March 12, 2013

Chills, thrills and family ties

Bracing weather, a picturesque landing, and men with famous surnames making their mark - they all feature in the first edition of our correspondent's New Zealand diary

February 25
London-Dubai-Sydney-Christchurch. Not really sure what day it is. First time back in Christchurch since the devastating earthquake in 2011. On the drive from the airport you can see corrugated road surfaces that are among the effects of the quake. Decide to take a walk around; quite a sobering experience. A section of the CBD is still cordoned off, although shrinking all the time as construction continues. The hotel I stayed in on my previous visit is one of many buildings no longer standing. This will be a low-rise city from now. Love some of the initiative shown in temporary structures, such as a shopping area made of shipping containers, and an entertainment block of packing crates. The city wants to be a host for the 2015 World Cup. Hope it comes their way.

February 26
"Ladies and gentlemen, we have begun out descent into…" When the captain makes that announcement it is not, normally, a precursor to much more than closing your tray tables and putting your seats in the upright position. However, when those words are followed by "Queenstown", it is the cue to fix your gaze outside the window, or to politely ask the other passengers in your row if they mind some encroachment into their personal space.

Arriving in Queenstown, on New Zealand's South Island, is one of the world's great landings. Google a list and it is often alongside places such as Hong Kong, St Maarten (where you land just metres beyond the beach), and some of the white-knuckle runways in the Himalayas. Aircraft take a narrow course between the mountains, banking left and right. As the landing gear is lowered, and the earth approaches, you can see the Queenstown Events Centre - the rather unglamorous name for the cricket ground, which has provided the foreground for many airplane-landing-over-match pictures.

Straight from the airport to England's first red-ball training session. Andy Flower is back in charge and directs the centre-wicket practice. Alastair Cook and Nick Compton bat together. Presume that means no batting changes.

February 27
There are not many better locations for a cricket match. The contest on the pitch is good too. New Zealand's eager attack nip the ball round and it needs a classy ton from Ian Bell to keep England on track for a decent total.

After play, make it to the waterfront in time for sunset. The light catches the top of the mountains. They are truly remarkable.

February 28
It's always interesting when players likely to appear in a Test a few days later face the opposition in a match such as this. Notes are taken by both sides. Hamish Rutherford makes an impressive 90. The England bowlers are forced to work hard. During his innings he has contact-lens trouble. "It ended up somewhere near my brain," he says afterwards.

March 1
Corey Anderson picked up a side strain bowling in the first innings, but it doesn't appear to impact his batting as he clubs England for 67 off 62 balls. One over from Graham Onions costs 22. Then England's top order falls to 67 for 4. Not a convincing day.

The evening is spent with Mike Walters, who is covering the trip for the Daily Mirror and is back on tour for the first time in seven years. Listen to some great stories of touring years ago. Things have certainly changed.

March 2
Neil Wagner has close to the perfect day. Gets added to the New Zealand Test squad and hits the winning runs as the XI chase down 334 with eight balls to spare. Isn't afraid to speak his mind at the press conference: "It's good that Kevin Pietersen hasn't batted very long." Looking forward to Wagner v KP in the Tests.

Last evening in Queenstown, but it's a quiet one, spent with a couple of colleagues discussing the new county cricket season. (Well, it's only a month away.)

March 3
Another lovely journey, this time from Queenstown to Dunedin. You really do get spoilt over here. Valleys, mountains, lakes, rivers, forests and wildlife. Pass through a small town called Waihola just outside of Dunedin. Sign on arriving says, "No doctor, no hospital, one cemetery."

Immediately feel the chillier climate of the east coast, although, like most of New Zealand, Dunedin has had a warm, dry summer. There's a cricket match in town. Isn't that normally the signal for a change?

The game also coincides with Freshers' Week for Otago University. That coupled with the Barmy Army in town means it should be lively.

March 5
It's New Zealand census day and visitors to the country have to fill a form in as well. The census has been delayed two years because of the Christchurch earthquake, which caused so much displacement that it would have distorted any survey. The news channels have stories of the lengths the census-takers go to to ensure everyone fills out a form and all properties are logged. It means going around abandoned buildings and making trips to the many remote islands, especially in New Zealand's north, where people who don't want to be found often go. I make it easy for them. One page, a few tick boxes and my duty is done.

The early evening is spent at a function put on by Otago Cricket at University Oval. They are immensely proud of hosting this Test. "Four years ago we set out our aim to get an England Test," Ross Dykes, the Otago CEO, says. "This is the pinnacle for us." Finishing touches are being put to the ground, which looks a picture.

March 6
The cricket-weather jinx strikes again. The cloud rolls in almost as Brendon McCullum says, "We'll bowl." The front row of the press tent quickly gets soaked - not ideal for the electrics - and the grass banks, which were filling up moments earlier, start to empty as fans hunt for cover. Feel desperately sorry for the local organisers.

March 7
Close-of-play score: 167 all out plays 131 without loss. Not the dominant start many expected England to make. They have been inept; New Zealand have had a day they could scarcely have dreamt of. Wagner is the main man, marking his first home Test with the notable scalps of Alastair Cook, Kevin Pietersen and Ian Bell.

March 8
Hamish Rutherford makes a magnificent 171. Feels like we've seen the start of a long Test career. His father, Ken, followed every ball from his home in South Africa and his mother, Karen Broad, was at the ground. ''I remember when he was six months old and from the moment he could sit up he had a little bat. We spent all day bowling to him," she tells the Otago Daily Times. "And Tom [Hamish's younger brother] was no different. "It is overwhelming. I'm just so proud of him. He has just done so well and he is so confident and calm."

March 9
Turning into a family Test at University Oval. Following Rutherford's innings, Nick Compton fights to his maiden Test century. He gives a press conference of rare emotion and openness. When asked about the family name, he just replies. "It's nice to do something my grandfather did, sure, but right now I'm happy for myself and my family."

March 10
Catch a few minutes with Richard Compton, Nick's dad, while queuing for coffee. He is still beaming with pride. The photos of his first-pump when Nick reached his hundred are all over the press. "The support from South Africa has been amazing as well," he says, "I spent all night replying to messages." He was particularly delighted with a couple of Nick's cover drives. "I hadn't seen him play them so well before. In England he would say it was just too risky."

The batting story of the day, though, is Steven Finn. He doesn't quite seem to know how to celebrate when he reaches 50. Maybe he'll get another chance. Anyway, it's all square. Next stop Wellington. I bet it's windy.

Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo