Midnight's New Zealand Travels 2017

Insufficient Reserves at the Basin

Anyone who enjoyed my first two articles might not like this one. It has some live cricket content!

My first weekend in Wellington has gone okay, considering the extremely poor weather. It really has been atrocious since Saturday morning and in the top part of North Island there have been floods, power cuts and gales, so some might say I'm in the right place. However I would counter that by the fact that I'm on the 5th floor of my hotel - and there was an earthquake in Wellington last night. 4.6 on the Richter scale. Apparently, it needs to hit 6 before things start toppling over.

Thanks to a curry and copious amounts of wine I slept through it.

Everyone keeps asking me "Are you staying on for the British Lions tour?" and my standard response "I'm not very interested in rugby" seems to cause offence with some New Zealanders so I will have to be more careful with my conversational skills now I'm on my own!

I've bought my ticket to the Wellington Test match now, a very reasonable $90 for a four day pass. If only the investment bankers at the ECB offered such good value, eh?

However the customer service at Ticketek, the cricket outlet here, left a bit to be desired. Apart from the fact that the girl who served me hadn't got a clue about Test Matches or ground availability, she also ran out of the office half way through the process shouting "I'm sorry but I have to catch my train. Tom will finish this off." When Tom arrived, at least he knew what he was doing.

The horrible weather continued into Monday to the extent that I was beginning to feel homesick, then I remembered that Silver Dave had suggested I take a visit to Petone, a small seaside town outside Wellington. Not for the tourists, this one. The longest main street I have ever walked down, Jackson Street, contained a gun shop, a knife shop, possibly the ugliest pub I have ever seen outside of outback Australia, and an incredible second hand bookshop. If you have ever wondered where all the unwanted paperback books went after everyone got kindles, I can now supply the answer.

The shelves were literally bending under the weight of thousands of books with hundreds of others piled high on the floor.

I asked the owner how he controlled his stock, and he just shrugged.

"Don't buy much these days mate. Bit of a nightmare during the last earthquake though, when I got in that morning the Romance section had collapsed and it took me all day to stack them up again."

So its true, the earth does move for Barbara Cartland and Mills and Boon, readers!

The weather plumbed new depths on Tuesday. Sat outside 'Public' bar on Courtenay Place enjoying their happy four hours ($6 pints from 3 to 7pm) I was forced to move inside the pub as the temperature fell suddenly like in 'The Day After Tomorrow' and sheets of rain lashed the poor commuters making their way home after the days slog.

Cue the sight of Faf Du Plessis running through the city in a wooly hat, t-shirt and ridiculous skimpy Lycra shorts. I bet he didn't learn to do that whilst at Lancashire!

By this time I was questioning my own sanity staying on after Paul had left, but I decided to console myself with a Chinese meal and a nice bottle of wine - called 'Fat Bird' and costing a princely $9-99 per bottle. The photo will show what I thought of the Fat Bird, it isn't often in my case that the water level falls below that of the wine bottle. Absolutely disgusting. An examination of the label revealed that the Fat Bird was Australian, and frankly I wouldn't put it on my chips.

Thursday morning found me in familiar surroundings atop the grass bank at the Basin Reserve at 10.30am ready for the Second Test. This is a lovely old cricket ground, in the middle of a huge traffic roundabout. Apparently, there is a crackpot proposal doing the rounds to build a new traffic flyover behind the main stands, which all cricket lovers should pray never comes to pass.

The weather was exceptionally hot and amazingly, there was no sign of the infamous Wellington wind.

The grass bank is steeper here than at most grounds and I noticed some enterprising locals had resolved their seating issue by obtaining white plastic garden chairs, then sawing off the two back legs. A perfect fit for the Wellington slope.

As usual, Kane Williamson lost the toss and New Zealand were inserted on a green looking wicket. After the first hour they were staggering at 21-3, with debutant Broom out for a duck. Then Henry Nicholls and Jeet Raval steadied the ship, until Raval was out last ball before lunch. 73-4.

The afternoon belonged to New Zealand. The unsung Nicholls went to a faultless maiden Test century in 150 balls, aided and abetted by BJ Watling.

Their stand proved to be the highest 6th wicket partnership against SA since 1931-32.

After Nicholls was out, bowled Duminy for 118, a minor collapse ensued. Neesham and De Grandhomme came and went for 15 and 4 respectively so the policy of selecting 'bits and pieces' players proved flawed once again.

At one point, JP Duminy had bowling figures of 3-16, but Du Plessis kept him on for a little too long and with the new ball imminent, Southee and Jeetan Patel had some fun in the sun, hitting a number of sixes onto our grass bank. Suddenly Duminy's figures read 3-45.

New Zealand were all out for 268, surely a creditable effort after the mornings travails.

This left just 8 overs for South Africa to bat, and they made a mess of it. Both openers dismissed before the close. 24-2. Day to New Zealand.

The South African over rate was pathetic, and the extra half hour was fully utilised despite 27 overs of spin being bowled in the day, meaning less time in the pub that evening for your grumpy correspondent.

Day two. A fierce northerly wind hitting the grass bank, blowing hats, chairs and anything else not pinned down into the main road. Night watchman Rabada had his stumps rattled by Southee early on and after that it was a bit of a procession.

Colin De Grandhomme (pronounced as in 'condom') is a journeyman Zimbabwean, who has been in New Zealand for several years and has apparently been picked for this Test as a 'horse for the course' - a medium pacer who bangs it in, with a reputation also as a big hitter.

Without the current New Zealand injury crisis, De Grandhomme would be unlikely to be selected for Test cricket really, and the nearest comparison I can make is to a Somerset all rounder from the eighties who also played Test cricket for England, whose name escapes me.

De Grandhomme came up trumps this morning however with 3-22 and the South African innings was in disarray at lunch at 94-6. There was a particularly memorable catch to dismiss Amla by Henry Nicholls, making an early claim for the Man of the Match award.

It is St Patrick's Day today in New Zealand and a large proportion of the crowd are wearing green colours.

Some of these people must have Irish descendants, to be sure, but my suspicion is that the day is being used as a thinly disguised excuse for a piss-up, as it is at home.

So I test my theory on a group of emerald -- clad lads on the bank.

"Do you actually know why St Patrick's Day is celebrated?"

A pregnant pause and lots of head scratching.

"Didn't he invent Guinness?"

I rest my case, your honour.

The afternoon proved a nightmare for New Zealand as the pitch dried out and batting became easier. De Kock and Bavuma both scored untroubled fifties and no wickets fell. 218 - 6 at tea.

The final session also belonged to South Africa. New Zealand seemed incapable of bowling to the tail enders, and hurled down a load of short pitched dross which Philander and Morkel tucked into with relish, finishing just short of the record ninth wicket partnership for this fixture. So far, the pair have put on 47 and South Africa closed on 349 - 9, a lead of 81 which I suspect will prove crucial.

The Kiwi frustration was summed up as twelfth man Santner went down to field a straightforward shot by Morkel. The ball slipped straight through him, and rolled agonisingly to the boundary. As Santner sheepishly got up to retrieve the ball a local wag who was passing shouted:

"Hey Mitch! I hope your mother didn't catch that one on TV!"

If only the ground would open up and swallow......oops, don't say that here!!

Jeetan Patel was mystifyingly under bowled today with only 12 overs, a side effect of which was that we finished the day two overs short even after utilising the extra half hour. It is high time that the ICC put in place draconian penal measures for not completing the days overs and in effect cheating the public.

Given the likelihood of encountering a drunken Muppet party in central Wellington that evening I decided to purchase a bottle of wine and have a quiet curry and in this regard I must mention the Indus Restaurant on Tinakori Road. Splendid curry, bring your own wine, too far off the beaten track for the tourists to find so only locals use this place. Posh Margaret, Bob and the Howzat gang - you would love this restaurant. They even take American Express!

Day three. Southerly winds were predicted today, which as any Wellingtonian knows, means its going to be f*cking cold. Rain also threatened, but never arrived. Morne Morkel stayed in long enough to equal his highest Test score of 40, and also broke the 9th wicket batting record against New Zealand with partner Philander.

The woefully out of form Tom Latham opened the batting for New Zealand as if he was giving the slips catching practice and they finally got him at the third attempt. 16 -1.

Williamson was given out for 1 on review caught behind, his lowest ever aggregate score from two innings in the same Test, and after that it was always going to be an uphill struggle for New Zealand.

Sat behind me on the grass bank were a bunch of very friendly and knowledgeable locals whose banter indicated they had seen this sort of situation many times before.

When 33 year old debutant Neil Broom, who got a duck in the first innings, was out for 20:

"Well, at least he got his career Test average into double figures!"

South Africa have a new spin bowler called Keshav Maharaj and the first thing you notice is that he has scary eyes, like 'The Hood' from Thunderbirds, or perhaps Virat Kohli.

The second thing you notice is that Maharaj is nowhere near as annoying as Imran Tahir when he takes a wicket. Not that he had to wait very long, cleaning up first innings hero Nicholls after a ludicrous attempted sweep went awry. Neesham quickly followed, lasting just five balls before mistiming a pull to Faf Du Plessis.

New Zealand in the mire at 90 - 5 and still in arrears.

When they finally took a one run lead, a boundary immediately followed.

From behind me:

"Well, 5 for 5's got a nice kind of ring to it!"

A stag party was taking place on the grass bank in front of us. The hapless groom was wearing a Manchester United shirt and bright yellow baseball cap of the type worn by Justin Bieber. As each of his pals arrived with a tray of beer, the cry "Scull! Scull! Scull!" went up, indicating that the carrier of the tray had to down a glass of beer in one before supplying the stag with his unequal share of the medicine. It all added some entertainment to a disappointing afternoon, as despite the best efforts of Jeet Raval and BJ Watling, New Zealand subsided pitifully to 171 all out on a good batting track.

The dismissal of De Grandhomme for a duck illustrated the gulf between one day players and Test cricketers, as he failed to move his feet or his bat and stood mesmerised as a turning ball from Maharaj hit the stumps.

I suspect given he scored 4 in the first innings, De Grandhomme's final Test batting average will be 2.

Scary - eyed spinner Maharaj ended up with a career best six wickets, but in truth at least four of these were kamikaze shots by the batsmen. He's no Shane Warne.

This left South Africa the simple task of scoring 80 runs to win, which they achieved for the loss of just two wickets.

As I slowly hauled my frozen bones out of the ground just before the final runs were scored, I could not help engaging with Jeetan Patel, who was fielding on the boundary. He is flying back to the UK on the 3rd April, apparently.

"Jeetan, can you please give Ashley Giles my 'very best wishes' for next season at Warwickshire. The Red Rose never forgets a betrayal....."

Maybe I have it in me to be a 'number one fan' after all!

This match has told me more about the shortcomings and lack of depth in the New Zealand squad than anything about our summer visitors South Africa. Since McCullum retired they have quickly gone backwards, and I suggest Mr Blade that you start planning your trip to New Zealand in 2018 in order to guarantee that elusive Test win, if this doesn't happen during the Ashes!

Just one wish remains for this fabulous trip. I hope that the Brexit ejector button is pressed while I am still in New Zealand, so I can tell all my friends that despite not spending a penny on barristers and the like, I managed to remain technically in Europe for thirteen hours longer than Gina Miller.

Keep smiling folks..........life goes on.

Regards, Midnight

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