Australia & New Zealand Tour 2017/18
Away Wins are Like Buses
Readers might not blame us for wanting to leave Hamilton as soon as possible, but we stayed around long enough for breakfast in the Central Shopping plaza.
Whilst eating our muesli and bran, we were astonished to see first the D.Willey family, then the M. Wood family, join us in this nondescript cafe.
I could not resist.
Approaching the Wood group I went up to say hello.
"All right mate. Aren't the ECB feeding you properly?"
"Waye aye, they are but mate. We've just nipped oot for a crafty cream bun, like, withoot them knowing."
Well, its nice to see that there are some normal humans in this team of ours that don't mind having a laugh.
I didn't dare approach the Willey group, in case he was still simmering over not being asked to finish the innings off last night.
Our next venue, Mount Maunganui, is a relatively short drive east from Hamilton, on the coast.
We arrived early which gave us the chance to take a much needed walk.
Our motel is close to the Bay Oval ground, but nowhere near the central beach attractions, so we were surprised to be accosted by Howzat Bob, driving solo in a Hannibal Lecter kidnap-type vehicle. The other Howzatters were nowhere to be seen.
"Shopping!", Bob said.
About five minutes later we bumped into Redcar Derek and two of his group, together with the three Notts lads we talked to in Hamilton. Mount Maunganui is not a place to disappear without trace, it seems.
After we had walked half a mile or so, I heard a familiar refrain from Lofty.
"Well, I don't see the point in going any further...."
The point is, actually, that we are staying in the arse end of town, and the best part of the resort is in the last section that you won't walk to....!
Lofty went for a pint while I traversed the beach end, where incidentally we will be staying next month on our way back to Auckland. After meeting him later we decided to go for a curry in 'Smart India', which is situated half way between our digs and the resort hub.
In a misunderstanding symptomatic of this increasingly gruelling tour, I agreed to buy wine for this evenings soiree. This involved a walk of three bus stops towards our digs to the liquor shop, while Lofty stayed put at the earlier bus stop - the intention being he would save his legs and get on the bus, and I would board three stops later with the vino.
I purchase two bottles of not so vintage plonk. The bus arrives, and I board and pay, looking in vain for Lofty - who has assumed I would be walking back three stops with the bag of wine, and has waited for me in town instead of boarding the bus. To compound matters further when I get to the motel and ring him, I hear his phone sounding out in his room.
An hour later an exhausted, bedraggled cursing figure appears at the motel. It would appear the next bus due has not turned up, and Lofty has had to reprise his walk.
I promise I won't criticise your exercise quotient again, Lofty!
Finally we do get to Smart India, and there is a familiar figure dining on his own at a nearby table. Scyld Berry, the Telegraph cricket journalist. I let on, and Mr Berry comes over for a chat after his meal.
Obviously the conversation is cricket and we are asked for one proposal each that would improve the parlous state of English cricket.
I go first. "Easy. Sack James Whitaker. You can quote me on that, Scyld!"
"Yes but he's very conscientious you know, and he comes from Skipton like you, Lofty..."
"Well, he keeps selecting the wrong players!"
"How about you, Lofty?"
"Reform the ECB. The whole thing needs dragging into the twenty first century."
The conversation progressed on to our opinions on day-night Tests, T20 city based franchises, and England in general, and Scyld must have regretted his decision to come and chat after our tsunami of negativity about the whole bloody lot.
However, Scyld has agreed to be an Addis interviewee, so watch this space.
The weather in Mount Maunganui has been most un-New Zealand like. Overcast and rainy with the promise of another poor day when the ODI is due to be played.
Not a Beast From The East, more of a Pest From The West.
Our spirits were lifted, however, by an invitation to a barbecue at the Howzat house. A convivial evening was had by all, although the wine tally did not reach the dizzy heights of the similar event in Queenstown five years ago - we must all be getting older, if not wiser. The Sky video of Bob trying a crowd catch in Auckland with his $50,000 orange shirt on and falling on the stairs has now gone viral and whilst this has made a celebrity of Bob, it has also attracted some pithy comments from his housemates.
"I threw him a box of matches today while we were cooking, and he 'effing dropped that as well!" recounted Posh Margaret.
The day of the game saw the arrival of Tremers and Sean, having driven up that morning from Napier where they had left their ladies, who clearly did not fancy a long drive followed by potentially eight hours sat on the grass bank in the rain.
However the weather behaved itself for once, and we were treated to a full game - and, shock horror, an England victory!
The Bay Oval is a pleasant enough ground - shaped like a flan case in a similar way to Queenstown, but without the view. Instead of The Remarkables, here there is an iconic salt factory!
Our motel owner was kind enough to lend Lofty and I collapsible chairs, meaning that we were able to perch atop the bank with our Howzat pals. Margaret amused us with a story of what she found on the coat rack at their Auckland Air BNB house - a leather hat, and accoutrements. "Very Fifty Shades of Grey", she commented.
Richard quickly pointed out that 'Fifty Shades of Grey' sounded much like his white cricket laundry!
The theme of 'smut' carried on when I visited the food outlets behind the bank. One of the stalls, Banger Boys, carried the slogan writ large on their kiosk:
"You'll feel much better with a good sausage inside you."
I wonder how long that sign would last in the UK once the Fun Police had been informed of its existence?
Having won the toss England correctly inserted New Zealand, who struggled throughout against an excellent fielding display. Errors were few. There were two brilliant catches by Jason Roy and no less than four run outs.
The hosts did not manage to bat their 50 overs although an excellent fifty by Santner at the death gave them something to bowl at - England then requiring 224 to win.
For once, no dramas. Captain Morgan hit a fine 50, with non-stop encouragement all the way from Edgbaston Steve. Ben Stokes carried us through to our victory after Morgan got out rather tamely to a return catch, and Stokes deservedly won the Man of the Match award. He must be relieved to find his name in the headlines for the right reasons.
Not the most exciting match, but pleasant nevertheless, especially given the weather we had expected.
On the road again next morning and an overnight stay in Turangi, where I knew of a motel with a great restaurant and bar on site. There, we befriended an American lad called Robert who was there on his own to do the 20km, uphill, downdale, Tongariro Crossing hike next morning. After a superb meal, the motel owner also had Lofty eating out of his hand with his large doses of whisky. Meanwhile, Robert was becoming increasingly pissed on red wine, and I doubt he would have been thanking us when his Tongariro shuttle arrived at 6am next morning. On asking to pay as the bar closed, we were given a refreshingly honest response:
"Don't worry about it now, lads, I'll bill you in the morning when you've forgotten what you've had!"
Leaving Turangi hungover and somewhat poorer, we drove down to Wellington to hand back our second hire car. A real slog this 340km drive, especially after missing our way in Wellington city centre at the end. But we arrived at the depot just half an hour late without any dire consequences.
A rendezvous at the Indus Curry House, Tinakori Rd on Friday night with some old kiwi mates. The Nae Nae cricket boys were out in force, and we enjoyed a splendid evening with Baz, Callum, Fraser, Tinkle and last but not least my pal Silver Dave, over visiting his family / escaping the weather in Huddersfield. Plenty of wine consumed by most of us as the tales from this tour were recounted.
The Cake Tin next day and the last of the day/night one day matches - the last two will be starting at the more civilised time of 11am due to the lack of floodlights at Dunedin and Christchurch. We were joined by Tremers and Sean, and later by Silver Dave, Tinkle, his son, and Cooper, his grandson. We had good seats behind the bowlers arm, but basically you could sit where you liked.
The Westpac Stadium was only half full, which gives credence to the theory that the cricket authorities are now squeezing dry udders on the cash cow that is one - day International cricket. A shame, as this was a game to remember.
England were inserted on an awful pitch. It was described by a Howzat tourist on the big screen as "looking like a mouldy old carpet", which view I would fully concur with.
It was difficult to time shots, and the ball occasionally did strange things. England managed 234 thanks mainly to a solid innings in the middle from Morgan, together with an out of character, responsible knock by Stokes. Unfortunately for England, the first time Stokes hit out, he toe ended the ball and was caught on the boundary.
When New Zealand batted, despite an early wicket they looked to be strolling. However, spinners Ali and Rashid sparked a mid-innings collapse which swung the game England's way. That is, until Kane Williamson was joined by Santner - who is proving to be a thorn in England's side this series. This pair gradually whittled away the runs until the rate became worryingly achievable.
Just as it looked as if England were about to throw it away, Santner was unluckily run out at the non - strikers end as Woakes attempted a return catch from a fierce Williamson drive. The drama continued, with Williamson going to a hundred amidst it, and all results were possible until the very last ball. With Williamson the centurion on strike, and eight wickets down, four runs were needed to tie and six to win.
Woakes managed to beat the bat with the final ball, and an enthralling low - scorer ended with England victorious.
Away wins are like buses - nothing for ages then two come at once. Effectively this means an interest in both remaining games is guaranteed, with no 'dead rubber' nonsense unless England win the series 3 -1 in Dunedin.
Somehow, I doubt things will be that simple!