What I’ve Learned This Summer: Michael Wagener
The 2011/2012 summer of cricket is quickly drawing to a close, and in years to come, we’ll look back with sepia-tinged goggles and reminisce fondly about Pup’s three-hundred, KP’s return to form, and Doug Bracewell’s spell at Hobart. At The Sledge, we get nostalgic about things very quickly; as such, we’ve asked some of the brightest cricket writers from around the world to put together pieces on What They’ve Learned This Summer.
I’ve learned that it is fun to support a team that wins things.
As a New Zealand cricket fan I am used to supporting a team that does well, fights hard, and pulls off occasional upsets. However I’ve taken more of an interest in the domestic cricket this year, and made it along to Colin Maiden Park to watch the Auckland Aces play almost every match of the HRV cup. And we won. Convincingly. The feeling of elation that comes from watching Anaru Kitchen run from fine leg to mid wicket to take another catch, or of watching Colin de Grandhomme hit a ball out of the park is as good as watching more well-known players do similar things at a higher level.
The feeling that Auckland gave me when they beat Canterbury in the final was much better than the feeling walking away from Eden Park after New Zealand had blown the match against South Africa. The fact that I was the one who got to send out the gloating messages the next day was an added bonus. I now understand how it must have been to be an Australian fan all those years.
I’ve learned that players are not always effective at the format that they look like they will be.
Vernon Philander is medium pace bowler. Medium pace bowlers belong in limited overs cricket. Not test matches. They tie batsmen down in the boring middle overs of a ODI. They take wickets with batsmen attacking a slower ball, or surprising them with an off-cutter when they were expecting an out-swinger. They don’t take truckloads of wickets in test matches. And yet Philander did. 30 wickets in 4 matches. Destroying Australia and Sri Lanka as if their batsmen were high-school players and he was bowling 200km/h. Except he was bowling gentle little seam-ups to batsmen like Sangakkara, Ponting, Jayawardene and Hussey.
Colin de Grandhomme is a big man who looks like Roger Federer and hits a cricket ball a long way. He has a habit of hitting his first ball for 6. He also tends to result in a game being quite expensive for the home team, as he either pummels balls out of shape or hits them out of the park. It is difficult to find and use a ball once it has been hit into a river next to a cricket ground. You would think that a batsman like this would thrive in t20 cricket. If you think that you are joining the New Zealand selectors who selected him for only the t20 series. Despite his record being much better in both list A (50 over) and first class cricket. He is actually a moderately effective t20 player averaging 22 at a strike rate of 160, but this season he averaged about 70 at a strike rate of about 160 in the one day cricket, and averaging about 75 in first class cricket.
David Warner looks like he is made to open the batting in limited overs cricket. He plays odd shots, and attacks a bowler when they bowl a good length. And yet he has a test average of 52 and a one day average of 23. His approach works best in the format where the fields are not set to counter it.
All three of these players are proof that sometimes what a player looks like is not a guide to what they are good at.
I’ve learned that there is a role for specialist fielders in t20 cricket.
Specialist fielders used to be common in test cricket. They were called the wicket keeper. Couldn’t bat, couldn’t bowl, but could catch well. Now a wicket keeper who can’t bat is a liability.
However there is a new breed of player who is a throw back to an even older time: the specialist number seven/eight batsman, who only bowls occasionally, but offers something in the field or is picked for their “leadership.” Often it was someone with a title, plenty of money, and a vague talent for the game that was outmatched by their political will.
These players were the likes of Ivo Bligh, who played in 4 tests, mostly batted at 9 or 10 and never bowled, the Maharaja of Vizianagram who averaged 8.25 in his 3 tests with the bat, didn’t bowl but annoyed many people with his heavy-handed leadership or Lord Hawke who averaged 7.25 with the bat and also didn’t bowl.
George Bailey scored one half century in three years, and got picked to play for Australia. Anaru Kitchen faced only 11 balls per innings for Auckland, often batting at number 7, didn’t bowl a ball, but took as many catches as the two most prolific keepers in the competition combined.
Kitchen and Bailey are both adequate with the bat, but offer something in the field. Kitchen has incredible pace in the outfield and Alcatraz hands, and Bailey a superb tactical awareness and great captaincy skills.
The shortness of a t20 innings means that there is more scope for players like these to have a role in the game. The role may well be for more than just gentlemen who’s ambition exceeds their playing ability.
Michael Wagener is one of New Zealand’s keenest cricket writers. I’m not going to waste time writing an author line for Mike; he’s got perhaps the most endearing, relatable “About Me” waiting for you on his excellent website.
For more “Things We’ve Learned This Summer”, click here.