31 May 2011

New Zealand nightwatchmen, and test cricket in Auckland

While I was watching some English cricket coverage of the 2010-11 Ashes series I noted a couple of nightwatchman batting appearances by the English bowler James Anderson. This got me thinking back to see if I could remember nightwatchman batting by New Zealanders, and for the life of me I couldn't think of any. So I've got onto Statsguru to try to find some, and it appears that in recent years New Zealand has been reluctant to send in bowlers to protect the 'proper' batsmen when an innings falls late in the day.

Over the past five years New Zealand has played (only) 34 tests, and in that time there have been only five occasions in which nightwatchmen have been used. For the purposes of this experiment I've excluded Gareth Hopkins' two promotions up the order in India in November 2010. On both occasions he lasted until the end of play but only went on to score 4 at Hyderabad and 8 at Nagpur. But I don't class a wicketkeeper as a valid nightwatchman - it has to be an out-and-out lower order batsman. For that reason, promoting Daniel Vettori up the order doesn't count either: he's a proper all-rounder.

Here's the five stabs at using nightwatchmen in the past five years. Three of the examples could be considered a qualified success, in that the nightwatchmen lasted until the end of the day's play, thereby protecting the genuine batsmen. Only Jeetan Patel's innings of 26 at Galle in August 2009 could be considered to be a complete success, in that he amassed a reasonable total (26, one short of his top score) as well as preserving his wicket overnight. It would appear that there are relatively few opportunities for nightwatchmen in New Zealand test batting lineups, and even fewer chances at the moment. Perhaps this is because the men featured below haven't appeared in the test team for a while, and a new reliable candidate for nightwatchman duties hasn't been identified yet.

v South Africa at Johannesburg, Nov 2007

In New Zealand's first innings Shane Bond came in at no.4 after 11.3 overs before Styris, Taylor, Oram and McCullum and lasted til the end of the day at 13 overs (0no). He was dismissed for 1 when he was bowled in the 5th over of the next day.

v West Indies at Dunedin, Dec 2008

In the second innings on day 4, Kyle Mills came in at no.3 at 7.3 overs before Ryder, Taylor, McCullum and Franklin at 7.3 overs, but was out bowled first ball for a duck. The NZ innings closed at 10 overs due to rain and no play was possible on the following day.

v India at Hamilton, Mar 2009

In the second innings Mills came in at no.4 before Taylor, Ryder, Franklin and McCullum at 25.3 overs but only lasted til last ball of the day (30.6 overs), when he was out lbw for 2.

v Sri Lanka at Galle, Aug 2009

In the first innings Jeetan Patel came in at no.4 before Taylor, Ryder, McCullum and Oram at 26.3 overs. He lasted until the close at 29 overs (6no), and went on to score 26 in a partnership of 49 with Tim McIntosh.

v Sri Lanka at Colombo, Aug 2009

In the first innings Patel came in at no.6 before McCullum and Oram at 40.4 overs, but only lasted til 41.4 overs, scoring 1. The day's play ended at 47 overs.


Also in examining the tests played by New Zealand over recent years it reminded me of the peculiar quirk of New Zealand test cricket: that no test matches have been played in Auckland, New Zealand's largest city, since March 2006, more than five years ago. The last match at Eden Park was a narrow victory against the West Indies, which featured an innings of 103 not out from Scott Styris, a strong 148-run opening stand by Chris Gayle and Daren Ganga, and a match-winning five wicket haul in the second innings for Shane Bond.

The ground hasn't been short of ODI and T20 internationals, but test match attendance at Eden Park was low, and in the end New Zealand Cricket opted for tests at smaller venues elsewhere. There was discussion some years ago about refitting Eden Park's smaller Outer Oval, to serve as a test venue, but nothing's come of it so far. Which is a pity, because Aucklanders are missing out on the purest form of the game, even though I imagine some must make the 90-minute drive down to Hamilton to see some of the matches played at Seddon Park. Given proper promotion I have no doubts that Auckland could turn out a reasonable crowd for a test match at the picturesque Outer Oval.

Considering that test cricket recently returned to Dunedin after a gap of more than ten years, with no test match play in that city between March 1997 and January 2008, perhaps New Zealand Cricket should now look to re-engage with cricket supporters in the nation's biggest city, and try to find a way to get test matches back to Auckland. With the ever-encroaching rugby behemoth taking up more and more of Eden Park's calendar, surely it's time to re-open the plans to refurbish the Outer Oval, or even look for a new venue in a more convenient location.
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