February 19, 2013

Dipak stumbles, Nathan sizzles

Six memorable days from the last six England tours to New Zealand

England Test tours to New Zealand provide a tool to insert other life experiences into a reliable timeline. A visit by cricket's creators brings a heightened sense of anticipation. The current tour is England's 18th Test visit to New Zealand. A look at half a dozen personal-favourite moments from those tours.

1. Monday, January 24, 1984, fifth day, first Test, Wellington
The car was packed for the annual family holiday north of Auckland, at Red Beach; the inhabitants were famished. We'd been driving the best part of two hours and stopped at the Orewa Shopping Centre for a spot of lunch. Mum volunteered to get pies, lamingtons and custard squares. My brother assisted. There was a big queue. For me, as a six-year-old in his first season of cricket, the Test had somehow already assumed far greater importance than lining up for any form of pastry. I ventured into the front seat, where Dad was riveted to the radio as Jeremy Coney edged towards his maiden Test century. He completed the task by pulling Ian Botham through midwicket. The crowd roar combined with the radio static was mesmerising. If I'm not mistaken, my stoic father, a former first-class cricketer, may have even clenched his fist momentarily. Coney's eventual 174 not out helped New Zealand save the Test. He batted more than eight hours and faced 374 balls. The hosts started the final day at 335 for 7 with a lead of just 91. New Zealand went on to win the series; the only time in 17 attempts they have beaten England at home.

2. Monday, February 29, 1988, fifth day, second Test, Auckland
Mark Greatbatch showed customary grit to make a century on Test debut. He is one of just eight New Zealand players to do so in 83 years of Test history. Unfortunately school was in that day but thoughtfully (in batting more than six hours) Greatbatch waited until after the final bell before bringing up his ton. It seemed a mythical achievement for young lads starting to grasp the values of the game. More importantly Greatbatch, with assistance from Messrs Snedden, Smith and Bracewell, saved the Test.

3. Tuesday, January 21, 1992, fourth day, first Test, Christchurch
Losing 2-0 hardly made this a memorable series for New Zealand. The summer took a turn for the better when World Cup fever took hold shortly afterwards. However, the most unfortunate moment came from the bat (and feet) of Dipak Patel. He was the best of New Zealand's batsmen when faced with combating England's 580 for 9 declared. Patel had produced a breezy 97 before pulling a short ball wide of mid-on for two. He was run out by about a metre attempting a third. Despite 26 first-class centuries, this remained his highest Test score. Curiously, John Wright was stumped on 99 in the second innings.

4. Friday, February 7, 1997, second day, second Test, Wellington
After moving into my first flat a couple of days prior, this presented a chance to settle on the sofa with fellow cricket tragics to watch New Zealand's youngest Test debutant, Daniel Vettori, produce his left-arm orthodox guile. Crucially (and perhaps a touch sadly) it was the first time in our lifetimes that someone younger than ourselves had played for New Zealand. Our Test "dreams" were effectively over, but oh how we willed Vettori on.

In the front seat Dad was riveted to the radio as Jeremy Coney edged towards his maiden Test century. He completed the task by pulling Ian Botham through midwicket. The crowd roar combined with the radio static was mesmerising

Bespectacled, with shoulder-length hair and a benign run-up disguising a penetrative arsenal of deliveries, his composure was freakish in that Basin Reserve cauldron. He had the members of our lounge entranced, presumably much like the batsmen in the 360 Test dismissals he has made since. From an unassuming teenager, picked after two first-class games to debut against England at 18 years and ten days, he has become a colossus of experience. However, he did have to wait until the next day to dismiss Nasser Hussain, who had also been Vettori's maiden first-class wicket the previous month.

5. Saturday, March 16, 2002, fourth day, first Test, Christchurch
Rashly, a mate had organised his wedding on the Saturday of the first Test. Cricket lovers in the party exchanged furtive glances and shifted uncomfortably in seats during the ceremony and pretended to be engaged in the small talk and hors d'oeuvres at the subsequent function. With necessity being the mother of invention, some genius discovered a black-and-white telly at the back of the venue. One by one a band of cricket fans surreptitiously exited. A roster system meant if one poor chap held the television's rabbit ears, the remaining dozen who had squished into the broom closet of a room could conjure up a blurred image of Nathan Astle teeing off for the fastest Test double-century. Fortunately the high-definition version has been preserved and is often played on rainy days by Sky Television. However, it was hard to match that initial static impression, as Astle dispatched the ball to nearby Christchurch suburbs through a shadowy haze. New Zealand might have lost by 98 runs but Astle's knock was hard to match for raw entertainment.

6. Sunday, March 9, 2008, fifth day, first Test, Seddon Park
Kyle Mills' spell of four wickets for nine runs from seven overs electrified the final day's play. England folded, needing 300 to win from 81 overs. Mills' wickets left them 30 for 4 before lunch. Wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum snaffled left-handers Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss, while right-handers Michael Vaughan and Kevin Pietersen succumbed lbw. England were eventually dismissed for 110. If Mills never plays another Test (and it seems likely, given the 33-year-old's last appearance was almost four years ago) this may well be remembered as his finest hour - almost literally - with the ball.

Andrew Alderson is cricket writer at New Zealand's Herald on Sunday

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