Wednesday, 7 March 2012

Ross Taylor ... Right Stroke, Wrong Reason

Ross Taylor
Ross Taylor won a toss which had been held back until after lunch, thanks to rain sweeping across the University Ground at Dunedin in the morning session. The Kiwis had handed debut Black Caps to Kruger van Wyk and Rob Nicol, whilst the South Africans were pretty much as expected, with both JP Duminy and Marchant de Lange left out.

Upon gaining the advantage at the flip of the coin and after having seen the straw brown wicket and leaden skies, Taylor asked Graeme Smith's men to have a bat. At the end of the day, it looks like an act of audacious genius but not so at lunch. NZ management will tell you it was a decision made to take advantage of the four pronged pace attack and the heavy conditions and a wicket that they believe will get slower and easier to bat. First day strikes, they'll say, were all that more important. If you're doubting that explanation, its because baloney tastes and smells and looks like baloney and if you swallow what they feed you, you'll have indigestion.

Ross Taylor bowled first for the same reason all captains of inferior, nervous and brittle batting line ups do: when faced with a superior bowling attack, you bowl first in order to try and stay in the game and hope that you can catch the opposition by surprise in the first session. Its a defensive move and one representative of New Zealand cricket's state of mind. If Taylor wanted to back his pace attack to rip through the South Africans, then why had Dan Vettori bowled six overs in the first session of the innings and a further nine in the extended last session? With three quarters of the first new ball's overs bowled, Tim Southee and Trent Boult have only bowled 15 overs between them! This wasn't courageous captaincy, it was conservative, scaredy pants stuff and he got away with it.

Chris Martin - 3 wickets in 4 balls
The fact the bluff paid off is mostly due to an inspired burst from Chris Martin immediately after lunch. The aging, self-proclaimed hero to tail enders everywhere, now bowling in his 38 year, took Smith, Kallis and deVillers in four balls and in doing so, put the skids under the visitors. They had gone to lunch comfortable but in search of the nerve endings in their fingers, the match getting under way as the temperature finally reached double figures. Smith and Hashim Amla were cruising, despite the efforts of the host TV broadcasters in talking up the locals. Former Kiwi keeper Ian Smith, in a burst of insane optimism only New Zealanders have the temerity to mount, claimed Vettori had won a moral victory when Amla came down the track and smote the veteran well beyond the boundary as ten was taken from his fourth over. Amla, for his sins, seemed remarkably unconcerned.

Martin who bowls in shorter spells these days, came on after lunch and bothered Smith with four balls on an uncomfortable length on off stump and then sent the fifth fuller and wider. Smith, sensing release, hit a drive straight to Nicol at cover. It was dumb so soon after the break but better than inside edging which is his usual mode of self-destruction. Southee sent done the next over to Amla: uneventful save for a cut for four behind point which the batsman attacked like horror film maniacs do with an axe. Martin's first ball of a new over was a planned chestnut to Kallis, who early in his innings squares up to the ball which rises on off stump. He did so again and Taylor held a cracking catch diving to his left at first slip. Martin's next nipped back at de Villiers and as is the modern trend of the exceptional players, he played across the line and was lbw, despite review, first ball. Reviews ... remember them?

Hashim Amla cuts during his 62
Amla and Jacques Rudolph added 66 for the fifth wicket but in more trying conditions than the morning session. With the sun out and the temperature soaring to its predicted maximum of 13C, the ball suddenly found tricks and each of the Kiwis exploited it. It made the batting all that more difficult but also the more expert. Amla eventually mistook a shorter, bouncier ball from Vettori for moral judgment and snicked an easy catch to Taylor at slip. Mark Boucher got onto the front foot to put his second ball handsomely through midwicket for four but was run out without facing another, when Rudolph dabbed a ball behind point and took off but Boucher was unable to beat a quick pick up and dispatch by Doug Bracewell. Dale Steyn took most of the strike in his twenty minute stay but was out in the Thommo fashion, edging to Bracewell to second slip Guptil, who spilled in behind for Taylor to clean up. It was a good reward for Bracewell, who despite Martin's striking power, had been the best of the home side's bowlers. Rudolph and Vernon Philander batted out the remaining eleven overs for the day, adding little but hoping to live to fight another day.

It was a great day for New Zealand but it will be wrongly reported. Martin saved face for the skipper but experience reminds that you'll know how good a decision it was and how the pitch is playing after the other mob have a bat.

In the meantime, I'm willing to bet their were no ice baths in the sheds in Dunedin today.