If you follow cricket on the internet, you’ll be familiar with those strange, pitiable google ads that Buzz Bats run asking, somewhat plaintively, ‘Do you want a bat like Grant Elliott’s?’
The question is ridiculous on so many levels it’s difficult to know where to start. How about the fact that he’s 30 years old, but only made his Black Cap debut last year? Or that he moved to New Zealand only as a second choice after his career looked stalled in the cricket powerhouse of South Africa? Or that he has a ‘dodgy allrounder’ (bowling average minus batting average) number in first class cricket of 7.4?
He’s also not the most handsome or demonstrative guy on the field, with thin. pinched looks and a detached expression which gels with his mostly mild-mannered strokeplay. In a country which is used to all-rounders who make the pulse race and blood boil (both Cairnses, Oram, Hadlee, plus that interminable Harris/Latham/Larsen/Styris list) he is something of a shrinking violet.
But this morning he played an innings which ran totally against the New Zealand archetype. He scored 75 off 103 balls, but that was skewed mightily by the powerplay which New Zealand rode to victory. His half century came off 90 balls, and he played the sheet anchor role to perfection, preventing Pakistan from sinking their teeth into a lower order which averaged between 10 and 20, and had a total of six ODI half centuries between them (including Elliott himself).
So New Zealand finds itself in the final of the ICC trophy (read Paul Holden’s great history of our form at the tournament here) for the second time, after that incandescent Cairns-powered victory in 2001, against an Australian side who are, if not ripe for the picking, certainly a more approachable proposition than at any other point in the last 20 years. We largely have Grant ‘the wallflower’ Elliott to thank for our appearance.Because the rest of the batting line-up hardly covered themselves in glory.
McCullum did his best McCullum expression by hitting a belligerent 17 as he attempts to cement his reputation as the most over-rated player in the world game. Redmond too built on his first class journeyman brand, while Taylor played a fine innings, including one breathtaking six, before getting out playing one of the more foolish shots the man’s ever attempted, a late cut off a straight off-stumper from Afridi. It was Vettori and Elliott’s exquisitely paced century partnership which choked the life out of Pakistan, despite the best efforts of their incredible 17-year-old wunderkid Mohammad Aamer.
The innings was all the more enjoyable for the way it flouted New Zealand convention. Contrary to popular belief we do win ODIs far more frequently than we have any right to, given our resources. Beating a team like Pakistan, who fielded sloppily, bowled far too many wides and no balls, had muddled field placements and poor discipline is that much more satisfying when you know that man-for-man we are inferior by some margin. But we normally beat teams by scrapping for every inch, and lurching across the line with some ungainly squirt for four.
Instead we paced it beautifully, and even while the commentary team were talking about how we were digging a hole as we slipped gently past a run a ball required, there was never the slightest doubt from around 160 on that we would make it comfortably. It was almost unnerving to see such a placid chase, without the lunacy and pain which normally characterises our cricket. You can imagine Craig MacMillan (who I could’ve sworn I heard Telfer demanding be recalled during the week) shaking his head in disgust at the composure and assurance on display.
It was a beautiful thing. And Elliott, with his trusty Buzz Bat, is the reason why. Google ads work, for the most part, on a cost-per-click basis. Impressions (page views) generally count for zilch. So if you word your advertisement right you can be seen by hundreds of thousands of eyes without ever being clicked (and therefore billed). ‘Do you want a bat like Grant Elliott?’ might be the most unclickable ad in history, a combination of an unknown manufacturer and unglamourous player becoming online lead.
His innings today, crucial as it was, is unlikely to change that. Even his recent purple patch (his four wickets against England earned him man of the match) seems unlikely to get his poster on the walls of New Zealand’s cricketing youth. But he is quietly becoming an essential cog in our side, the quiet success story to his predecessor Oram’s loud, groaning failures, and should we find a way to defeat Australia on Monday you can bet that Elliott will have played a vital role.