December 26, 2002

Batting tradesmen short in supply at Auckland derby


Oram celebrates one of his five dismissals in career-best haul
First of all it was Test matches that couldn't go the distance, in terms of time, and now it is One-Day Internationals.

Just what caused the free-for-all for the best batsmen in both sides can only be wondered. Clearly the batsmen of both countries have been spooked by pitches with sideways movement.

For all that, the hard work ethic seems to have all but disappeared from the game and it should be noted that two of the hardest workers, Rahul Dravid for India and Jacob Oram for New Zealand, were all but undefeated in their respective innings in this first National Bank One-Day International Series match won by New Zealand by three wickets. Dravid was last man out for India with 20 scored off 51 balls.

Probably the best way to sum up this shame of a game was that it took New Zealand 37.4 overs to score 109 runs and it cost them seven wickets in doing so.

This was not what was intended when one-day cricket was first developed.

Boxing Day is traditionally known as Derby Day in Auckland, in recognition of a long-established horse race at the nearby Ellerslie Racecourse. But in a summer where bowlers have already had far too much to say, this was the bowlers' Derby Day.

It was probably the worst display of the series from both batting units.

What was even worse was that despite all the poor cricket that was played, the majority of the crowd of 29,381 would probably have left the ground happy that they had been witness to an absorbing contest with the action going down to the wire, and many of them were able to negotiate their way home in the fading light of day!

Wily old campaigner Javagal Srinath showed all his skills in taking four for 23 from his 10 overs while Ashish Nehra was superb when in his post-dinner spell he rocked the home side to finish with two for 16 from 10 overs.

But this series is in desperate need of some batting entertainment, and New Zealand needs it if their World Cup campaign is to have any bite.

India were bad enough, recording their worst score score in a 50-over match, 108, in ODIs against New Zealand, surpassing the 113 scored at Perth in 1985/86.

But New Zealand did their best to do even worse. At one stage their worst score in ODIs against all countries, 64 v Pakistan at Sharjah in 1985/86, was in danger while there was every chance that the worst score in New Zealand, 74 against Australia in 1981/82 would disappear.

It took two comparative tyros in Oram and Kyle Mills to restore New Zealand's position from a potentially embarrasing 52/6.

Oram is quickly moving into the sort of authoritative role in the middle-order that used to be the domain of Jeremy Coney, an unflustered respondent to all crises, and while he admits that it is not really his game, it is one that he is growing to enjoy.

Mills too, is well known as no slug with the bat and he served only to make the selectors more aware that theirs is going to be a very difficult task in naming their World Cup side with one more game remaining before they make their choice.

However, it is now apparent that there is going to have to be a little hope in their selection process because it cannot be said, even in the difficult conditions that have prevailed during the first three international fixtures, that any of the front-runners are showing any form.

The hope does have to be that Napier will provide more of a high-scoring contest in conditions which have generally favoured good batting.

The wicket fooled both teams today and most who looked at in the pre-match build-up. It gave every indication of being an absolute belter, but failed to live up to that expectation. It was two-paced with variable bounce and both captains were critical of it after the match.

In many ways it is unfair to be critical of the batsmen of either side, except to say that the notion of pulling back and accepting that a score of 180, or thereabouts, sometimes has to be acceptable, didn't seem to enter the minds of many of the batsmen.

That would have meant a much less entertaining spectacle but it would have been more of a test of cricket skills.

Fortunately, for New Zealand, it showed it had players who had every reason to play that way, because they were on trial for their positions in a World Cup squad and for Mills and Oram that proved sufficient to make the difference on the night.

Oram had earlier produced a fine bowling performance to take five wickets for 26 runs, and no matter where he bowls, or in what conditions, it may be a very long time before he ever does better. In fact, he commented afterwards that he had never taken five wickets at a representative level of the game before.

Daryl Tuffey's star continued in the ascendant, although even the bowlers would probably admit to wanting more of a test of their skills as they build towards the World Cup. Tuffey finished with two for 23 while Daniel Vettori, finally got to bowl a ball in the international series, and proceeded to take one wicket for one run from his over.

This was a game worthy of being confined to the garbage bin of cricket memories but unfortunately for India, it finds itself 1-0 down in the series with six to play and with its confidence under siege it wouldn't want to be 2-0 down after Sunday.

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