Sunday, March 22, 2015

Quarter Final

Wellington was hosting its final game of the ICC cricket world cup today – the last quarterfinal. The previous three had been decided on Wednesday (South Africa beat Sri Lanka by 9 wickets in Sydney), Thursday (India beat Bangladesh by 109 runs in Melbourne), and Friday (Australia beat Pakistan by 6 wickets in Adelaide). New Zealand faced the West Indies at the Wellington Regional Stadium (formerly Westpac stadium), with a 2pm start for a day-night game.  

2pm start, you say? Why, that’s just enough time to go for a cricket long lunch at one of our favoured Wellington venues. First up, we thought we’d give Mariluca a try – hadn’t been there before, looks good. “No, we’re not open on Saturday lunchtime” came the reply. Odd, as they’re participating in the promotion. Next, I thought Trade Kitchen would be a good idea, but Nicola didn’t fancy their menu much. We finally settled on Zibibbo, about whom I so often say “the most under-rated restaurant in Wellington”…and yes, they were happy to accommodate us.

We parked up close to the stadium, then walked back into town along the seafront, to get our lunch. It was lovely: paua tortellini to start:

Followed by lamb on crushed potatoes:

And finished with pavlova: 

Menus don’t get more Kiwi than this. Surprisingly, we were the only people taking advantage of this offer, although there was a large party downstairs in the bistro/bar area. As always, the food was delicious, and we left happy for the walk up to the stadium.

Enough of this fine dining already…time to head to the match. We made it through the scrum that is the bag check and found our seats with about 10 minutes to spare, and settled in to watch.

New Zealand had won the toss and decided to bat. Captain McCullum came out to bat in his usual style, blazing away from the start. Unfortunately he was out on 12, and at 27/1 the Black Caps needed to calm down a bit. Which they duly did, and Martin Guptill and Kane Williamson put on another 52 before Williamson holed out to Chris Gayle, after a bit of a juggle. In came Ross Taylor, and then things really started to happen. Guptill made a somewhat cautious 100 off 111 deliveries, but then started to let rip; and with Taylor taking a back seat, supporting role, they made a partnership of 143. Guptill regularly put the ball into the crowd (and at one point out of the stadium). Despite losing Taylor, he was ably supported again by Anderson, Elliot and Ronchi as he made 237 from 163 balls, carrying his bat and setting a World Cup record, and the second-highest ODI score ever. New Zealand finished on 393.

What do you do about that, if you’re the West Indies? You need almost 8 an over from the get-go. Their response was to put Chris Gayle in to open, and he dismissed the fast bowlers with disdain. He was clearly in pain from his back injury, and was definitely not keen on running between the wickets. He didn’t need to much, as with a flick of the wrist he dispatched the ball to the boundary time after time, usually as a six. He reached 50 quickly (a total that included 2 singles – all the other scoring shots were boundaries), but lost 4 partners along the way - including a spectacular one-handed catch by Daniel Vettori on the boundary. And this was their downfall; whilst they continually put pressure on the Black Caps bowlers and kept up with the run rate, wickets continued to fall, and once Gayle was bowled by Milne for 61 (8 sixes, 2 fours), the end was inevitable. The lower order continued to bat valiantly, but an inability to build a significant partnership despite scoring better than the top-order batsmen undid them, and the final one went as the Windies reached 250, giving New Zealand the victory by 143 runs.

On Tuesday, The Black Caps face South Africa in Auckland. On this form, the Proteas should be quaking in their boots.

Monday, March 2, 2015

Cricket Round-Up

Well, that was an action-packed weekend!

In what was being billed as the clash of the World Cup (so far), Australia played New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland. At first, it seemed like it was going to be what could be described as a “normal” one-day match, with Australia comfortably cruising to 80 for 1 in 12 overs, before losing their second wicket. And then…disaster. Australia lost their next 7 wickets in a 9 over period, for 26 runs, ending at 106/9 after 22 overs. The final pair put on 45 before the last wicket was taken, giving Australia a paltry 151 all out. Trent Boult did most of the damage, with figures of 5 for 27 from his 10 overs, but including 5 for 3 in his second 5-over spell.

So far, so good. New Zealand have chased down low totals twice already in the World Cup – Scotland (142) and England (123). But they’d not reckoned on Mitchell Starc. As wicket after wicket fell in a steady procession, it looked like New Zealand were in danger of running out of wickets before they managed to accumulate the runs. When Ronchi was out for 6 runs, leaving the Black Caps with one batsman and the bowlers still to come, on 139 for 6, I thought they’d bring it home. After all, Daniel Vettori was next in, and he usually steers the Black Caps through a crisis with a steady hand. He was out for 2, and New Zealand still needed 7 runs to win.

Suddenly, it’s looking a bit precarious. With three wickets remaining, Kane Williamson decided to take a single on the second ball of the 23rd over. This exposed Adam Milne to Starc’s bowling for potentially four balls. He only needed one. 6 runs needed, and only 2 wickets remaining, out comes Tim Southee to face the remaining three balls of the over. Again, Starc only needed one, as he chopped it onto his own wicket. The last batsman, Trent Boult, had to face two deliveries whilst Kane Williamson was trapped, hopelessly, at the non-striker’s end.

He survived them. Finally, Williamson was back on strike, and facing Pat Cummins. He put the first ball into the crowd to finish off the match in style.

So that was a bit close! But a win’s a win, and New Zealand have 4 from 4, with only Bangladesh and Afghanistan to face in the group.

The next big match of the weekend was in Wellington: England vs. Sri Lanka. It was an 11:00 start, so we decided to go and get a big breakfast at Jano Bistro first – having been impressed by their dinner a couple of weeks ago, I was also impressed by their breakfast: no “pile it on a plate” higgledy-piggledy-ness from them – it was all artfully presented on the plate, and very well cooked.

We were able to park a bit closer to the stadium this time, as (a) the game wasn’t sold out and (b) as it was a weekend, the commuter car parks were all empty.

England won the toss and went in to bat first. This match followed a more traditional one-day format, unlike New Zealand’s matches, where the team batting first actually manage to bat out their 50 overs, and amass a reasonable score. After starting well, England had looked a bit sluggish through the middle overs, regularly scoring only two or three per over. I was predicting a total of 276, until they woke up a bit in the final seven overs and started to slap the ball around the ground, putting on 77 to finish with a respectable score of 309 to bowl at.

Out came Sri Lanka, and they were ready to bat. The openers, Dilshan and Thirimanne, steadily put on runs until Dilshan was out for 44. Still, at 100 after 19 overs, they were well in touch with the run rate, and then Sangakkara  came in. They kept the runs ticking over at a reasonable rate in the middle period, and then started to slowly accelerate, with Sangakkara in particular regularly reaching the boundary. Thirimanne reached his century, shortly followed by Sangakkara, and it seemed there was nothing the England bowlers could do to get them out. In this they weren’t helped by their fielders, who dropped them with distressing regularity. Sri Lanka eventually cruised home with 16 balls to spare, finishing in style by putting another 6 into the crowd.

Another terrible day to watch cricket
England have two tough games ahead of them now: Bangladesh and Afghanistan, both in Australia. Whilst you’d think that there’d be no danger of either of these teams beating England, on current form you wouldn’t put it past them. England must also be wary about the weather: a washout could scupper their chances of reaching the quarter finals.