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April 23, 2014

Trusting a man with two first names

Paul Ford
Mark Craig: bolter par excellence  © Getty Images
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In Will Farrell's didactic film Talladega Nights: The Ballad Of Ricky Bobby we learn that you should never trust a man with two first names - but that's exactly what New Zealand cricket fans are going to have to do next month.

Jeetan "Dave" Patel's strangely pragmatic decision to flag joining the New Zealand team and head to Edgbaston to have catches dropped off his bowling while wheeling in for Warwickshire, opened the door for one of the best Kiwi cricketing bolters of all time in Mark Craig.

Nicknamed "Pudgy", 27-year-old offspinner Craig was named as back-up tweaker to Ish Sodhi in the New Zealand Test team setting sail for the West Indies in May. He made the squad on the back of a sensible haircut and two career highlights against Canterbury: 5 for 56 in January 2014 and 5 for 120 in October 2012.

We'd have to presume the selectors weren't at the Gardens Ground in North Dunedin two summers back when the Beige Brigade took on the might of the Barmy Army in a pre-Test match curtain-raiser. Mark Craig padded up for the Barmies that day, and was out first ball to our captain, Jason "The Goosh" Gerken. Strangled down the leg side by a possum hunter from Winton is probably not one for the Craig curriculum vitae.

But of course he is not there to bat - he's there to get Chris Gayle and Shiv Chanderpaul out - and there ain't no possum hunters in the Windies. On the bowling front, the intriguing selection of Craig screams "experiment" and highlights the anaemic state of spin bowling in the wake of Daniel Vettori.

The Otago spinner leapfrogged veteran Bruce "Bucko" Martin and fellow guinea pig Todd "Rockin Rod" Astle.

Astle is a rare beast in New Zealand - a Test cricketer with an undefeated record. A leggie, he was chosen for a single Test in Colombo in November 2012, where he batted with ticker (38 runs, 163 minutes) but bowled unconvincingly (1 for 97) and was never allowed to find his feet.

New Zealand won that Test match handsomely, and the shambles of the Ross Taylor fiasco stole the headlines for months on end, but I reckon Astle was hard done by not getting another chance when the Test team headed off to get rissoled in South Africa.

There weren't any headlines about this travesty. "We don't require a legspin option in South African conditions, so have left out Todd Astle, but he is very much part of our thinking for the future," Mike Hesson mumbled at the time.

It's hard to know what Astle has done wrong this season either, delivering 37 Plunket Shield wickets at an average of 30.48, second only to the strongly gluted Mark Gillespie. Astle is the same age as Craig too, so let's not go playing that hoary old developmental card this time around.

Of course, I hope Craig does sensationally well. If he flourishes in dusty West Indian conditions as a debutant, it would be a wonderful thing.

In that typical low-key Kiwi way, he took the attention in his stride when he was interviewed in his buttoned-up black polo shirt at Eden Park after his "volt from the blue" call-up.

He spoke openly about having chronic fatigue syndrome a few years back, telling the Southland Times matter-of-factly: "I sort of felt like passing out a lot, though I never did, and I was so tired I couldn't sleep. It wasn't much fun." He sought treatment for the illness via the bizarrely named and non-mainstream "enhanced external counter pulsation" therapy.

Here's something for Craig to aim at: fellow Dunedinite and late-blooming spin bowler Alex Moir made his debut for New Zealand in 1951 and snaffled 6 for 155 against England. More than 60 years later, that remains the greatest innings haul by a Kiwi bowler on debut.

Shake 'n bake.

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Paul Ford is a co-founder of the Beige Brigade. He tweets here

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Posted by   on (April 24, 2014, 10:31 GMT)

Just that 'must have an off-spinner' mentality that lead to this and it shows the selectors do not regard Nathan McCullum as a test match player. I agree with you on Todd Astle, he was hard done by; even more so in the aspect that (I stand to be corrected) he took something like 13 or 14 wickets in his last match of the season . . . plus he's not the worst batter, debuted as an opener even

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Paul Ford
Paul Ford (aka Paul Holden) is a co-founder of the beloved Beige Brigade, the patriotic and long suffering Kiwi supporters' cult that is a bastion of things brown, tan, tongue-in-cheek and tenuously cricket-related. Paul lives in Wellington, somewhere between the Basin Reserve and Karori Park, and his favourite shot is the front-foot pull. @beigebrigade

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