The Future of Trans-Tasman Domestic Cricket

It’s perhaps fitting that cricket, the most traditional of all major sports in New Zealand, is the only one yet to jump on the Trans-Tasman bandwagon. League, union, netball and soccer all operate in Australian leagues at the highest domestic level. It seeems inevitable that the same will happen for cricket, so, what will it look like?

The concept of a Trans-Tasman domestic cricket league was a fantasist’s pipedream during the era of 50-over domestic cricket. But the idea has had new life ever since the advent of serious, high-quality, T20 domestic cricket.

Domestic cricket has hitherto had one immense hurdle, and that was the difficulty in getting punters to sit in a stadium for the duration of a cricket match when it wasn’t the top level of skill available. They will do it if the sport has matches of a shorter duration, and they will do it for long duration, top level cricket, but not long duration domestic cricket.

T20 fills both of those gaps. A domestic T20 match offers punters a chance to see a high level of cricket without making a time commitment of an entire day (or longer). The Indian Premier League has muscled into a space on the cricket calendar and it seems like it’s here to stay.

This column has taken the time to get caught up in some of the Big Bash League hype last summer. Frankly, it’s a very high level of cricket. Australia has to fit much more talent into a handful of domestic teams than the New Zealand system, and a consequence of this is a level of cricket somewhere between international level and New Zealand domestic level.

The BBL currently has eight teams, which corresponds to one team per two and a half to three million people. Probably, however, there are plans to expand, as the BBL is still in its infancy. If it is expanded to a similar size to the Trans-Tasman tournaments in other sports there would be room for two or three Kiwi teams in a league of 16 to 18.

Two might be difficult as the natural division into North and South Islands would leave a Northern team representing over three times the population of the Southern team.

Perhaps the best would be to divide New Zealand into North, Central and South. This would be very simple as it would mean Northern Districts and Auckland were North, Central Districts and Wellington were Central, and Canterbury and Otago were South.

Perhaps in the very long term we might end with a Super Rugby style arrangement of three Kiwi teams, seven Aussie teams for each state and five or six South African ones.

Three Kiwi T20 teams might leave us with something that looked like this. The Northern team isn’t far off international standard in its own right, but the other two are currently a fair bit weaker and might need to draft in overseas players to fill some gaps.

Northern:

1. Martin Guptill
2. Kane Williamson (c)
3. Dean Brownlie
4. BJ Watling (wk)
5. Corey Anderson
6. Colin Munro
7. Mitchell Santner
8. Tim Southee
9. Mitch McClenaghan
10. Lockie Ferguson
11. Trent Boult

Central:

1. Ben Smith
2. Ross Taylor (c)
3. Tom Bruce
4. Will Young
5. Tom Blundell
6. Luke Ronchi (wk)
7. Doug Bracewell
8. Josh Clarkson
9. Adam Milne
10. Ben Wheeler
11. Hamish Bennett

Southern:

1. Peter Fulton
2. Tom Latham (c)
3. Jimmy Neesham
4. Henry Nicholls
5. Derek de Boorder (wk)
6. Andy Ellis
7. Matt Henry
8. Neil Wagner
9. Kyle Jamieson
10. Josh Finnie
11. Ed Nuttall

Steve Smith a Colossus as Australia Win First ODI

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Steve Smith had the sort of day that all cricketers dream of. From the moment he won the toss and elected to bat it was his day. Smith scored 164 out of Australia’s total of 324/8, then he took a flying screamer of a catch to dismiss BJ Watling and Australia won by 68 runs.

New Zealand won the first session, with movement on the grassy Sydney Cricket Ground pitch inducing both Australian openers to chop on. They were in an excellent position at the fall of the fourth wicket, which came when a solid straight drive from Smith went through the hands of Jimmy Neesham and ran Mitchell Marsh out at the non-striker’s end. At that point Australia were 92/4 and it felt that only Smith stood between competitiveness and disaster.

He then embarked upon a 127-run stand with Travis Head, who was fortuitously dropped by Matt Henry at mid off early in his innings. When Head was brilliantly caught and bowled by Trent Boult, Matthew Wade joined him at the crease, and the two went on the counterattack.

They scored 83 runs in 6.1 overs, and even a flurry of wickets at the end couldn’t stop them from posting a very strong total, in this case 324/8.

Australia won the early session much like New Zealand had, accounting for Tom Latham and Kane Williamson for single-digit scores. Jimmy Neesham came in at 4 in place of Ross Taylor, and was able to hit through the line well, scoring 34 off 36.

Perhaps the decisive act in the match came again from Smith, only this time in the field. A short and wide ball from Marsh to BJ Watling was dispatched, but Smith threw himself to his left and caught the ball at full stretch on his thumb, taking a face plant into the SCG turf so as to not spill the ball.

From there it was up to Guptill, and while he and Munro put on a brisk 45 Guptill was dismissed against the run of play, slapping an Adam Zampa long hop to Glenn Maxwell at midwicket. Guptill had scored 114 from 102 balls and looked set for another titanic innings, timing almost everything out of the very middle, before the dismissal.

At that point New Zealand still needed 140 runs in 17 overs with 5 wickets in hand, but the run rate was accelerating out of range of their hitting power.

Colin Munro and Matt Henry gave the Black Caps some late hope, getting them to within 72 runs before Henry was deceived by a clever Pat Cummins slower ball, which he skied to George Bailey for 27 off 15. When Munro was next out in a very similar fashion for 49 off 59 the Black Caps were unable to offer further resistance and were dismissed for 256.

Despite the loss, New Zealand will take heart from the performance, and may be regretting the decision to not review an lbw shout on Smith when he was on 13. Replays showed the decision would have been overturned and from there it would have been a very different match.

In the end, the catching skill of Australia was probably the decisive factor, as a Watling-Guptill partnership at that time of the match might have brought the Black Caps very close to a win.

The series continues in Canberra on Tuesday.

The Answer to the Martin Guptill Question is Nathan Astle

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What do you do if you have a fantastically successful ODI opening batsman whose skillset is not particularly well suited to opening in Tests but on talent grounds alone cannot be left out of the Test side? There was an easy answer when the batsman in question was Nathan Astle 20 years ago.

The answer back then was simply to bat Astle at 5. Astle played 100 Test innings at 5 or lower, and averaged over 37 there. His most notable innings was the then fastest Test double century – 222 runs off only 168 balls.

Although the team that Astle came into in 1996 was far weaker than the one Martin Guptill is trying to break into, it seemed natural for the free-spirited, hard-hitting Astle to begin his career at 5.

Guptill never had the easy luxury of simply slotting into 5, mostly because Brendon McCullum had that spot nailed down and partly because the Black Caps were so desperate to find a decent opener that anyone with notable skill was thrown into the breach.

Nathan Astle averaged 34 with the bat in ODI cricket, and three runs more in Tests. Martin Guptill averages 42 in ODI cricket – three runs more would see him averaging 45. Moreover, Guptill’s world-class fielding adds at least five runs to his value per innings.

A value of fifty runs per innings at No. 5 might sound fanciful given the returns we have so far got from him opening the batting. It should be emphasised, however, that opening the batting in Tests is not only very different to opening in ODIs, it is also very different to batting further down the order, as the opening Test batsman faces a swinging ball, first-choice bowlers who are not tired and an aggressive field.

Although the sample size is very small, Guptill has already played 6 innings at No. 5 – and he averages 68 there.

The other medium-term options for the Black Caps at 5 are Henry Nicholls, who has so far been less impressive there than Guptill was at opener, a promoted allrounder such as Anderson, Neesham or Santner, or blooding a youngster such as Will Young or Tom Bruce.

Guptill at 5 would be better than all of those options. Leaving a player of his talent out of the side because he did not succeed in a role not suited for him, when there is a vacant role perfectly suited to him, is madness.

Black Caps in India 2016: Third Test Preview

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After some doubt, it now looks like the Third Test between the Black Caps and India will proceed as planned, at Indore between 08 and 12 October. For the Black Caps, for whom the series is lost, this match is about putting into practice what has been learned from the first two Tests towards the goal of winning some respectability.

The Black Caps have not been poor on this tour. Far from it. Barring a disastrous Day 3 in the 1st Test and Day 2 in the second, they have been India’s equal.

In Kanpur, the Black Caps looked well ahead at the end of Day 2. In reply to India’s 318 they were 152/1. Day 3 was a disaster, losing 9 wickets for 110 and then letting India get to 159/1 by stumps.

Likewise in Kolkata. The Black Caps had India at 239/7 at the end of Day 1, but a horror Day 2 saw India put on 77 for their last 3 wickets and then get the Black Caps 128/7 at stumps. Although the Black Caps lost by almost 200 runs they did take 20 wickets, which is a good sign for a visiting team in India.

If the Black Caps can get through this third Test without such a horror day they could well win.

There’s a solution to the Martin Guptill problem. It’s called Nathan Astle. The dashing ODI opener was not even considered for a Test opening spot, despite being good enough to score 16 centuries in the shorter format. Astle began his serious Test batting career at 5 and stayed there.

Guptill has been unlucky because positions 3, 4 and 5 have been sewn up for years and so the only realistic option was to open. Now with Brendon McCullum no longer with the side, there is a gap at 5 that Guptill could potentially fill. Not only will an older red ball will behave a lot more like the white ball that he is used to batting against, but he is simply far too talented a batsman to leave out of the side just because he was not a great success as opener.

With a Test average of 25, Henry Nicholls probably hasn’t done enough to cement the No. 5 position, and with several impressive young bats coming through he might not get much of a chance. Nicholls’s technique might be more suited to the opening position, and his 76 against Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander with essentially a new ball in South Africa recently suggests that he has enough potential there to be worth a look.

With Trent Boult fully entrenched as The Black Caps’s premier paceman and with Neil Wagner, who at a bowling average of 29.63 has much better returns, it appears that Tim Southee is now competing with Matt Henry for that third seamer spot.

Matt Henry may rightly be ahead of Tim Southee now. One match with six wickets at 17.50 could be written off as lucky, but anyone watching the Second Test might well have remarked that Henry’s pitch map was much better than Southee’s, forcing the batsman to play much more and without the regular boundary balls.

Tom Latham seems to have difficulty concentrating past a certain point. He is building a Flemingesque record with an average of 38.38, 9 fifties and 5 centuries. Whether or not he can overcome this will determine if he can become a great opener along the lines of Richardson or Turner.

BetFair does not consider the Black Caps to have much of a chance: they are paying $6.20 to win at the exchange, compared to India’s $1.60 (the Draw is $4.60).

The Black Caps Tour of India, 2016

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The return of Jimmy Neesham to the Black Caps Test side, announced this week, might go some way towards filling the Brendon McCullum-sized hole at No. 5 as the Black Caps begin their tour of India later this month.

It’s very difficult to pick exactly what Black Caps side will take the field when the first Test begins in Kanpur on September 22.

For one reason, the bowling attack will likely be very different to that which played in Africa. The last time the Black Caps were in India they opened their World T20 campaign with a shock win over India themselves – and spinners took the first nine wickets (Santner 4, Sodhi 3, McCullum 2).

Gavin Larsen suggested that it was of value to the Black Caps side to have two seam-bowling allrounders in Neesham and Doug Bracewell. If both play, along with the expected two spinners, one of the regular pace trio of Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner will have to sit out.

Of interest is that the workhorse of the pace attack, Neil Wagner, is up to 9th place in the Test bowling rankings. This puts extreme pressure on Tim Southee’s position, as Trent Boult is generally considered the more dangerous of the new ball pair. Boult is also 10th on the rankings – Southee is a creditable but not compelling 15th.

If two of Santner, Craig and Sodhi play, there may be only room for one seam-bowling allrounder (likely Neesham) and two of the regular pace trio.

This is unless something changes with the batting. Although Martin Guptill might be the Black Cap with the most pressure on his spot, his primary challenger, Jeet Raval, has been dropped from the squad (along with Matt Henry). That probably means that Guptill will have the whole India tour to make good on the immense potential he has shown as an ODI batsman.

Henry Nicholls was not impressive in Zimbabwe, making only 18 and 15 and playing some rash shots. He didn’t get to bat in the first Test against South Africa. Then, in the second Test, under immense pressure from the strongest bowling trio in world cricket right now in Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander and Kagiso Rabada, he outscored even Kane Williamson, coming in at 3/5 in the fourth innings and losing Williamson soon after.

The promise shown against that world-class attack might be enough to dismiss talk of Neesham batting at 5 in order to strengthen the bowling options.

Also, because India at home with Ravichandran Ashwin and Ravindra Jadeja is an incredibly difficult challenge right now, the logical thing to do might be to strengthen the batting.

It’s possible that we will see a team that looks like:

1. Latham
2. Guptill
3. Williamson (c)
4. Taylor
5. Nicholls
6. Neesham (2)
7. Watling (wk)
8. Santner (5)
9. Craig (4)
10. Wagner (3)
11. Boult (1)

Another Rain Affected Day Frustrates

durbs

Third Day, First Test, Black Caps vs. South Africa in South Africa 2016

Rain destroyed the entire third day of the first Test between the Black Caps and South Africa.

By 2200 NZT, The BetFair odds heavily favoured the Draw. South Africa were paying $2.98, the Black Caps $15.50 and the Draw $1.59. Anyone who had money sitting on the Draw would have made a killing in this time.

By 0100 NZT, with it being clear that the day was to be washed out, South Africa were at $7.20, the Black Caps at $34.00 and the Draw in to $1.19.

– DAN McGLASHAN

Rain Spoils Absorbing Contest in Durban

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Second Day, First Test, Black Caps vs. South Africa in South Africa 2016

With South Africa 236/8 overnight, the BetFair market gradually came to the conclusion that the Black Caps were now the favourites leading into the second day of the first Test in Durban. South Africa drifted from $2.74 to $2.98 overnight, the Black Caps stayed the same ($2.88 to $2.92) and the Draw came in from $3.45 to $3.05, perhaps reflecting a bad weather forecast or the likelihood that bad light will take several overs of play time out of this match.

The opening session of the second day began with the new ball swinging around corners. Despite the assistance, the last wicket stand of Kagiso Rabada and Dane Piedt frustrated the New Zealanders, who were able to generate several edges that did not go to hand.

When Piedt was out caught at the wicket off a wider Boult delivery, with the partnership worth 27, the South African innings ended at 263. At this time it looked as if all three results were in play, with South Africa paying $2.98 and the Black Caps $3.30. 263 was not a big total but as the New Zealand seamers were swinging it viciously it looked as if conditions would be good for Dale Steyn and Vernon Philander with the ball.

They were – Steyn and Philander were at least as good as Boult was yesterday. Steyn accounted for both Latham and Guptill with superb bowling; Latham caught at slip and Guptill trapped in front.

A brief passage of intense cricket of the highest quality ensued as Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor fended off an arsenal of swing and seam trickery from Steyn and Philander, but rain intervened to spoil the day, which ended with New Zealand at 15/2.

At this point, South Africa was paying $2.44, New Zealand $6.40, and the Draw was the favourite, perhaps in anticipation of more rain, at $2.28.

– DAN McGLASHAN

Boult Masterclass Helps Make it the Black Caps’ Day

First Day, First Test, Black Caps vs. South Africa in South Africa 2016

Pre-match odds had South Africa favourites at around $2.30, the Black Caps at around $3.80. The Black Caps went out slightly when South Africa won the toss and chose to bat, but not by much (to around $4.30), probably reflecting the degree of uncertainty around the pitch and weather conditions.

The Black Caps went with four seamers, appearing to agree with the argument presented earlier this week that Ish Sodhi offers less value than either Henry or Bracewell. They decided to go with Bracewell over Henry, possibly for the good reason that this is not a development tour.

Trent Boult was magnificent in the first session before drinks, taking the wicket of Stephen Cook with a perfectly placed ball that took the edge through to Watling. Boult bowled 8 overs for figures of 8-1 before drinks in a masterclass of accuracy. Southee and Bracewell were less effective, Southee struggling for rhythm and Bracewell looking rusty. At this point the Black Caps had gone out to $4.50 and the Draw had come in to $2.66.

Williamson shuffled his bowlers after drinks but Southee continued to bowl poorly, giving away too many wide balls outside off without building any real pressure. By lunch, South Africa were 94/2 with Hashim Amla looking imperious. He was on 42 off 41 balls with nine boundaries. There was no aggression from Amla, just waiting for bad balls and then hitting them hard into gaps. The Black Caps were paying $5.80 by this time, with South Africa in to $2.16.

The passage after lunch was marked by the intense battle between Amla and Boult, the best batsman and best bowler on either side. After Duminy was caught hooking off a Wagner short ball, Amla found the going much more difficult than before lunch, with Boult continuing to throw down accurate deliveries with excellent shape at a good pace. Eventually Boult dismissed Amla with a straight ball that swung in and took the inside edge through to Watling. At 131/4 at the second drinks break, the odds for the Black Caps had come in to $4.10, with the Draw fading to $2.86.

After the drinks break the second session was attritional, with only 15 runs coming off the last 14 overs of the session. Faf du Plessis was extremely defensive and ended the session with only 18 runs from 74 balls.

The moment of the third session, and perhaps the day, came just when it started to look like the redoubtable South African defence had started to tire the Kiwis. A wide half-volley from Neil Wagner was smashed by Faf du Plessis and cannoned towards the boundary until plucked from the air one-handed by a flying Kane Williamson at gully with a catch that Chris Harris would have been proud of.

This left South Africa 160/5 and the odds for the Black Caps were then $3.55, still the outsider but lower than at the start of play.

The third session continued with a South African counterattack, with Temba Bavuma and Quentin de Kock taking on the Black Caps bowlers. Their aggression was checked by a Mitchell Santner double strike, with de Kock caught slogging in the deep and Bavuma out trying to sweep an arm ball that had him lbw.

From that point it seemed that the South African innings was in its death throes, with Philander out chipping Wagner tamely to mid off. Kagiso Rabada and Dale Steyn were left when bad light stopped play, after 77.4 overs, with South Africa 236/8. Perhaps surprisingly at this point, South Africa were still favourites, paying $2.74 to the Black Caps’ $2.88 (the Draw was $3.45).

The player of the day was probably Trent Boult, narrowly over Neil Wagner, with Hashim Amla in third place. The play of the day was definitely Kane Williamson’s screamer at gully to dismiss Faf du Plessis.

Neil Wagner’s bowling average is now under 30, and with Southee looking insipid (his 18 painful overs going for 63 runs with no wicket) it might be that Boult is now clearly the leader of the New Zealand pace attack. Boult looked far more dangerous than Southee today and on another day could have had five wickets.

The Black Caps will look to take care of South Africa with the new ball tomorrow and then bat until the close of play.

– DAN McGLASHAN

Is It Once Again Time to Boycott South African Sports Teams?

norugbywithracists

There has been little discussion about the news that the South African team for the Black Caps’ tour of Africa will be chosen on the basis of race, and not merit. For the first time since the early 1980s, New Zealand finds itself faced with a team that leaves out its best players for being the wrong skin colour.

CricInfo reports that “The two-match series is the first South Africa play since last month’s announcement that CSA will impose selection criteria relating to the number of players of colour in all national teams in accordance with a memorandum of understanding signed with the country’s sports ministry.”

In April this year, the South African Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula banned Cricket South Africa from hosting international tournaments for one year because of being too slow to reach transformation targets.

The ‘memorandum of understanding’ signed by Cricket South Africa could also be understood as a surrender document.

It sounds unbelievable, but the South African Government has decreed that a maximum of 40% of the South African players can be white. In practice, that means four players in the national cricket side can be white.

This raises the possibility that the injuries said to have been sustained by AB de Villiers and Morne Morkel are a ruse to distract from the fact that some white players have been forced out of the South African team to play the first Test, starting Saturday, by the quota.

South Africa coach Russell Domingo says that “if someone says Hashim Amla or JP Duminy or Dane Piedt is playing because of the colour of their skin, they are smoking something.” He neglects to mention Temba Bavuma, who, as a specialist batsman with a first-class batting average of 38, probably does not deserve a place in the national side.

If the South African cricket team is chosen on the basis of race, and not on merit, it has no business on the international stage.

Probably it’s too early to yet make a judgment, because we don’t yet know if the quota is an honest attempt at transforming a sporting scene that gives undue advantage to white people, or if it’s simply a crude attempt to disadvantage a racial enemy.

For my part, I’ll probably just be happy to see Kane Williamson facing up to Dale Steyn for a few weeks.

– DAN MCGLASHAN

Could the Black Caps Run a Four Man Pace Battery?

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With the Black Caps to begin their South Africa leg of their tour of Africa with the first Test on 19 AUG, attention turns to the composition of the team ahead of the main challenge of this tour.

Three of the positions in the batting order are as certain as they have ever been. There is no doubt about Tom Latham opening, about Kane Williamson at 3 and Ross Taylor at 4.

With the bowlers there is no doubt about Tim Southee and Trent Boult, and the middle order is certain to feature both Mitchell Santner and wicketkeeper BJ Watling.

Regarding the second opener’s position, Martin Guptill probably did enough to retain his incumbency as an opener, and is therefore expected to start over Jeet Raval. The 27-year old Raval, who is yet to play a Test, has a first-class average of 44 and is probably the strongest first-class opener yet to play Test cricket since Mark Richardson.

Henry Nicholls will probably continue to bat at 5, with New Zealand unlikely to put Luke Ronchi in the position. Nicholls might have the most tenuous claim to a place in the team, but the Black Caps management seem willing to give him a decent run in the side because he is only 24.

Regarding the bowling options, New Zealand might find itself in a good position to gamble on a four man pace battery, on account of that the spin doesn’t look threatening enough to help take 20 South African wickets.

Ish Sodhi took eight wickets at 25 on the Zimbabwe leg of the tour but was far from convincing. Although he occasionally bowled a dangerous ball, he put down a haul of full tosses and long hops that even Zimbabwe’s batsmen could easily put away. His economy rate of 3.29, compared to Mitchell Santner’s 2.15, is evidence that he does not yet have the control to tie down an end.

Santner, for his part, seems to be improving as a bowler. His economy rate reflects that his bowling was tight against Zimbabwe, rarely straying away from an off stump line, even if the spin was gentle.

Given that Santner will almost certainly be chosen for his all-round value, and that Martin Guptill has shown himself capable of tidy spin bowling should the need arise, it may be that Sodhi is deemed to have very little value to the team for the South Africa leg.

Neil Wagner has become indispensable as the Black Caps’ third seamer. His Test bowling average has come down to 30.43, which is lower than that of Tim Southee. Wagner also has the quality of being able to pose a threat with the old ball, which gives him value in the same conditions that Southee and Boult are less dangerous in.

This leaves a fourth seamer spot open for either Matt Henry or Doug Bracewell. This column believes that Bracewell is unlikely to possess the application to develop much further as either a bowler or a batsman, and that neither is true of Henry. Although Henry is yet to impress in his four Test career, he has 51 ODI wickets at a world-class average of 22.17, and so his potential appears much higher.

If Guptill is capable of bowling in the case we need two spinners, and if Santner is capable of bowling a large number of tidy overs as he did against Zimbabwe, the best team choice for the Black Caps might be to drop Sodhi and go with a four man pace attack.

This would give us a Black Caps side of:

1. Martin Guptill (6)
2. Tom Latham
3. Kane Williamson (c)
4. Ross Taylor
5. Henry Nicholls
6. Mitchell Santner (5)
7. BJ Watling (wk)
8. Matt Henry (3)
9. Neil Wagner (4)
10. Trent Boult (1)
11. Tim Southee (2)

– DAN McGLASHAN