Australia & New Zealand Tour 2017/18
Stop your sobbing
I am now in a much better place than I was in Auckland.
We go home next week, and at last I can see the light at the end of the tunnel on this exhausting trip. Steak pudding, chips and gravy are now only seven days away.
Besides, every time I look on the BBC Sport website at the moment, I see people worse off than me.
They all seem to be Australians.
Cameron Bancroft. His contract with Somerset has now been cancelled. Banned for nine months. Boo hoo. What goes around, comes around. Watch who you butt heads with in future but don't 'butt the line'.
Steve Smith. Banned for twelve months. "I love kids, I love seeing them play the great game of cricket, when I see what this has done to my old man......" Sob! Sob!
Darren Lehmann. "Despite what I said on Wednesday, its time for me to quit. When I see the suffering of those fine young men....." Sniffle, sob.
I once saw a sketch on Monty Python where Terry Jones used an aerosol of false crocodile tears and these performances in the media reminded me very much of that.
Time to man up, guys, and stop your snivelling. You have all been made rich men by the game you have disgraced.
If it all meant that much, you shouldn't have cheated. Period.
Already, various players associations are bleating that the sentences are too harsh.
Rubbish. Transportation would be a more suitable form of justice, except that the culprits are already in Australia!
The night before the Test, and a visit to Barmy Army HQ in Riccarton, more precisely the Fox and Ferret, where I have arranged to meet Higgy and the gang.
Now present are Tony and son Ryan from Long Eaton CC, freshly arrived from blighty that afternoon and using a proprietary brand of matchstick to keep their eyes open.
Billy the Trumpeter is also here, similarly afflicted by jet lag, but he puts on a brief but polished performance, advertising the charity evening on Good Friday in the Fox and Ferret.
For just $20 admission it will actually be possible to have a beer on a Friday night.
New Zealand, you see, is still afflicted by the draconian Easter drinking laws that used to apply in the UK. Draconian laws that smart operators can flout with impunity simply by offering ticketed admissions.
Next morning, at an autumnal Hagley Oval, the second Test between New Zealand and England is under way.
The stadium announcer also wants his pound of flesh from the Australians it seems:
"Good morning and welcome to sunny Hagley Oval, where we can all enjoy a great game of cricket, played in the spirit in which it is meant to be played!"
Ouch. I bet they felt the shock waves from that one in Darwin.
Looking around the ground there is a healthy crowd present, including a good Barmy Army contingent. Tony and Ryan are there, wearing differing Notts County shirts. Tony, the traditional black and white home strip. Ryan, a more modern bright blue 'unisex' shirt, presumably designed for 'these days of changing ways', as Rod Stewart might sing.
There are also a group of local lads dressed as 'baggy greens', complete with rolls of tape and sandpaper sticking out of their pants. I suspect these lads will feature in quite a few of the photo albums of the England fans when they return home.
New Zealand won the toss and inserted England, and it was absolutely no surprise to anyone when Alastair Cook was bowled for two in just the third over. His wretched trot continues.
For how long will this be allowed to continue, I wonder?
This brought in Vince, a surprise recall here for most people. This is technically James Whitaker's final test as Head Selector and I'm sure he had his fingers crossed, hoping Vince would come good at last and justify his selection. Once again, Vince failed, scoring just 18.
A decent partnership between Stoneman and Root, then - the customary collapse. Three quick wickets for just one run. We all feared the worst at 94 - 5, as our already fragile batting line up had been weakened by the changes made for this match.
If I report Stuart Broad coming in at number eight, that should be all the reader needs to know. A tail longer than that of Smaug the Dragon.
In fact, a good stand between Bairstow and Stokes steadied the ship until the dismissal of Stokes at 151.
This brought the hapless Broad to the crease, and the frustration of the English supporters was evident as after scoring just 5, Broad gave catching practice to Sodhi from a hopeless swipe.
Mark Wood marched in. Nobody was expecting too much except yours truly.
Having seen Wood bat well against the Australians at Trent Bridge, I have always hoped that he would come good with the bat again, and he didn't disappoint. A maiden Test fifty, with some cracking cover drives. To our coach and new selectors please take note, a rise up the order is suggested.
At about this point the Barmy Army advance units returned from the pub. Some fun & games occurred with a steward in their section of grass bank, and I was greatly amused to hear a young Kiwi kid yell to his mates as they rushed over to the Barmy Army area:
"C'mon, this is the BIST place to be! There are drunken people over there!"
I suppose that is BIST described as a back handed compliment.
Wood was out before the close but Leach batted sensibly and bravely to finish 10 not out and the main focus was on whether Bairstow could complete a deserved hundred before stumps. Sadly not, but on 97 not out, tomorrow beckons.
England closed on 290 - 8, a vast improvement on what could have been.
A great days Test cricket with the ebb and flow sadly lacking in the Ashes series.
The Barmy Army shuttle bus arrived promptly at 6.30 to prevent their membership having to waste 15 minutes valuable drinking time in walking up the road to the Fox and Ferret. Lazy bastards!
The Barmies charity night apparently featured a tuneless rock band that drew the following comment from Red Nigel as they covered 'Wonderwall':
"I've never had much time for Oasis, but even they don't deserve this!"
Ha ha ha!
Lofty and I visited a Thai restaurant with some rather nice byo wine and enjoyed a splendid meal.
Five - O and Skip prepared for a nice drive up the war zone that is State Highway 1 in the morning to Blenheim.
So for once, everyone was happy.
Day two was more low key. After the early completion of the Bairstow century, England reached 307 all out. Broad and Anderson then took early wickets and with New Zealand losing four before lunch, the follow on was a distinct possibility.
However that was for later.
The lunch interval was eagerly awaited for a different reason - the David Warner news conference. Lofty and Bob were tuned in live on their radios, and Lofty had us in stitches with his tearful translation of what little new information came out.
In between more heavy breathing than a porn film, Warner must have said:
"I am here to take full responsibility for my part in what happened" half a dozen times.
He was clearly reading from a script, although whether this had been prepared by Cricket Australia or Warners legal team was unclear.
One thing that was very obvious - the complete lack of sympathy towards Warner from anyone inside the ground.
After lunch an uncharacteristically responsible innings by De Grandhomme, supported by Watling, took the Kiwis well past the follow on point.
A wicket walk was needed and I arrived on the opposite grass bank just in time to see a very drunk, older New Zealand supporter with a Scottish flag being pinned down by three policemen. I shall refer to him as Mr. Braveheart.
His crime wasn't clear apart from having a very dirty mouth, but the cops don't muck about here. In five minutes, he had been ejected and was outside the ground.
However, if the police thought that was the end of the matter, they were wrong. Braveheart continued ranting for about a quarter of an hour from behind a privet fence, waving his flag all the time. The local children were being treated to accelerated obscenity training, and giggling all the while.
Like a Punch and Judy show minus Judy, and the subtlety.
In truth, this was the most amusing part of the afternoon.
Bad light curtailed play just after six o clock with New Zealand on 192 - 6.
Daylight savings time means the clocks go back an hour here tonight.
In addition, we are out for beers with Higgy later and the start time for tomorrow has already been brought forward to 10.30am, so it is anyone's guess what time we will all arrive at Hagley Park in the morning.
Saturday night in central Christchurch was an eye opener.
I have not been into the red zone since 2008 and the devastation wrought by the earthquakes is still painfully obvious to see. A musical evening tonight in Mickey Finn's Irish bar with Higgy, Lofty, Ryan and Tony. We were regally entertained by a group called the Elevators doing great covers, and it was a shame that the night was curtailed at 12pm due to Easter licensing laws.
Music for all tonight. Some Led Zep for me, Black Sabbath for Higgy, and even some Ed Sheeran for Lofty.
April 1st 2018. A red letter day as this is the first Whitaker-free day for England, as Red Nigel kindly reminded me. How will the team manage without him?
Well, not that badly actually. New Zealand were bowled out before lunch for 278 meaning an England lead of 29. Broad took six wickets in the end and Anderson four, but in truth their figures did not reflect the loose bowling on offer in the morning. Southee, Wagner and Boult had some batting fun, and in reality the England lead was much less than most people had hoped for.
Our morning was made more amusing by a catalogue of caustic, negative catcalls from Lofty, mainly directed towards the England bowlers.
I sometimes wonder if Lofty knows how loud he is when wearing his radio headphones!
At lunch we learned that Mr Braveheart had again entered the stadium despite his ban, causing more ructions with the police when asked to leave. Further enquiry revealed that he was 76 years of age! This time, he was unceremoniously dumped in a paddy wagon conveniently parked outside the entrance. There were unconfirmed reports of a taser being used to subdue him, which in retrospect, I find hard to believe.
After the interval it wasn't long before Cook was dismissed cheaply again, but this time, no more dramas. Stoneman and Vince carried the score to 147 and much calmer waters before the next wicket. Sadly although both made fifties, neither took it on, and no doubt the jury will still be out on the security of their ongoing places in the England batting order.
Root and Malan took the score to 202-3 before bad light ended play a couple of overs early. A comfortable England lead of 231. Most people were happy to leave the ground by this point given the windchill factor and negligible heat from the setting sun.
It is no coincidence that Antarctic expeditions often use Christchurch as their base. Wherever the bright spark from the ECB who made the idiotic decision to schedule this match for April was today, you can bet your bottom dollar that he was not perched on a grass bank at Hagley Park.
All manner of mufflers, scarves and blankets were miraculously produced from bags and rucksacks, and its safe to say we are all now prepared for whatever weather the County games throw at us in April.
Day four and as ever, nothing comes easy for England.
From a virtually impregnable position, they made a bit of a Horlicks of it.
Whilst Root and Malan both made fifties interspersed with the odd classy boundary, on the whole they batted too slowly. All the while, Neil Wagner was time wasting and this got too much for Lofty.
"Get on with it Warner!" He shouted at the top of his voice. That Freudian slip caused much laughter.
Malan and Root then both got out to rash shots within a couple of minutes of each other.
At about this time, my collapsible chair 'did what it said on the tin' - collapsed - but while I was sat in it. Further investigation revealed that the plastic leg joint had suffered a clean break. Another little job for tomorrow, a visit to The Warehouse to obtain a refund of my $59. If there is one thing I cannot abide, it is shoddy but expensive grass bank seating equipment.
Suddenly, two new batsmen at the crease. After lunch Stokes was out for a disappointingly low score and we were looking at a much lower total. One that would actually give New Zealand a chance of winning. All sound familiar?
Little cameos from Broad, Wood and Leach contributed to the score but when Bairstow was finally out for 36, England rightly declared on 352-9.
This meant New Zealand would need an unlikely 382 to win.
They reached 42 - 0 before the inevitable bad light stopped play just after 4.15pm.
All at once, the end of the trek had arrived for me.
Due either to the complexities of the airline booking system, or simply a cock - up by Lofty and myself, we will not be able to attend day five.
Instead, we will be flying up to Auckland in order to connect with our flights home.
In addition, poor Lofty has a train connection in the UK with Trans-Pennine. First Class, of course!
The final fling - a well attended curry at Arjee Bhajee preceded by lots of beer at Wilson's.
Whilst I will be sad to leave New Zealand, I do have an invaluable piece of advice for anyone considering a five month cricket tour involving two countries half way around the world.
Don't do it!