicrous to introduce a Baton of Blinding Batsmanship.

More recently, Williamson made a hundred in a fourth innings run-chase. You don’t get many of those. He alone contributed what you could realistically have expected the entire team to muster in those circumstances. New Zealand won.

Cricket - England v New Zealand - Investec Test Series - First Test Day 3 - Lord's Cricket Ground, London, England - 23 May 2015

How?

In that mammoth double hundred in Wellington, Williamson made just 72 in boundaries. That’s not the way big innings are built in this day and age. When there’s a high score in New Zealand, it’s often at a small ground. There was no inflation here though. He faced 438 balls and just 18 of them went to the fence.

In contrast, when he made 140 in Brisbane, 96 runs came in boundaries. It’s almost like he was a different batsman, which in many ways sums up his brilliance.

In summary

Oh, by the way, Williamson was also the second-highest scorer in one-day internationals and during the World Cup, he demonstrated how to hit a six.

We hereby move that henceforth, whenever Williamson comes in to bat, all commentators must intone the words: “New Zealand are about to administer the Kane.”


Is Brendon McCullum retiring too soon?

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Photo by Sarah Ansell

Yes. Yes he is. The answer you are looking for is ‘yes’.

Now that he’s a statesmanlike trendsetter and role model, the very embodiment of what cricket should be, it’s easy to forget that for many years Brendon McCullum was just a mediocre wicketkeeper-batsman who typically flailed then failed in the Test format. Despite short format successes, it was only around 2010 when he started looking like a semi-reliably devastating batsman in the serious stuff and there have been great fallow stretches even since then.

You wouldn’t say he’s exactly cracked it now, but last year’s performances were enough to see him named Conjoined Lord Megachief of Gold and if this year hasn’t seen such highs, it surely wouldn’t have been foolish to anticipate further impressive peaks to come. Those that preceded it were sufficiently lofty that even if he’s since declined, there was a very long way to fall.

But that’s not McCullum’s way. Nor is it most people’s way. You spend a long, long time working towards the top, but once you’ve reached your summit there’s typically little appetite for dallying around at fractionally lower altitudes. You may have acclimatised and it may be more comfortable than on the way up, but where’s the motivation? Far better to head back down to a shower and a nice warm bed and maybe watch a bit of telly.

 


Kane Williamson bats with the strength of many men

The sequence was completed: 292, 237, 133, 108. Descending scores as batting conditions became tougher and tougher.

Wait a minute. The first three of those are team scores. The last one isn’t. The sequence actually reads: 292, 237, 133, 189 – of which Kane Williamson alone contributed 108.

Fourth innings hundreds are rare. Fourth innings hundreds to win matches are rarer still. You might get a couple of declarations and then find yourself batting out time in the fourth innings and reach three figures in the process, but to achieve it when sides are being bowled out is another matter altogether.

Kane Williamson basically contributed an entire team’s performance as New Zealand won the second Test against Sri Lanka. Some would call this Herculean, but if you’re our age, it’s another man who’s synonymous with feats of strength. Kane Williamson’s performance was truly Capesian.


Neil Wagner isn’t perfect

There aren’t many media outlets where this would be headline news. It is here though. New Zealand’s fourth seamer isn’t flawless. Stop the press!

It may only have been the day before yesterday, but it already seems a long, long time since we suggested that Neil Wagner never lets you down. The ‘never’ was always an exaggeration; rhetoric, if you will. Now it’s hollow, empty rhetoric that doesn’t really seem to make much sense. The Wagnermeister, as no-one calls him, took 0-49 off seven overs on the first day of the second Test against Sri Lanka. That, ladies and gentlemen, is gash.

So not content with merely failing to back up our claims, it seems Wagner went out of his way to actively disprove them. He didn’t even manage to run in all day. Brendon McCullum didn’t let him, what with all the runs he was conceding.


Neil Wagner never lets you down

He’s like an old pair of walking socks, a sturdy side table or a functioning fridge. He doesn’t set your world alight, but at least your feet are warm, your brew is well supported and your veg hasn’t gone off.

Last week, against Sri Lanka, Neil Wagner took 3-87 and 2-56. This is pretty much the archetypal Wagnerian performance: plenty of legwork, a handful of wickets, but nothing too headline grabbing. At one point he was clocked at 160km/h but it turned out to be interference from a seagull. No, really.

We once gave Neil Wagner an award for his commitment to bustling fast-medium bowling in the face of being stereotyped as a bustling fast-medium bowler. He’d run through a wall for you would Neil. He just keeps on running in.

Sometimes, in his boisterousness, he bowls himself off his feet and onto the floor, seemingly unaware that in doing so he’s flirting with self parody. Good on him. Who cares if people think you’re Angus Fraser with a surfeit of enthusiasm. Being Angus Fraser with a surfeit of enthusiasm is a good thing.

He’s not in the first XI, but Wagner never really seems to let New Zealand down. He comes in when someone’s injured and he does a job. It’s not necessarily an eye-catching job, but it’s a job. It’s putting petrol in the car. It’s taking the recycling out. It’s scouring that oven tray with all the burnt-on crud. You may only have middling expectations, but Neil Wagner reliably meets them.

Neil Wagner.


Mop-up of the day – runs down south

After day-night Tests, the latest innovation in the ongoing Australia v New Zealand Test series has been additional opponents. Sri Lanka and the West Indies have been drafted in to keep things fresh, but they couldn’t tip the balance. Australia still had marginally the better day.

New Zealand would have felt confident of finishing the first day in the ascendancy after making 409-8. That is a lot of runs to make on any day of a Test match, let alone the first. However, Australia struck back with 438-3 and it’s hard to see how the Kiwis can haul things back from there.

AB de Villiers’ new hobby

Cricinfo reports that vehement letter-C denier, AB de Villiers, will ‘keep wickets’ for the first two Tests against England – although they do not specify how many. It is a little-known fact, but keeping and raising wickets is de Villiers’ new pastime. He says it helps him get away from the game and relax and he’s looking to become a professional breeder when he retires. De Villiers was of course a schoolboy wicket-breeding champion.

There are also rumours that as well as becoming a wicketskeeper, he might fill-in as wicketkeeper. This may seem a strange decision, but it could be a quota thing. Clearly, you always want at least one AB de Villiers in your side – that’s not the issue. It’s more that de Villiers’ selection as keeper may be a means of allowing other players to be picked.

It strikes us that Imran Tahir has been dropped and if Tahir is out, maybe someone else has to come in. Assuming the first-choice seam attack for the first two Tests will comprise Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel and Kyle Abbott, South Africa presumably need to bring in a batsman to ‘balance the side’.

Vernon Philander’s due to return for the third Test, incidentally.


Day-night cricket and the fire in the bin

As a rule, if people aren’t moaning about the thing you feared they’d moan about and are instead moaning about something completely different, you’ve succeeded. The elimination of moaning is of course not a possibility. It’s like a pocket of air under wallpaper. The best you can do is displace it.

Almost all the whingery following the inaugural day-night Test has centred on implementation of the DRS and the suitability of the Adelaide pitch for Test cricket. Being as those are the same kinds of things that people moan about following a daytime Test, we can only conclude that the pink ball experiment was largely successful.

Unless this is the ruse. Perhaps Nigel Llong was entrusted with delivering a rank decision as third umpire as some sort of distraction tactic. It’s a tried and tested technique. Who among us can honestly say that we haven’t got our sums wrong in a quarterly report and concealed this from our superiors by setting fire to a bin and putting our foot through a monitor?


Night-day cricket should be the next innovation

Those watching the first day of the inaugural day-night Test between Australia and New Zealand will have been sorely disappointed. We were promised slapstick and catastrophe, but got neither. If you asked us to describe it, we’d say it looked very much like Test cricket, only with a pink ball.

The pink ball’s weird. An optical illusion makes it seem bigger than it really is – like a cheat mode of Sensible Soccer that we may well have imagined. But that’s no bad thing. Throw in a large crowd and a beautiful sunset and it was quite a successful day.

If there’s one problem, it’s the names of the intervals: tea and dinner. As Sam points out, this triggers the somewhat tiresome and impossible-to-resolve north-south debate about lunch/dinner, dinner/tea.

To bypass this, we propose night-day cricket. Beginning at 2am and finishing at 9am, the two breaks would be breakfast and tiffin. Playing so early would also allow people to attend the game before work. Don’t worry about the players either. They’re forever complaining about jetlag, so this is no different.

We mustn’t let the traditions of day-night Test cricket hold us back. The pink ball game is crying out for innovation.


The Waca – fast bowlers’ graveyard

Ah, the Waca. Fast bowlers love it because it gives them an opportunity to bowl plenty of overs. Batsmen are terrified of it because of the humiliating possibility that they might not make a ton. The pitch has been so challenging in the second Test between Australia and New Zealand that only two batsmen have managed double hundreds. New Zealand didn’t even get to declare in their first innings.

We’ll stop short of saying that this pitch is unfit for Test cricket, having only recently made the point that you can only truly judge such a thing after the match has concluded. We will however admit that after four days, we’re starting to form an opinion.

Setting that aside for a minute, it’s good to see Ross Taylor making some sort of a comeback. He looked to be the next Kane Williamson back when there wasn’t even a first Kane Williamson, but seemed to have ebbed away a bit in recent times. He lost the New Zealand captaincy, looked a bit sad and appeared to be developing moobs. Things weren’t looking good, but flat pitch or not, scoring 290 against Australia in Australia is a reasonable knock. Maybe he’s been relaxing more and pursuing his other interests.


Joe Root becomes the context and goodbye to Ian Smith

If we were tasked with producing a faceless match report for the Twenty20 international between England and New Zealand, we’d write: “Joe Root top-scored in an innings in which Jason Roy and Sam Billings showed great promise,” or something like that.

Joe Root is not the focus there. He’s context. He’s something you mention but don’t feel the need to write about at great length. Root’s form has clearly gone beyond being remarkable and become unremarkable. Who knows whether it’s a high point or a false summit, but it’s still worth taking a snapshot. He currently averages 54.11 in Tests, 42.36 in one-day internationals and 41.83 (with a strike-rate of 131.41) in Twenty20. That is better than fancying a brew in the belief that you’re out of milk but then discovering that actually, no, you’re not out of milk so you can have a brew after all.

Last night’s match was also a sad end, however. This New Zealand cricket team who have been such fun will now disperse (for only a few of them will actually go home). This is disappointing enough in itself, but it also means that Ian Smith walks out of the Sky commentary box.

We appreciate this is of little interest to those of you who don’t get to see live coverage, but Smith deserves a nod all the same. We’ve always liked him, but didn’t perhaps realise how much until this summer. Smith can offer insights into the New Zealand cricket team and the dark art of wicketkeeping, but it’s his demeanour which is his greatest strength.

Quite simply, he enjoys cricket, which doesn’t always seem to be the case with some commentators. He also enjoys his job and his English colleagues clearly enjoy working with him more than most. Smith, Mike Atherton and Nasser Hussain have exchanged (good-natured) dry jibes with increasing frequency and when David Lloyd tried to discomfit him with one of his trademark man-of-the-people digressions, Smith smoothly outmanoeuvred him without breaking stride.

For reasons known only to himself, Lloyd was testing Smith on bingo calls and when the Kiwi didn’t know one, Lloyd asked: “Do you not have bingo down there?”

“Yes,” said Smith, and cited a different bingo call as proof. “What’s that?” asked Lloyd. Smith gave him the answer and then shot back: “Do you not have bingo up here?”

Point is, Ian Smith can give and take a joke without the unsavoury word ‘banter’ welling up in your mind. It’s a priceless ability for a commentator and as the Ashes wears on, we’ll undoubtedly miss that.


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