Kurunegala Youth Cricket Club v Sri Lanka Army at Kurunegala, Premier League Tournament Tier B

Sure, it’s only one test, but’s it worthy of a preview, as I have mentioned about 17 different times on the blog already, the match is going to be live on Willow TV at a very reasonable hour: first ball at 15:30.

This will be the eighth test match series between the hosts, New Zealand, and the minnows, Zimbabwe. New Zealand have won five of those series, the other three have been drawn.  In fact, New Zealand has never lost a test match to Zimbabwe; over their 14 head to head meetings, the Kiwis have won eight and drawn six – most recently beating them by 34 runs this past November at the Queens Sports Club, Bulawayo, Zimbabwe.

Nine of the matches have been played in Zimbabwe, only five in New Zealand, none at a neutral ground (it won’t be long until every head to head history will have to include a “neutral ground” category, so I am getting on board early: the U.A.E. will host an England v Australia ODI series within 10 years, you heard it hear first.)

The Ground

The one test of this series will take place at the…

Okay, please do allow me to editorialize just for a second here: one test? ONE!?

I realize it is an abbreviated series overall (three ODIs, two T20s), but they couldn’t find room for one more test in the schedule?  Don’t the ICC and the cricket boards of New Zealand and Zimbabwe want their countries to improve at test cricket?

Maybe not, maybe the money is in the one-dayers, and maybe their cricket boards feel that either way, their domestic leagues do enough to develop cricketers who excel in the long form of the game, but I just don’t know…

One test feels wasteful; and a strong Zimbabwe is terribly important to test cricket, as is a strong New Zealand.

And I realize I am preaching to the converted here, mostly, and I freely admit that I don’t get all the ins and outs of cricket scheduling, and I am sure there are a myriad of other considerations that I am not touching on, but one single test during a month long tour is just simply short sighted.

And, shoot, tests rarely last the full five days anymore anyway, so it’s not like a second test would add that many days to the tour.  I digress…

The one test of this series will take place from 26 January through 30 January at the McClean Park Ground in Napier, New Zealand.

The ground has four stands and large grass bank.  I love a ground with a grass bank.

And from what I can tell via Google Maps, the ground is actually set right into the heart of an urban area, unusual in world cricket:

And here is your geography lesson:

The ground has hosted nine tests. The first in 1979 featured the hosts against Pakistan, and ended in a draw. The most recent was in 2009, also against Pakistan, and it also ended in a draw.

In fact, of the nine tests played at the ground, only two have produced a result, and both were New Zealand losses: to Sri Lanka in 1995, and to England in 2008.

The ground is known for its batter friendly pitch, which would explain all of the draws.

The Squads

New Zealand finished 2011 with that dramatic victory over Australia at Hobart, of course, but otherwise had a quiet and unsuccessful year, test wise. They only played five total tests, winning two (Australia and Zimbabwe), losing two (Australia and Pakistan), and drawing one (Pakistan.)

Zimbabwe took a forced leave of absence from tests in 2005, and played its first test since the layoff just this past summer, beating Bangladesh at Harare.  And they only played two other tests in 2011, losing both (Pakistan and New Zealand.)

New Zealand has announced its test squad for the match, and back is the young quick Doug Bracewell who took six wickets in the Kiwis’ win at Hobart – and it looks as though the talisman Vettori is back in the squad, as well, after being out injured in Tasmania.

I will admit I know very little about Zimbabwean cricket, but here is their squad list.

They are captained by Brendan Taylor, who has played in 16 tests – a lot considering Zimbabwe’s layoff for most of the last seven years. Taylor has been in the international squad since he was 18, and has played in 129 ODIs for his country, despite being only 25.

He also plays domestic cricket in New Zealand, so he should be well suited to the conditions.

And the conditions should be good, weather wise: mid 70s and cloudy, which should keep the pitch from being too batter friendly.

Prediction?  A draw. But it will go the full five days, something really unheard of in test cricket lately.

Back on the pitch:

South Africa and Sri Lanka are playing in their final ODI today in Kimberley.  South Africa has already won the series, so its a bit of dead rubber, but it would be nice for Sri Lanka if they could win at least one of these games.

The hosts are 291/7 with one over left. That’s a lot for Sri Lanka to chase, and I just don’t see it happening for them.

Also, in Chennai, Rajasthan just keeps…on…batting…. They are 404/2 after two full days.  And considering the match can be decided on first innings runs, I suppose we can’t really expect to see a sporting declaration any time soon.

Vineet Saxena, one the openers, has 207 runs off of 555 balls, his strike rate a miniscule 37.29.  He is 31 years old, has never played for his country, and probably never will. He made his debut for Rajasthan in 1998 and they have been his only team…77 first class matches, 4,500 runs, and nine 100s…

I think is a great story, a double ton to bring his only club their second Championship in as many years, so I will forgive his rather unexciting approach to batting.

Enjoy your time out in the sun, Vineet.

Until next time.

Cape Cobras v Dolphins at Cape Town, Franchise 1-Day Cup

This morning I was scheduled to write about Essex County Cricket Club, but I then I thought I would take a break from County Cricket for a day and explore some of the other domestic cricket competitions taking place right now:  in Banglandesh, in India, in New Zealand, in Pakistan, in South Africa, in Zimbabwe…it seems the entire Southern Hemisphere is alive with cricket.  (Missing from that list is Australia, but it looks as though The Sheffield Shield returns on 2 December, the Ryobi One-Day Cup on 7 December, and of course, the BIG BASH LEAGUE ramps up on 16 December.)  Plus, writing about a County might not seem like it, but it is a time consuming effort, and I could use a quick morning post.

So let’s chat about Zimbabwe’s Stanbic Bank 20 Series instead.

It is a short competition, lasting only from the 25th of November through the 4th of December, barely a week.  It features five clubs, the same five clubs that I discussed in my post on Zimbabwe’s other domestic competition, The Castle Logan Cup.

Each club plays each other club once, with the top four teams advancing to a knock out stage.  (Yeah, 80% of the teams make the playoffs, that’s almost a higher percentage than the NHL has.)  The knockout stage is single elimination, two semi-finals and a final.

This year, the competition features several international players of note: Shaun Tait, Dirk Nannes, Ryan ten Doeschate, and of course the enigmatic Chris Gayle.

Gayle plays for the Matabeleland Tuskers, and his squad has already played their four matches, winning three and losing one, and has advanced to the knockout stages.  The Mountaineers and the Mid West Rhinos have also advanced, so the last spot is left for the Southern Rocks and the Mashonaland Eagles (ten Doeschate’s squad) to fight over. The former has two points to the latter’s none, but the Eagles have a match in hand.

The semi-finals are on Friday and the final on Sunday.  As I have previously mentioned, the matches are available live on Willow.tv, and the final is actually on at a not too ungodly hour: 6am CST.  Will I watch??  We will see.

The Zimbabwean Cricket Association is bullish on the tournament, and sees it as a chance for ZC to show the ICC that cricket is growing exponentially in their country.  Big crowds are expected this weekend at the finals, as it is a school holiday.

Now, I am no big fan of Twenty20 (especially at the international level) but for cricket to grow, in my opinion, domestic competitions in lesser nations, not just test nations but in all Associate member nations, competitions such as the Stanbic Bank 20 Series, need to succeed and thrive.  I really believe these tournaments will feed test cricket, which is what we all want, at the end of the day.

Of course, like most folks, I hate the idea of the best international players flying all over the world to play in 15 different domestic tournaments a year, but that might have to be the catalyst which helps these domestic leagues grow.  I point to Major League Soccer and their “designated player” rule, which has seemingly worked quite well.

So, here’s hoping nothing but success for the Stanbic Bank 20 Series.

Until next time.