Tag Archives: Twenty20

Chris Harris: A DeadBall Icon

Chris Harris

As the World Twenty20 runs on without The Black Caps, the time feels right for a reappraisal of the career of a man who might once have saved our blushes: Chris Harris, New Zealand’s pre-eminent cricketer of the post-Hadlee era.

Belying his thinning hair and hedonistic reputation, he pounced on seemingly impossible catches like a balding cat, regularly threw down the stumps from square leg with a grace that made grown men weep, unilaterally conjured up miraculous batting recoveries, and bowled dot balls when we needed them most.  He was New Zealand’s face saver, a legendarily down-to-earth everyman who commanded respect when the rest of our team inspired ridicule.

A contemporary of the teary-eyed Wellington tradesman, Gavin Larsen, he took that same role of the mid-late order batsman/second change dibbly-dobbly swing bowler, but owned it with such effortless flair and jouissance that he transformed the very landscape of New Zealand cricket.  From Harry onwards, the role of the seemingly unthreatening all-rounder became not a mere afterthought, but the essence of New Zealand’s one day approach.

He is the blueprint and spiritual guide for all our middle order all-rounders, who just about every match are expected to compensate for the under-performance of our top order batsmen, and wayward or injured frontline pacemen.  Daniel Vettori is the most obvious proponent of the Harry Way, having trained under Harry, partnering him in many heart-warming, tail-wagging, respectability-saving stands.  Jesse Ryder bowls dibbly-dobblies and has taken Harry’s booze-and-durries reputation and developed it.  Scott Styris, unassuming, roguishly handsome, aged before his time, but heroically consistent, is probably the closest a modern NZ cricketer has come to capturing the soul or mystical aura of CZ Harris in his prime.

On November 20 this year, Chris Harris will turn 40, default upper age limit for international cricketers.  Since last week’s decision to make former ICL players eligible for New Zealand, Harris hypothetically could make a return to the Black Caps, but the chances of this happening are sadly slim.  Thus, barring a miracle, we have witnessed the end of one of New Zealand’s great cricket careers, the fading away of a prodigious talent and New Zealand folk hero, and one of cricket’s rare alopecians not to resort to the Advanced Hair Clinic.

He debuted in Australia in 1990, hinting at his future lynchpin role in the team, scoring 17 not out and taking a wicket in his first game.  His batting form through the first few seasons of his career was patchy though, and while he was definitively one of the ‘Young Guns’, their golden moment, the 1992 World Cup, did not feature any Harry magic with the bat, for one because the top order largely fired, but more significantly because he was part of a revolutionary bowling lineup made up of almost entirely of dibbly-dobbly bowlers. (Gavin Larsen, Harris, Rod Latham and Willie Watson. The other key bowler was of course off-spinner Dipak Patel, who legendarily opened the bowling in a self-professed “captaincy masterstroke” by Martin Crowe.)

Harry took 16 wickets in the tournament at an average of 21.38, a figure that would have been even better had he not suffered a tonking at the hands of Inzamam ul-Haq in the heartbreaking semi final defeat against Pakistan. Appropriately, Harris ran out Inzamam in typically spectacular fashion with a diving side-on throw from point, but it was too late to prevent New Zealand’s dreams of World Cup glory being crushed. The loss was a hammer blow to the nation’s psyche, and perhaps marks the moment when New Zealand trudged downcast with resignation into the ’90s, realising that the decade was not going to be a new era of optimism, prosperity and sports supremacy over Australia, but just more of the same shit.

In a sense, Chris Harris’s batting performances as the ’90s progressed mirrored the state of our country at the time, providing an objective analogy to our own aspirations and frustrations. Just as we were hamstrung by recession, isolation, and an indefinable cultural/ideological malaise, Harry was prevented from ever being truly flashy and excellent by regular top order collapses.

As mentioned earlier, his gift was restoring respectability in difficult and sometimes appalling circumstances, which allowed him to deploy the batting equivalent of such parochial stand-bys as ‘Kiwi Ingenuity’, ‘the Number Eight Wire Mentality’ and crucially avoid the dreaded ‘Tall Poppy Syndrome’.  No fear of being charged with arrant excellence when you’re coming in at number eight and forced into a situation like this (note plucky support innings from Harry’s young apprentice Vettori)

Harris3

Conversely, it was the very same failures that allowed Harry to truly shine.  Had it not been for the regular sub-par performances of our top and middle order, Harris wouldn’t have had the chance to come out and play those vital innings that made us feel okay about losing. When you trawl through Chris Harris’s higher scoring innings, the common thread in a noticeable majority of them is that they were New Zealand losses, not surprising in itself as the majority of New Zealand cricket performances in general are losses.

I guess what I’m trying to get to here is that Chris Harris actually needed New Zealand to be the wretched team they were in order to scrawl his legendary, indelible signature across the autograph book of cricket history*. (yes I know this is a lame metaphor, but hell this is sports writing right, this shit’s pretty much obligatory)

Occasionally though, his brilliance combined with the right team and the right occasion, and he had the rare satisfaction of taking the role of match-winner, as seen in the first two matches against Australia during the 2002 VB Series. In the first match at the MCG, New Zealand made a total of 199, only remotely defendable because of the gritty salvaging efforts of our hero and his plucky young protege Vettori. The two left-handers shared a record eighth wicket partnership of 72, taking New Zealand from a typically worrying 94 /7 in the 26th over to 166/8 at the beginning of the 44th.

Harry finished up with 63 not out, undoubtedly a truly great innings, given the situation on his arrival at the crease versus the final result. With Australia chasing 200, New Zealand’s bowlers put on an exemplary display of strike, spin and economy, Shane Bond (on debut) knocking the guts out of the Australian top order and Harry putting on the brakes, bowling 1 for 17 from seven overs. The Australians finished up all out for 176 after 42 overs. This is the archetypal perfect New Zealand cricket result really, what we wait for as fans of this mercurial team: a victory over the ultimate foe at the MCG, despite an inimitably flawed performance, thus making the victory all the more satisfying, human and truly glorious.

The second match in Sydney had strong similarities to the first, but with Harris coming in at a slightly more forgiving 137/5 in the 36th over, he brought a more insistent approach to the batting crease, making a commanding 42 not out off 43 balls. Defending 235, the New Zealand bowling attack once again took the Australians apart, with the last six wickets falling for 38 runs. Harris himself took three wickets of the six, as well as two catches. He was named Man of the Match in both of these deeply pleasing cricket contests, and I shall humbly and probably erroneously suggest that it was this moment that truly made concrete Chris Harris’ position as one of the few New Zealand cricketers genuinely respected across the Tasman.

These performances are heart-soaring, blessed highlights in the career of a cricketer who taught New Zealanders that the next best thing to saving a match is saving face. His determined stands in the path of total embarrassment were moments of hope and sheer joy amidst the dark and conflicted mess that is to be a New Zealand cricket fan. He was the spoonful of sugar that helped the medicine go down.

The final stages of Chris Harris’s international career were confused by injury, and the corporate mess of Twenty20 and his participation in the rebel Indian Cricket League. This has all threatened to obscure the dignified bowing out of this great man from the traditional realm of international cricket. Whether or not he intends to keep playing cricket at the highest level possible until he simply drops dead, he is overdue a testimonial match to draw to a symbolic close his international cricket career and usher him lovingly into the world of commentary, punditry and after-dinner speaking engagements.

If not for Chris Harris, then for me, and the thousands of other Harry connoisseurs who quietly long for the days when his inventive, determined approach and captivating scalp dominated New Zealand one day cricket.

– James Milne

10 Comments

Filed under Cricket, Dead Ball Icons, Fandom, Guest Post

It's Not Your Fault

Martin Guptil

Martin Guptil’s head hung disconsolately after his dismissal in this morning’s Twenty20, but it was Jacob Oram who should be ashamed of himself. The way The Giant meekly gave up his wicket was shameful, and you have to think his limp 12 ball 7 will be his last innings as a Black Cap.

Oram’s been a mercurial figure his whole career. For starters, a guy who’s 6’7″ should be bowling at better than military medium. When you think of tall cricketers from years gone by, the likes of Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, you think of intimidation, of bouncers which would decapitate a batsman if the blinked at the wrong time, of brutal, unswerving pace.

Oram somehow manages to bowl at 125-130 and be constantly suffering from a stress fracture or strain. How does he sustain those injuries? My grandmother is in her late 70s and not in the best shape, but I’m certain she could throw down an over or two at that pace without exacerpating anything. Throughout his career he’s been a containment bowler, pretty much interchangeable with Scott Styris, who at least has a hideous face to give him some cult appeal.

The saving grace has been his frequently savage batting. But as he last hit a half century for us over a year ago, so that’s been well and truly gone for a while now. I feel like his presence in the dressing room must be more of a hindrance now, this old, once-great war-horse creaking around, a shadow of his former potency, but refusing to admit defeat.

Instead the Black Caps wheel him out time and again with ever-fainter flickers of hope, and he gets no wickets for not too many runs, and uses 10% of our balls to score 4% of our required runs, and turns twos into singles, whic a fitter, faster, younger cricketer mightn’t have. And then we see sprightly, vibrant guys like Guptil destroyed by losing their wicket, when the only reason they’re out is because Jake couldn’t hit runs or gallop between wickets like he used to.

The team is right now in a state of flux. We have too many new cricketers (N McCullum, McGlashan, Redmond) who can’t be relied upon, and too many old nags (Oram, Styris – who also probably needs to make way) who are similarly unreliable. So the new kids who make runs (Taylor, Guptil, Ryder) and the old hands who’ve still got it (B McCullum, Vettori, Mills) have to carry far more of the burden than they’re physically capable of.

And we’re losing. By large margins. And if we’re going to lose by large margins, surely it’s better to be doing so with fresh blood in there than yesterday’s men? A young team which solidifies and learns together can end up surprising you, can gel as a unit and lift beyond its component parts. Right now, with Oram dreadfully out of form, and looking utterly disinterested, we’re breaking the young guys’ hearts and spirits.

Plus, as you can see below, Oram’s gotten a bit fat:

Jacob Oram's bum

This is the wicket’s view of him on its way down, and it caught a glimpse of an uncomfortable truth: our once fit and sexy allrounder has packed on the pounds. See that line along the middle of his buttock? That’s not musculature. That’s where his Y fronts are cutting into his arse-flesh, trying and failing to contain the jelly within.

I know there have been heaps of great fat allrounders in the past – Beefy Botham, Fattie Lehman, even Jayasuria’s not short of supplies for the winter. But Oram’s not built like that, and has only gained weight because he doesn’t care about winning anymore.

So it’s time to send him to the glue factory, we’ll make cents in the dollar, but he’ll be off our hand, and we can bring in a fresh generation of headcase allrounders to disappoint and occasionally thrill us.

– Duncan

6 Comments

Filed under Cricket

Restoring the Bond

191099

News has broken that the BCCI has decided, in its infinite benevolence, to allow its players an amnesty until May 31 to cut all ties to the ICL. This means any Indian cricketer who ended their career by signing with the rebel league can rescucitate them and make nice with the effective governors of world cricket for the next 30 or so days.

This is long overdue, and frankly the situation should never have gotten to the blacklisting stage in the first place. (As an aside, is there any sport that loves blacklisting as much as cricket? The Packer era, Apartheid rebel tours, latter-day Zimbabwe… It’s a very McCarthyist sport.)

Why should we care? Because all national boards are expected to follow suit, meaning that the glaring hole in our current team’s make up, that of a genuine strike bowler, might be filled… Yeah, Bond could be back playing for us as soon as the Twenty20 World Cup, should sanity prevail and the ridiculous ‘cooling off period’ (what are we, 12?) be abandoned. Does anyone else find the timing of this a little convenient? Continue reading

6 Comments

Filed under Cricket, News

The Phony War Is Over

[youtube:http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cU5jSKOoFo0%5D

(video irrelevant, I was just desperately trying to find something to distract from NZ’s recent on-field performance, and this worked best)

Hmmff. It seems that Short Of A Length has come out all guns blazing in the blog wars, ripping New Zealand a new one for a whole host of reasons – most, bizarrely involving Andrew Symonds (they’ve never really gotten over that little chat he had with Harbhajan over there, apparently). They’ve also asked the hard questions, like, for example, ‘Where are all the hobbits Duncan, WHERE. ARE. ALL. THE. HOBBITS???’. We’ll get to that in good time, ‘friend’.

For those mystified by the above paragraph, here’s a brief recap. While I was away sunning myself in Scotland a few weeks back I received an elecrtronic mail from a man named Antony Something-or-other, the CEO of a vast cricketing media organisation called Short Of A Length. The piece of correspondence cheerily challenged our own vast cricketing media organisation to a war of ‘words’ with his own, chiefly concerned with (but by no means limited to) the impending Indian tour of New Zealand. Being the charitable sorts that we are, we accepted graciously, despite the fact that we were fielding a solid second-string club side against an Indian squad which has at least seven future hall-of-famers amongst its number. That’s the sort of thing New Zealanders do, right? Gamely wander out to certain slaughter because, well, it’d be impolite not to. Then the unthinkable happened. Continue reading

5 Comments

Filed under Announcements, Cricket, News

Groundhog Days

big_bill_in_groundhog-731047

“Leaving the ball outside off stump is a waste of time.”

The above quote kinda summed up a Twenty20 which more-or-less rehashed the first of the series, with the same outcome – albeit via a slightly more nervewracking methodology. So why was it such a fantastically compelling game of cricket?

Firstly, the quote’s author is Virender Sehwag, whose innings of 24 off 11 versus his first game returns of 26 from 10 should have tipped us to the Punxsutawney Phil-indebted nature of the match from the start. Gambhir mirrored his first match ineffectuality, Yuvraj took over Raina’s role as the respectability provider, and Dhoni mirrored Harbhajan’s I-ate-all-the-balls knock from the Christchurch game. Final analysis: a score about 30 short of defendable again, notwithstanding the dog’s breakfast we made of chasing it down. At least the crowd was different:

rotated Continue reading

8 Comments

Filed under Cricket, News

Indian Summers

99398

Having been shivering my way through England and Scotland these past couple of weeks, with the only cricket news being that monumentally cool (if on another level ineffably sad) Stanford scandal all across the front pages – one I’m gonna try and approach that this weekend – it was something of a culture shock to arrive back to last night’s Twenty20.

Our friends over at Short of A Length have challenged us to something of a blog war over the course of the series, so I suppose it would be remiss of me not to have a good long gloat at the result of the match, one which went decidedly against forecast, and hopefully sets up a fine battle over the coming weeks. The thing I find most pleasurable about the outcome, from a very parochial perspective at least, is the extent to which I see the same gnawing issues in India’s play that plagued them during that infamous series last time they toured here. Continue reading

7 Comments

Filed under Announcements, Cricket, News

It's Just Not Cricket (It's The Wild West)

andrew-symonds_1119830c

At the end of last year, after a gruelling and brutal season, my fellow Deadball contributors and I found ourselves competing in the semi-final of our local YMCA basketball league. We were confident having played our opponent earlier in the season , dominating them in unspeakable ways. Unfortunately we lost the semi-final. Fine, we folded like the All Blacks playing France (except we didn’t have Graham Henry to blame and then forgive a month later). We take responsibility. The thing that bothered me, apart from a complete disintegration of our dignity, was that the team we played had used ring-ins for the semi-final.  In other words, the team they fielded in the semi-final was not the one we had played earlier in the season. Surely any self-respecting competition wouldn’t allow such a miscarriage of justice to occur. I mean, this is the YMCA we’re talking about, not some crack-pot international cricket competition run by the ICC.

Chris Rattue of the New Zealand Herald said this much better than I can, and without the self-indulgent sob story, but why is it OK for the ICC to allow a central tennet of sports competition to be broken? Why are they allowing ring-ins?   I’ve played in pickup games where it hasn’t been cool for a player to switch teams. Surely if it’s not OK for your local YMCA it’s just not cricket.

Bizarrely,  Symonds has emerged as the wise jester in all this insanity. Apparently it takes copious amounts of alcohol to grasp how ridiculous it is that Brendon Mccullum is allowed to play for New South Wales in the final of the Australian Twenty20 competition. Continue reading

2 Comments

Filed under Cricket