Wednesday, December 7, 2011

It is said that variety is the spice of life. Many would agree. And it can only be assumed that the sum total of the New Zealand cricket team would concur. After all, they are not ones to embrace consistency. Never mind the thought of the dependable with this lot; it’s hard enough for them to maintain their structure on a day to day basis, let alone from match to match.

Why compete at a level near their best, with a regular diet of excellence, when they have the opportunity to sample the diverse aromas that Cricket’s form pendulum has to offer? You know, trying delights such as a batting collapse more through poor shot selection as much as it was good bowling on the part of the Australians.

And attempt this the Black Caps most certainly did.

Never let it be said that this mob don’t have talents in life. As sure as day precedes night, you can be certain that there is a penchant within the minds of the New Zealand top order for them to excel at the inordinately large mission of being bowled out for 150 on what was still a good wicket for batting. Worst of all, you just know with these guys, that as sure as night precedes day, they are just as likely to turn around and win the second test. Well, possibly. Maybe.

Freud once proffered that “there are no accidents”. It seems that when he offered the world these words of wisdom, he did not envisage the Black Caps batting effort at the Gabba on day four. After the irresponsible methods of dismissal that they conjured up in the first innings, there was little hope that they were going to resemble anything other than a train wreck in waiting as their second innings approached. Sure enough, the inevitable occurred.

Openers have a number of functions that are required of them to perform. One being to take the shine off the new ball, which in turn tires dangerous opening bowlers out, ergo, allowing those of an attacking bent further down the order to prosper once the ball is no longer doing as much off the pitch. Another is the ability to anchor an innings, preferably batting through for the entirety.

This seems to have escaped the attention of Brendon McCullum. Yes, he sure gives it a mighty go at whacking the kookaburra to all parts of the park. Problem is though, he more often than not achieves this for a limited time span, then the inevitable occurs and he holes out to an unnecessary shot. His 34 in the first innings was an obvious example of this. Some great play on his part, only to undo all the good work with a reckless shot. There is a fine line between reckless and positive. He rarely comes out of the right side of this particular ledger.

He’s not the only one though. Jesse Ryder, who had compiled 36, then inexplicably attempted to loft Nathan Lyon over mid-off. The time or the place, it was not.

With wickets regularly sold on the cheap, there is a perception that some of the team do not hold playing for their country in especially high regard. As much as they may detest the insinuations of a fed-up cricketing public, those impressions will stay with avid followers for as long as such talented batsmen as McCullum, Ryder, Ross Taylor and the like keep giving their wicket away, without appearing to want to fight to the death.

Let it be said that Daniel Vettori and Dean Brownlie did themselves proud. Both fought for the cause, using every ounce of their abilities that they could muster. Not for either to back down. Indeed, they took it to the Australians in a manner that their more talented top order could learn from. Bad balls were put away. Good deliveries were treated with the utmost respect. Theirs was a simple strategy of playing each ball on its merits. That Brownlie averaged 119 and Vettori 56.5 for the match was a glowing endorsement for the virtues of simplicity.

They weren’t the only positives, thankfully. There was the twenty-one year old Doug Bracewell. Perfect he wasn’t. For sure, he’s raw. Errors were committed. There was the talk pre-match, on his part, of intimidating the Australians. If one is to achieve this, one must first have the ability to do so. At this stage of his fledgling career, Bracewell does not. With experience will come the realisation that there is never an ideal occasion to talk big. One of the golden tenets of sports psychology is this: always, always, go out of one’s way to claim underdog status. Feel free to talk the opposition up. Never mind if you are indeed the favourite, it never hurts to put as much pressure as is possible on the opposition.

Let us remember, too, that true greats have no need for talk. For them, actions speak louder than words. A fair bet that Bradman had limited use for words as his bat took great delight in waxing lyrical on many an occasion.

The wicket no- ball to Michael Clarke was of vital importance. Clarke - who was on 23 at the time - went on to score 146. That extra 123 runs was virtually the difference between the two sides after each had batted. Not that it should be held against Bracewell. He is young, he will learn. And, after all, the batsmen hardly excelled themselves during their first innings. With self-control, those extra runs were there for the taking.

His spell early in the seventh session of the match was inhabited by a barrage of short pitched deliveries. At mid 130’s pace, he simply is not quick enough to bounce batsmen out. Profit, he would, with balls that were tossed up, allowing swing to make its menacing presence felt. Eventually the penny did drop as stability of mind settled in for the better and Bracewell showed just what he could generate.

He's a find. Now the hard work begins for him.

Swing bowling fit for the highest echelon became the order of the day as Bracewell showed just what potential he possesses. Deliveries frequented that famed corridor of uncertainty. Clarke, who had been assuredly going about his business, was now being introduced to doubt despite having procured himself a half century. Bracewell had found some consistency- for a short time, at least.

If only New Zealand’s batsmen could discover a vista of steadiness.

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