Public and players deserve much better from pitches

Lynn McConnell

December 26, 2000

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The players turned up, the crowd turned up, more than 7000 of them, but someone forgot to order a pitch for the New Zealand-Zimbabwe Boxing Day Test at Wellington's Basin Reserve.

Those who made the effort to shake off their post-Christmas Day torpor must have wondered why they bothered when the arrived at the ground for what has now become a New Zealand cricket tradition.

For all their efforts what greeted them was a grey-looking, lifeless pitch that was a far cry from the superior pitches that have been prepared in recent years.

Predictably, the play was dull with New Zealand crawling to a laborious 190/4 by stumps with Nathan Astle looking for a big score on 56 not out, off 174 balls and in 242 minutes, and Craig McMillan 20 not out.

The real test of the effect of such a slow day's batting will be seen in the number of people who bother to turn up tomorrow.

New Zealand coach David Trist, never short of the right word, described the day's play as being played at a "sonambulistic pace."

It would be a challenging Test match and the game would be played slowly, he said. The pitch would turn and once seeing the covers off the pitch that was why New Zealand decided to play both its slow bowlers, off-spinner Paul Wiseman and leg-spinner Brooke Walker.

Zimbabwean coach Carl Rackemann said: "It is drier than what we expected. It is pretty much a dead sort of wicket but it is what both teams have got to deal with.

"It is not an easy pitch to bat on, but it is not easy to get people out," he said.

That was reflected in the 60 runs per session during the day at a run rate of 2.11. As a result Rackemann felt the day had been "fantastic" for Zimbabwe.

"Another wicket at stumps would have been deluxe for us," he said.

Trist still believes New Zealand has the chance to post a high enough score to allow it to dictate terms.

"The game is poised. We have a platform and if we can bat well into the afternoon and have 330-340 that will be competitive. It should be an interesting match for the connoisseurs of cricket," he said.

New Zealand did nothing to help their cause by executing four dismissals of woeful waste.

Nathan Astle, enjoying his longest and most productive Test innings since the 86 he scored in Harare earlier this summer, used the occasion well and by the end of play was starting to flow into his shots while his running between the wickets, especially in partnership with Craig McMillan, at last added some urgency to proceedings.

"He batted with patience, diligence and made few errors," Trist said of his performance.

Running between the wickets was not always an asset on the day. Captain Stephen Fleming, who looked to be relishing the chance for a good, long innings, was run out just after lunch when called by Richardson, and then sent back. He seemed capable of scoring far more than the 22 achieved.

Richardson, who had two lives, on 35 and 73, was sent back to the pavilion a little sooner than he might have wanted when he too was run out, the result of a fine piece of fielding by cover field Henry Olonga.

Sensing that Richardson was labouring after being called through by Astle, Olonga changed his mind in mid-stride and threw to the opposite end. It fooled Richardson who was well short of his ground.

Despite his 75 runs, Richardson was not happy with his effort.

"I came into the match with some goals, to play with more control and composure than in South Africa," he said.

The run out of Fleming had not helped that goal.

"There was a bit of head-chatter there for a while. There was a lot of stuff going on up top," he said of the battle he had to regain his concentration.

"I had to get my thoughts back in order. It is not the sort of wicket you can look good on.

"My responsibility was to go through and bat the day out. I want to improve on that in the future. As the wicket turns guys will have to have a solid game plan and stick to it," he said.

Matt Horne's return from injury was short-lived and the method of his dismissal, wafting at a wide ball that was better left alone, was probably just as painful as his original broken hand.

Of all the wickets, Mathew Sinclair probably had the least control over his dismissal, sent packing leg before wicket by umpire Steve Dunne with what looked a line call from a ball bowled by Bryan Strang.

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