New Zealand Test Blog

Geoff Wellsteed, author of Pavilions In Splendour — the Cricket grounds of Cheshire is visiting venues further afield this winter on England's tour to New Zealand.

2ND TEST at Wellington

Tuesday, 28 February (Day 5)
When Don Bradman was bowled second ball by Eric Hollies for nought at the Oval in 1948 'The Don' was deprived of achieving a Test match average of a hundred. After a long pause John Arlott who was commentating on the radio at the time said 'What does one say?" Although the circumstances were rather different had he been at the Basin Reserve today he might have uttered the same words. This was the most gripping Test match imaginable. The outcome in doubt until the Kiwi's squeezed over the line just after 4pm.

At the start of play the equation was simple. Could England score 210 runs? Could the Blackcaps capture nine England wickets? In the local bars last evening the majority of England fans thought the task was a formality. The home supporters were dejected after the collapse of the Kiwi tail, and most resigned to defeat. Those of us who have been there and collected too many T-shirts where not so sure, and sat on the proverbial fence. When England were 80-5 the Kiwi's had hope. They had just seen Joe Root run out the in-form, Harry Brook without him facing a ball. It was a suicidal call from the former captain who hung his head in shame.

By lunch Root and Stokes had stabilized the innings somewhat, and at 201-5 things looked much rosier for the visitors. Disaster! Stokes (33) was out on that total, Root (95) one run later, and Broad (11) at 215. Hope loomed again as Foakes, (aggressive and retaining the strike wherever possible), and Leach (watchful and defensive) took the score to 251 before Foakes (35) was caught in the deep by Wagner. The last two, Leach and Anderson, were at the crease and only seven runs were needed. Seven had been reduced to two when Anderson got a little legside snick to the wicketkeeper. Blundell disappeared under a sea of colleagues. New Zealand elation! England magnanimous in defeat. Cricket the winner.

Three observations — 1. Having lost by one run England might reflect on the fact that they bowled ten No-Balls (Leach five of them). 2. Test cricket needs to be played on a pitch which offers something to both batters and bowlers and this surface was excellent. Well done to the groundstaff. 3. What isn't acceptable to traditionalists like me is umpires wearing baseball caps. Surely Test match umpiring equiette demands a hat? Please, gentlemen keep your baseball caps for hit and giggle cricket. So ends a delightful two match tour. The cyclone a distant memory, but this match will shine bright for many a year.

One final story. The museum on the ground tells of New Zealand's greatest rail disaster at Christmas 1953. The overnight train from Wellington to Auckland came off the rails and fall into a river. 151 people died including the fiancée of Test match cricketer Bob Blair. New Zealand were playing South Africa in Johannesburg and no one expected Blair to participate on Day 2 when the news broke, but with wickets tumbling he made his way to the middle. The crowd rose in tribute and gave him a standing ovation. Blair put the game and his team ahead of himself in a unique act of bravery, sportsmanship and the spirit of cricket. Bravery beyond tragedy. Surely, acts of selflessness like that is why so many of us appreciate, and love our very special sport.

Monday, 27 February (Day 4)
There was much speculation and uncertainty in the queues outside the ground this morning as to the eventual outcome of this match. The Blackcap fans were hopeful and England fans optimistic. One nation would, inevitably, be disappointed today (or maybe not until Tuesday?)

In the event it was the most sensational day of cricket. It really was Roy of the Rovers stuff!
In the first over Kane Williamson achieved the four runs he needed to become the Kiwi's all-time Test aggregate run scorer. The whole ground stood in admiration and appreciation. Thereafter he and Mitchell moved the NZ score along at a decent pace. Mitchell was aggressive, Williamson, technically superb, patience personified. When Mitchell departed not long before the luncheon interval he was replaced by Blundell who played in a similar attacking vein.

No wickets were lost in the afternoon session, and at tea the home team were well placed at 423-5, a lead of 197. By this time Williamson had put a hundred against his name and, again the near capacity crowd stood to recognise a very accomplished innings. Crucially, Blundell was dropped twice, Anderson and Leach being the culprits, but with the score at 455 Williamson was surprisingly caught at the wicket off Harry Brook. It was his first bowl in Test cricket and what a scalp!

Thereafter wickets, unbelievably, tumbled at 478, 482, 482 and 483. Four wickets for five runs! Bracewell's Run Out was bizarre (and it has to be said, embarrassing at this elite level). NZ all out, and self-inflicted, just when the England attack looked to be on their knees. With only 45 minutes of play left England galloped along to 48 for the loss of Crawley so now need another 210 to win tomorrow. Will there be another sting in the tail? Make no mistake this was a terrific day of Test cricket. Quite how NZ managed to give away the advantage they had worked so hard to achieve was incomprehensible.

A couple of thoughts -
Can someone explain to me how the playing of loud pop music enhances the Test match experience?

How is it that Jack Leach can bowl five No Balls in this match when he is a slow bowler. There is absolutely no excuse. I am obliged to a friend for reminding me that Nathan Lyon of Australia has bowled 30,000 deliveries without ever bowling one.

And a light-hearted finish....The ground authorities made it crystal clear at the outset that supporters (illogically) would not be allowed to take bottles of water into the ground (but that water fountains were abundant). Fair enough. But today at the main gate a lady arrived with a thermos of hot water. When the steward challenged the owner she insisted the website said it was allowable. While the frustrated supporter queue was ever-lengthening telephones calls were made and confirmation was received that hot water was, indeed, permissible. Hot but not cold. It's a funny old world.

Sunday, 26 February (Day 3)
A few more birds have flown in overnight! Ashley Woodcock (Australia) for one and Peter Martin (England) has been allowed on review! I'm also assured by my good friend, the curator of the Pakistan cricket museum in Lahore that Shaheen is urdu for eagle so, controversially(?), Shaheen Shah Afridi also makes Dickie Bird's elite squad which has now reached 16!

Quite how play started on time today after yesterday's early finish because of persistent drizzle, and last night's very heavy rain was nothing short of a miracle. The ground was only half full as many were still munching their brekkie in the miscellany of local coffee shops when play commenced. I had a delicious hot BLT roll with avocado in Joe's Garage. I had expected to be sat on a pile of retread tyres but it turned out to be quite a high-end establishment, although I must say I would have preferred a knife to a spanner!

It was an absorbing day's cricket. At the start NZ were 138-7, but in no time they had 201-7 on the board thanks to some exhilarating, big hitting from Tim Southee. The home supporters were at fever pitch as their captain launched six 6s in the crowd. When he was dismissed the innings quickly subsided, and they were eventually all out for 209.

Stokes asked the Kiwi's to bat again, and at lunch they had, uneventfully, reduced the original deficit of 226 by 40 runs. When teatime came around they still had all ten wickets in hand and the arrears had been further reduced to 98 thanks to disciplined knocks from both Latham and Conway. Both went soon after the break, and Young only lasted 23 balls before Williamson and Nicholls prevented any further alarms before the close of play.

So Day 4 starts with the home side just 24 runs behind England with seven wickets in hand. Can they set England a tricky target? Can Kane Williamson become the highest run scorer in the history of NZ cricket? He needs only four more runs to overtake Ross Taylor's tally of 7,683. Presuming he achieves the record the Barmies will applaud as loudly as the home fans for one of world cricket's most admired and respected players. Incidentally the daily charge for ground admission is a mere £7. Where else can you get entertainment like this for such a pittance?

I love a good statistic and it emerged today that Tim Southee has now whacked 82 Test matches sixes. That is a remarkable figure for a bowler. The leading six-hitter in Test cricket is Ben Stokes with 109. I confess it is nothing to do with cricket, but I've just finishing reading Jeremy Paxton's history of the coal-mining industry 'Black Gold'. Did you know there were still 21,000 ponies down the mines when they were nationalised in 1947? Another good stat don't you think? Try it on your neighbour!

Finally, I must tell you my mate, the (retired) judge from Cheadle Hulme has been in touch overnight and invited me to umpire a couple of Cheshire Over 70s matches this summer. Amusingly, he refers to them as the Coffin-Dodgers XI! Should be good fun.

Saturday, 25 February (Day 2)
From a position of delight at the dismissal of Harry Brook just after the start of play New Zealand were in despair at lunchtime, and in a state of desperation by the premature close. Had the rain not cut short the final session by 100 minutes or so, they may have been doomed to near defeat this evening. That prospect, on the face of it, is merely deferred. Brook only added two runs to his overnight score, but when he departed the whole ground stood to applaud him back to the pavilion such was the quality of his knock. The excited pub talk last night all revolved the quality of his batting and his potential to achieve more. After Brook was out Rooty played in a much more cavalier fashion and looked like his old self. When Stokes declared the innings closed the former captain was content to retire with a big red-inker.

Anderson was soon in business, Conway and Williamson two very fine batters, were quickly snared. When Young was out very soon after the lunch interval NZ were 21-3, the very same precarious score that England had recorded roughly 24 hours before. The essential difference being that England are on a high and capable of getting out of a hole while the Kiwi's are on a downer, and getting out of the doldrums is currently beyond them? Maybe not, the next few sessions will tell.

On TV back in England some of you may well have seen an attractive monument on the grass-banking. It is a memorial to Essex-born, William Wakefield (1801-1848) who negotiated the purchase of Wellington from a local Maori tribe. Educated at Westminster School, he seems to have been quite a character as he was imprisoned for abducting a heiress and later joined the British Legion in Spain before arriving in NZ. And while on the history of the ground did you know Newcastle United FC played New Zealand here in May 1985 drawing 2-2? The venue has been used for many sports over the years including wrestling, lacrosse, rugby league and gymnastics and basketball.

Now I must confess I didn't appreciate I had so many acquaintances with a keen interest in ornithology. What a hoot! A large inbox this morning has enabled me to add to my original list of five. Here are the additional allowable ones; Aaron Finch (Australia), Ian Swallow (Yorkshire), Tim Wren (Kent), Reg Partridge (Northants), Cyril Coote (Minor Counties), Dermot Reeve (England a reeve is a female ruff), Alan Knott (England a knot is a wader) and Mason Crane (Hampshire). Regrettably a good few got the red pen treatment! I wanted to allow Pigeon which was Glenn McGrath's nickname and also because Paul Pridgeon (Worcestershire) but that got eliminated as well! All good fun!!

PS....I mentioned a 'loiner' in yesterday's blog. Several overnight (and not all southerners!) have asked for an explanation. He/she is a Leeds citizen. It's a demonym!

Friday, 24 February (Day 1)
Picture the scene. Opened in 1868 the picturesque Basin Reserve is one of the iconic cricketing venues in the world. Both the grandstand and the grass-banking are bulging with supporters cheering for their respective teams. It's an excited sell-out crowd. The previously closed, earthquake condemned, Museum Stand has recently re-opened after a big dollar renovation and looks a treat festooned as it is in dozens of colourful footie flags. The national anthems have been sung, the Barmies have treated the Kiwi's to a rendering of Jerusalem, the sun is shyly peeping through the clouds and the outfield is the most vivid shade of green. The beer is already flowing.

All perfect, except that England are 21-3 after only 6.4 overs! It was a poor start but partly expected on a green top which offered the Blackcap quicks plenty of encouragement. Enter Joe Root from Sheffield and Harry Brook from Keighley. In such dire circumstances Yorkshire expects and both played quite beautifully. Root started tentatively but soon got into his stride whereas Brook — educated at Sedbergh School and quite used to playing on sporting pitches, given his old school's cricket square sat directly below the often-threatening weather on Howgill Fell — was belligerent from the outset. They complemented each other to a tee; Root industriously working the ball into gaps as only he can, and Brook played shots ranging from superb to imperious. He hits the ball brutally hard. Categorically, no one has played with such confidence and authority for England since Kevin Pietersen.

When rain brought the day to a premature close after 65 overs, Root had an undefeated 101 against his name while Brook had thrashed his way to 184 off only 169 balls. So far they have added 294. As the players left the field a loiner stood on the steps in an ill-fitting T-shirt over an XXXL frame shouting Yorksheer! Yorksheer! No doubt they will be just as happy and proud in the broad acres tonight.

And talking of the white rose county I got into a lunchtime conversation with a Kiwi who told me he was currently reading and enjoying dear old Dickie Bird's autobiography. Suffice it to say it set me off thinking of cricketer's with bird names but I only got as far as Neil Hawke (Australia), Graeme Swann (England), Walter Robins (England) and Umar Gul (Pakistan). I'm off to bed now to think of a few more! I'm expecting a few contributions from friends in my bird-box overnight.
PS....just got Martin Crowe (NZ).


Thursday, 16 May (Day 1)

And so the England cricketing caravan is rolling again. Despite the recent cyclone in these parts the Test match got underway on time. Put into bat on a surface which both captains seemed suspicious of, the visitors were soon in trouble.

Poor old Zak Crawley, currently a walking wicket, survived a No Ball dismissal before he was out to a dreadful shot off his fourteenth ball. (Later in the day he dropped a dolly to spare Conway but in fairness to him he did hold on to a corker just four overs before the close to send Nicholls packing).

In contrast Ben Duckett played very fluently and put together an exceptionally attractive innings of 84. Harry Brook produced another masterclass and contributed 89 off a mere 81 balls. He really does look the part. Root got out to a shot which will keep him awake tonight after he sees the replay. In true Bazball style England had 325 on the scoreboard off only 58 overs when Stokes surprised just about everyone in the crowd of around 5,000 by declaring with 9 wickets down.

In the remaining 18 overs the Kiwi's endeavoured to play conventional cricket — they scored at 2 an over against England's 5.6 — but lost three of their top four and are precariously placed at 37 for 3. Yet again Jimmy Anderson was in mean and masterful form claiming 2-10 off 7 overs including the crucial scalp of Kane Williamson. It was a fascinating day of Test cricket; England won the first session and NZ took the second, but the final one conclusively gave Team Stokes the upper-hand. Surely there is no way this game will go the full distance?

Now, in these southern parts of the world the pitch is commonly referred to as the 'block' and I am comfortable with that terminology but I am definitely offended by those who call the pitch the wicket. A set of three stumps and two bails is the wicket. Mr Rose, my old secondary school Maths teacher, regularly administered the cane for far less serious offences. Remember the playing surface is the pitch and not the wicket! Don't let me have to tell you again!

Pink ball, floodlit Test cricket is not everyone's cup of tea but it does allow for a leisurely morning. I had a nice swim and a relaxing soak in the hot tub before setting about a healthy eggs benedict in a beachside café. After ordering brekkie the waitress gave us flag 15 pending delivery. On the mast was a question — 'what is the gestation period of a giraffe?' I confess it took me more than a few seconds to realise the answer was 15 months! Our neighbours on the next table had flag 34. They appeared to think I was quite mad when I leaned over to read their question which was 'how many islands are there in the Mediterranean?' Work that one out!!

Finally, back to the crick. The New Zealanders had two guys on debut. Blair Tickner and Scott Kuggeleijn. Both did OK, Tickner got a wicket and Kuggeleijn got two. The latter is the son of former NZ cricketer Christopher Kuggeleijn but I bet you didn't know the old man, intriguingly, has a second forename which is Mary? I guarantee that some of my nerdy cricketing friends are bound to come back to me identifying more male cricketers with a female name. Just you wait and see!

Friday, 17 February (Day 2)
I told you some of my clever mates would come up with some female names for male cricketers and they did not disappoint! From Cheshire my old Davenham acquaintance who won Mastermind (2006) informed me that the former West Indian Test player, Larry Gomes was actually christened HILARY. Top call that, but other worthy nominations included 'Mandy' Mitchell-Innes (Somerset and England) and 'Patsy' Hendren (Middlesex and England). Some of you might argue the latter two are monikers but I must remind you I am the umpire and there is no DRS in this particular game! Now my HMP friend, (he was an educationalist rather than an inmate), moved the goalposts a bit and suggested the old Arsenal goalkeeper, Bob PRIMROSE Wilson. His second forename being his Mum's maiden name. If you knew that take a bonus point, but I bet you didn't know that Gina Coladangelo is Wilson's great niece. She is the businesswoman and lobbyist that was one half of the famous Matt Hancock 'Covid fondle'. Incidentally the former Minister of Hypocrisy is a very keen cricket fan.

Now if you thought that the Blackcaps batting would collapse like a jenga tower you were much mistaken. An unpromising overnight 37-3 was converted into a more respectable 138-5 by the first break (tea) and 238-8 by the second interval (supper). Conway made a commendable 77.

The final session played under the lights proved to be a real frustration for England as the tail wagged with some vigour. Wicketkeeper Tom Blundell when through the gears and ended with 138. England might well live to regret that last wicket stand between him and Tickner. The latter played a vital role even if he only contributed three runs to the stand of 59. Leach bowled some garbage and NZ finished with a deficit of only 19 runs. That was a far cry from the earlier expectation of most England supporters.

As the temperature fell and spectators donned two layers, Duckett and Crawley had an awkward 80 minutes or so to negotiate. They both played enterprisingly but both were dismissed, respectively, for 25 and 28. My card awarded NZ the first and third sessions with the second shared.

After two days I think that England have won two sessions, the Kiwi's three with one shared. However, despite that rating I firmly believe the visitors have the advantage. They go into Day 3 with a lead of 98 and eight wickets in hand. It's quite a platform on which to build.

As I reported yesterday the 2pm start allows the visiting fans to take a late morning breakfast and today we indulged in 'The Worx' as it was badged on the blackboard at Café Gusto. Sitting on a neighbouring table was Mike Atherton and we recommended that he do the same, but he sensibly opted for avocado on toast! Day 3 is fancy-dress day so there maybe some fine sights to describe in tomorrow's notes?

Saturday, 18 February (Day 3)
Just a bit of background. I arrived in Auckland with two mates on 8 February. We are travelling independently and we immediately drove up to our first base in the Bay of Islands which is located up in the northern part of the North Island. Fortunately, we arrived before the onset of the cyclone, and when it did hit NZ we were sufficiently north to avoid the major disasters which devastated some parts.

In the event we were able to tick off most of the tourist 'must-see' sights albeit in a restricted way. It was incredibly windy at Cape Reinga, the most northernly tip of NZ, and we were sandblasted on Ninety-mile beach but at least we got there! The subsequent journey down to Mount Manganui was interesting! We aborted the journey one day but made it at the second attempt the following day. Road closures as a result of flooding, landslips and fallen trees plus no power, no wifi and no phone signs made travel quite a challenge! Clearly, we have been very fortunate compared to many travelling from the UK that have been stranded in various parts of the world and, unfortunately, still wait to be reunited with their luggage three and four days later.

And talking of baggage, there has been pub talk here amongst the England supporters of Stuart Broad falling into that category. Last evening in his role of nightwatchman he played extravagantly, presumably under orders, when he skied the ball so high it might have brought down any passing Chinese meteorological balloons. He got away with that one but this morning when he was dismissed for seven after adding only one to his overnight score the tongues wagged again. However, less than seven hours later, under the floodlights, he bowled a very fine spell demolishing the cream of the Blackcaps batting by securing four wickets — all bowled — to ensure England will win this match sometime on Day 4. It was as if Stuart Broad was saying 'don't you dare ever write me off'.

On another hot day England scored quickly but looked potentially vulnerable when they lost their sixth wicket at 237. That modest advantage was enhanced by cameos from Stokes, Foakes and Robinson, and England eventually posted a very substantial score of 374. Set a target of 394 to win the match was as good as over when the Kiwi's collapsed to 27-4 after Broad's devastating work. Once again Harry Brook, who made 54 for 41 deliveries looked to be player of the very highest pedigree.

The Bay Oval was like an oven today, under Dulux blue skies, and a crowd approaching 10,000 the placed rocked. On the extensive grass banking the locals happily mixed with the visiting Poms as the Barmy Army, heavily fuelled by the local brew, went through their entire song-book. It was a gay scene.

My day was made complete by spotting a campervan on the way back to our apartment. It had a slogan on the side which said 'If you can't see the sunshine, be the sunshine'. It seemed to succinctly sum up everything that is good about the way England are currently playing their exciting brand of cricket. Long may it continue.
Sunday, 19 February (Day 4, Mount Manganui Test)
A daily ritual has emerged. A leisurely swim, followed by a dip in the jacuzzi, a jumbo beachside brekkie and a relaxing amble along the waterfront before making off for the Bay Oval, a mere 15 minute stroll.

Mount Manganui is an odd mix of a town (or is it a very small city?) as it sits on a very narrow headland and is split into two distinct parts. By the way I've yet to climb the mount(ain) that lends its name to the resort and dominates the skyline (but watch this space!) On one side is a thriving and charming holiday resort — all candy floss, picnic baskets, water sports, million dollar second-homes and flash apartments, and on the other half a busy port with huge numbers of freight containers piled eight high, more timber logs than you could ever imagine and a large salt processing site which is located right alongside the ground. The two parts seem like odd bedfellows but it seems to work.

Several thousand red-skinned Brits turned up at the crick today wondering whether the Kiwi's could bat into the second or third session. They couldn't. The overnight score of 63-5 very quickly became 91-9 before Daryl Mitchell (57">  and debutant Blair Tickner added 35 for the last wicket. That token stand merely extended the period of play to 100 minutes.

Harry Brook, perhaps destined to be a global superstar, was given the Player of the Match award but surely it should have been Stuart Broad for that devastating spell of high-class bowling which conclusively sealed the victory for England? Judged purely on the final outcome (England won by 267 runs) it might be construed that NZ were thrashed but my match-card shows that of the ten sessions played I gave four to each side with two shared. That may surprise some but after the first session on Day 3 when England had a lead of only 256 with just four wickets in hand the match was wide open. The Blackcaps should take some comfort from that analysis for they looked a demoralised, broken unit both last evening and this morning.

The high street was heaving this evening so Asian fusion was the chosen cuisine at Master Kong & Madam Sunset's (seriously). The locals seem to like odd names and slogans. A high-class boutique just a few yards from the restaurant was called 'Strictly for the Birds' and earlier I spotted a car with a registration plate BP05ITV. Underneath where the garage name normally appears it said, ' And I'm not just referring to my blood group'. Lovely people these Kiwi's.

And finally, another male cricketer with a female name. Students of the game will be very familiar with former England cricketer and MCC administrator, 'Billy' Griffith but did you know he was christened Stewart Cathie Griffith. I didn't. Despite the spelling variation that counts in my book! I'm indebted to one of my Surrey-based mates.

Tomorrow the Mount has to be conquered and finally ticked off the list. No more notes until the Wellington Test on 24 February. Hope the weather in the UK is agreeable, it's gorgeous here!

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