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  • Black Caps liberate play with an edge

    2018 - 07.03

    Three-quarters of an hour after hitting the shot that went around the cricket world, Grant Elliott was still recollecting his thoughts about that final over. One was clear. Whatever happened, he said, he wasn’t going to finish 70-something not out and on the losing side. That would have been a betrayal of his team. He would hit out until he got out, or he got Dale Steyn. The rest is history.
    Nanjing Night Net

    This is the thread that is running through all the Kiwis’ endeavours in this World Cup. They talk the talk about selflessness, and they walk the walk. It is evident in the disposition of the other teams, too, but stands out about the Kiwis because almost nothing else about them does.

    As names, they are house brand rather than household. I for one would not immediately have recognised Grant Elliott as he moseyed into the media briefing in Wellington on Sunday morning. In my defence, not even the New Zealand selectors recognised him as such: he was not in their original World Cup squad. Six months ago, if told that a South African expat playing for another country would bob up as a match-winner in a World Cup semi-final, Elliott’s name would have come a long way behind Kevin Pietersen’s.

    It is a point of pride among the Kiwis that at least one of them will step up. It is what gives Brendon McCullum the freedom to play as he does. When it works, it gives New Zealand a head start, complete with helmet. His five-over half-century on Tuesday evening made all that followed possible. If it doesn’t work, he wastes no deliveries, leaving them for others to exploit in more orthodox fashion. It flows down the batting order. You just knew when Dan Vettori came in on Tuesday night that he would hit at least one four, and that it would be worth 40.

    In this World Cup, cricket’s currencies have been refloated. It was recognised long ago that the best way for a bowling team to stop runs was to take wickets. Now batting teams are taking the attitude that the best way to make runs is not to be too precious about wickets. It is a liberating idea.

    Anyone who regularly watches the net sessions of international teams will know about latent talent: left-handers who can bat right, right-arm bowlers who can land them bowling left. In the nets once, Barry Richards batted against a state standard fast bowler with the leading edge, not to humiliate him, but to make a point to himself. David Hookes did it in a club match. I once saw Victorian medium-pacer and career No.11 Simon Davis belt a ball half-way across the MCG, with a stump!

    The gravitas of Test cricket inhibits these skills. The tension between what must be done and what may gives that form of the game its essential appeal. But it is now obvious that the release of that tension creates a different sort of appeal. It began with T20, is now apparent in one-day cricket and the ripples are beginning to appear in Test cricket. In this tournament, the Kiwis are showing the way.

    It is not just in batting. The way Matt Henry bowled when brought in from outside the squad on Tuesday night speaks well of him, but also of the team. For all we know, Henry took a stroll down Bourke Street on Wednesday night, signing only a credit card docket. Yet there he was at Eden Park the night before, delivering a five-over, nine-run first-change spell. In this big moment, he was more testing than he was tested.

    When a blistering AB de Villiers drive burst through Kane Williamson’s hands at cover, three teammates ran to jolly him. You can imagine the thrust: “Head up.” “Saved four.” “Catch the next one.” This reaction recognised that, in the maelstrom of one-day cricket, there will be hitches, just as bowlers will miss their target and batsmen miss the ball. The Kiwis dropped three catches this day, but victory ultimately obviated the need for explanation.

    Lastly, the Kiwis are playing with conspicuously good grace. The semi-final was as tense and intense as cricket could be, yet as promised by McCullum and de Villiers, not an obvious word was uttered out of place, not even under the pretext of playing hard.

    When at last they were done, Elliott went first to console the prone Steyn, a gesture that will live on in the game’s folklore. It all made for a stark contrast to the bellicosity emerging out of Sydney in recent days.

    This story Administrator ready to work first appeared on Nanjing Night Net.

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