Australia & New Zealand Tour 2017/18
Normal Service Resumed in Hamilton
It is 3.40 pm on Saturday and I am dodging the tumbleweed blowing along Hamilton's main street in the blazing heat. A huge Maori wearing wet-suit bottoms and an open dress shirt is slumped against a shop front as if sun bathing, but he is clearly stocious. A Street Angel approaches cautiously, unsure how to shift the monster. Nervously, the Angel speaks into his phone for assistance. Let battle begin.
Most of the shops on the main street are closed, either temporarily or on a permanent basis in some cases. I see that Master House Chinese Restaurant is still open for business - that should please my pal Paul who came over to New Zealand with me last year. He said the kittens knees they served up were the best he's ever had!
I pass the TSB. A huge slogan is displayed on a poster 'Life Changes...But We Will Be There For You When It Does!" That's a great comfort. Its been a rough couple of days.
Lofty and I decided to visit New Plymouth, but unbeknown to us whilst Tropical Cyclone Gita was happening, the main water pipe supplying Taranaki was severed by a falling tree. All water must now be boiled before use. If that wasn't inconvenient enough, a four-day festival called Americarnage is on.
Three hundred or so gas-guzzling American cars are in town and will be until after we leave. These metal abominations cruise up and down all day usually in convoy, their passengers waving American flags out of the windows like complete ninnies.
They create a dreadful din whilst exhausting the towns petrol supplies.
Things came to a head for me on Friday night, when the town centre was so full of locals it was impossible to find anywhere to eat.
Also impossible to hear yourself think due to the revving and backfiring noises from these metal beasts.
I will never understand why a so called 'Green' country like New Zealand allows, indeed encourages, this air pollution. Lofty on the other hand loved the spectacle, and recorded videos of the car parade to send to his pal Alan on Hayling Island. (Where the f*ck is Hayling Island? Ed.)
As far as New Plymouth is concerned, it is a quirky place and worthy of a visit, but not when Americarnage is on!
On arrival in Hamilton what is the first thing I see? A main road blocked off with cones and stewards, and a number of garishly painted Lincoln and Mustang cars revving up and ready to put pedal to metal. Omg. I need help, someone.
I ring Posh Margaret to see if she and her gang have arrived for tomorrow's game.
"We aren't arriving until the morning of the game. Were all on a beach in Auckland!"
Now, that's what I call a smart decision.
I've never been a fan of Hamilton. It must be the only city in New Zealand that does not produce a souvenir fridge magnet. On my first visit in 2008 it appeared like Abilene, transplanted to the South Pacific. Last year when Paul and I came here, it had deteriorated markedly and taken on a dodgy, seedy feel, although as above the kittens knees were apparently rather tasty.
On the three hour drive up from New Plymouth, we passed a sign:
'Next left - The Hobbit Film Location - 14km'. Lofty floors it as if we were being chased by the Hounds of Hell before I can speak. Nonplussed, I look at my phone and a text from Martin is waiting.
"On the radio the other night Charlie Dagnall said Hamilton appeared to be shut!"
As if I needed any encouragement to be negative.
Question is, will England provide a lift in the first ODI tomorrow?
Saturday night in Hamilton then, and it starts off in a positive fashion with some decent craft beers in the Little George Bar. We meet three Notts fans who are friends with Dr. Chardonnay - remember him? Still doing the rounds apparently!
An unusual situation in the superb Little India restaurant where Lofty and I order starters only, fearing the volume of the platter we have requested. Sure enough, the starter is so huge, we have to pass on the main course. A curry without a curry - a first for me. The restaurant is supplying lunch for the cricketers tomorrow, we are told.
Expect some sluggish fielding.
On the walk home, things are hotting up on the main street. Every bar / club seems to have at least two large bouncers, and the Street Angels patrol anxiously. Gangs of lads bump past me on the pavement with no manners, all acting like Tommy Ten Men.
The influence of drugs is clear to see on many of their faces.
Unfortunately my hotel room abutts over the main street albeit on the second floor, thus I have a great vantage point to hear the all-night carnage outside. Shrieking, breaking glass, revving cars, screams and conflict. The hotel we are in must have the worst behaved guests on the planet, running up and down corridors and slamming doors.
I finally nod off at about 4am when the feral party is winding up. When I wake up in the morning, I notice that the window has been cracked by a projectile thrown from the high street. Or maybe a bullet.
Clearly, Hamilton is not the best place to commence the rehabilitation of Ben Stokes.
To the game then and firstly, it was nice to see so many familiar faces here today. As Lofty and I exited the front door of our hotel we bumped right into Posh Margaret, Bob, Steve and Richard tucking into a pavement breakfast. Incredibly, their tickets are on the same row as ours!
At the ground were Les, Chris Crabb, Robbo, Eric and Jay from the Barmy Army.
Also sat close to us are Redcar Derek and his posse of mates from Scarborough CC. They appear to have gone independent, and are wearing identical shirts with the legend:
"Saul's Sticky Wicket Tour 2018". Saul being Derek's surname rather than a biblical entity. I'd rather not know the story about the sticky wicket!
Later on we also see West Ham Dave, our pal from the last South African tour.
The big pre-game news is that Ben Stokes is indeed playing. I wonder how Dawid Malan feels about that, having been our best player in the baseball series?
Stokes would go on to have a game to forget.
England lose the toss and are inserted. As usual wickets fall at all the wrong times.
Top scorer is enigma Buttler, who seems to be a feast and famine player. For instance, he hits three consecutive sixes in one over, then chews up lots of dot balls going back into his shell. The innings decelerated rather than speeding up, and 284 was all we could manage.
General consensus - between 20 and 50 runs short of a competitive total.
The Howzat gang had their Hamilton experience impaired by a drunken clot and his drunken mates, sat on the row in front.
The stewards showed remarkable patience with this moron until, twenty overs into the NZ innings, he started racially barracking Moeen Ali, who was fielding on the boundary in front of us.
As the stewards and police came up the steps the drunken Kiwi group were oblivious to their fate, even singing 'Swing low sweet chariot' in the face of imminent eviction.
A wag behind finished the last line for them, to the amusement and relief of the stand:
"Coming for to carry YOU home.....!" Now that's what I call humour.
As the NZ innings progressed the match fluctuated wildly but the one constant was the complete incompetence of Buttler behind the stumps.
As he missed another stumping chance, Redcar Derek gave me stick about our 'Honorary Lancastrian'. Sorry mate, wasted breath. We have a better keeper than the overrated Buttler at Lancs already, called Alex Davies, presently playing for the Lions.
"He should change his name from Jos Butler to Boss Juggler." I replied.
The game changing over came when Captain Morgan decided to bring back Rashid with three overs to go, with two tail end sloggers at the crease, and with overs in hand for all his fast men.
Explain that one if you can, Morgan, because it's one of the stupidest decisions I have ever seen on a cricket pitch. As the ball sailed for six after six into our stand, I just had to laugh. I'm beyond caring now. As usual, England lost.
Only England have the ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory like this, and that makes the team very special.
Not half as special though, I suspect, as both they and their media consultants believe.
Anyone thinking of betting large sums on England winning the World Cup in 2019 under Bayliss, a tip. Put your money on Afghanistan instead.