Bumbling along…Day 4 NZ v E

Today was a statto’s delight.

And after the most bizarre evening ever in Tauranga last night, some stability was needed. Words cannot explain the events at one of the local hostelries other than try to imagine Kafka met Fred Astaire in a Python movie. I should stress that I was not involved but Dad dancing of the worst kind accompanied by some of the oldest dancers I’ve ever seen with wheelie bins being brought into the pub and all to the accompaniment of a small pseudo-rock trio gives you just a flavour. I’ll never be able to listen to ‘all right now’ ever again with thinking of Tauranga.

So what’s the relevance of these events to the test match I hear you ask? Well let me say that the most exciting thing about the morning session was Aggers on TMS being given a cake!

Neither side wanted, it seemed, to force the match. No wickets fell for 58 runs in two hours shows how exciting it was. As expected the crowd was smaller – there are other delights to experience here – and no fancy dress to note. This brings the score to 452/6 as the batsmen grind on and England’s bowlers reflect the overall body language of the team – silence!

England seem to have miscalculated when the second new ball was due since all the quicks had already been used (aka flogged to death) and really have no plan (just like the Barmy’s vocals for their Archer song – just ‘Jofra Archer followed by a lot of clapping.

The discussion turns to when the declaration will come and what will England need to save the game. Instructions have been given over lunch as NZ move through the gears to reach 590/7 at tea. Santner being the only wicket after he makes a test best of 126 and his maiden century. BJ by tea reaches 200no – again his best test score. But they added 237 for the 7th wicket – the best for NZ in all tests ever!

I told you it’s a stattos delight! England were basically clueless during the afternoon session- it looked like men against boys! Even the barmies started to leave!

And still no declaration!

But at tea, the Sky boys having done their bit head back but Bumble is intrigued by the impromptu game in the banks and joins in showing everyone that at 72, he has still got it! Will this be the best by an England batsman today?

He’s still got it! Ward looks on longingly

A somewhat useless short session after tea see NZ reach 615/9 declared as they tried to speed things up. BJ was eventually out for 205 and – brace yourself- it was the third best score by a Kiwi in tests ever; and was the longest innings by a Kiwi in tests in terms of balls faced or minutes at the crease – and he beat his own record!

England weren’t the only ones going up the wall!

So England need 252 to make NZ bat again or to bat for a day and a session for a draw.

This is what causes the ‘smoke’

All was well for a while until Sibley nibbled a wide one from Santner, Burns miscued a top edge catch and Leach sent in as night watchman was out on the last ball of the day – 55/3 reads the score! If England score 200 I’ll be surprised. Scoreboard pressure is playing with their minds as well as more effective bowling by NZ – having gone 11 home test innings without a spinner taking a wicket and Santner has three already.

Burns miscues a top edge

Bumbling by England, focus by NZ – this is only going one way.

Leach goes to the last ball of the day

Watling – puts NZ streets ahead – Day 3 NZ v E

Test cricket is just that – a test; a test for players and often a test for spectators and today was one of those days with only two wickets to fall all day as NZ moved from 144/4 to 394/6.

Interestingly the first session was played in almost complete silence – as if prayers had been called — and given the reasonable crowd and number of locals, it felt most odd.

Also there was a DRS review which was in process when then on field umpire then repeated his original decision. Does that they nullify any decision by the DRS official or is DRS all powerful? Interesting question?

NZ reach 224/5 at lunch with Nicholls the only wicket (and that to Root – his bowling has probably been his best suit so far…batting and captaincy seem to lack a lot.)

Root in full flight

Watling is still there – slowly progressing, nurdling and nudging; playing the perfect innings for his side but he is an annoying player – not in the Steve Smith fidget sense – but in his limpet like approach. Ideal for test cricket!

The new ball is taken immediately after lunch (the morning session probably honours even) but could have been taken just before lunch but there we are. Curran S was given the honour with Broad at the other end but like all new ball spells here, there was very little for the faster bowlers. Watling and de GrandHomme both reach their 50s – the latter coming from behind to reach his first.

The afternoon session was really tough – the heat was oppressive, for everyone and with no cover or shelter every shadow space was taken.

Tea is taken at 315/5 – deffo NZ’s session – and as I walked round the ground seeking shelter and rehydration, I noticed the third element of a TMS favourite come into view – from this ground you can see regular trains, boats and planes! Oh for my Blowers of long ago!

So…the question for the afternoon I kept asking was – why not use Stokes? And lo and behold, first ball after tea Stokes takes the second wicket of the day – de GrandHomme for a fine 70.

Spin tends not to win matches in NZ – NZ spinners have not taken a wicket at home for the last 11 innings! So why was Leach used so much? Anyway, ours is not to reason why…

And that was England’s last success of the day – Archer seemed to think that bowling a bouncer almost every ball, or look as if he’s planning to was the way to take wickets and as a result got tonked about a bit. Broad was economical, Stokes all heart as ever and Leach…

Meanwhile as the England body language seemed to speak volumes, Watling just carried on and on and on…ending the day at 119no (the first time a NZ keeper has made centuries in consecutive tests) and Santander on 31no – 394/6 and a lead of 41.

A draw seems the only likely result but two quick wickets tomorrow and a fine century opening stand…then anything is possible; all we need to be is resolute in standing up to the test!

But Watling is taking NZ streets ahead!

Watling getting low to avoid the bouncer – but must also lower the periscope!

And the collective noun for a group of fancy dress bishops (boys and girls) is…?

Please form an orderly queue!

Shade…any shade!

Watling reaches his 100 – and celebrates; as do the locals strangely dressed in onesies?

The perfect way to watch test cricket – on the embankment, sitting on a low-lying bean bag/chair. All I need now is someone to bring me gins and tonics on a regular basis and…all would be right with the world!

Opportunities missed and grasped – Day 2 1st test NZ v E

The second day dawned sunny and bright and with the prospect of the mercury reaching 25C – this is no UK style heat, it will feel a lot more and sunburn watch is the order of the day. So much so that ANZ Bank are sponsoring the sunscreen process at the Test and offering free lotion to anybody and everybody – how much sense does that make? Why don’t we do this in the UK where all cancers and especially skin ones can be so devastating?

In England you need to arrive at the test venue in sufficient time for a) public transport to have delivered you there and b) the stringent security to get into the ground. Here you need to arrive early to a) park your car – or even bike! And b) take in all your picnic chairs and equipment to gain the best spots!

I needed to purchase an umbrella to day – not for any rain but to keep the sun off as there is minimal cover or shade at the ground – another new one for me!

The match starts on time with England pootling along quite nicely until a bit of high cloud cover, extra swing to the ball and Stokes holes out for 91 when a century was there for the taking.

Pope soon follows for 29, Curran S for a golden duck and Archer for very few – leaving England in a mild state of confusion at 301/8 – losing 4 for 60 in just over an hour. A question for my cricket followers…why does Archer bat at no 9? Even Broad in his current batting form/style is better than him?

Broad in full flight – batting!

Anyway, Buttler controls the scoring up to lunch, keeping Leach away from the strike (didn’t Leach do well at Lords and Leeds last summer and knows how to wield a bat?).

Buttlers shot of his innings
Well done Jack Leach!

Southee bowled well – nearly a hat trick and as lunch looms it’s 329/8 – missed opportunities by England this morning and grasped ones by NZ (as opposed to those they missed yesterday).

Post lunch England fold for 353 with Buttler trying to control the strike but with 8 batsman out caught England are some 50 short of what they could have been. Southee takes 4/88 and de GrandHomme bowled 23 overs at 1.8 – the second string bowlers are key here.

By tea NZ reach 50/1 with no real issues – Williamson just accumulating runs, Broad and Archer looking ok but Curran S makes up for his earlier misdemeanour.

Williamson v Archer

But class shows!

Drinks at the third session sees NZ 106/3 some 80 minutes after tea but Taylor was suckered into a catch in the deep but Williamson just keeps going – 50 at least is on the cards.

Just as I think that he gets a brute from Curran and is gone for 51. Archer is brought back for the last 20 minutes or so to soften up the middle order as NZ reach 144/3 off 51 overs at the end of the extended day and I’m done out of three overs entertainment and no one seems to care! Over a season that can be a lot to lose!

The pitch is beginning to show some inconsistent and variable bounce and, as the locals say, we’ve never had a five day game on one pitch here before, it could get interesting.

England are in the box seat especially with the big guns back in the Pavilion but who knows?

Apparently it’s normal to dress up as a nun with a top hat and goggles in Somerset on a Friday!

Day of firsts

Today is the first day of the first test between NZ and England. The first ever at Bay Oval Mount Manganui and a test debut for Dominic Sibley (England). And my first day of watching a test in NZ and what surroundings!

After the now-usual prelims, England batted after winning the toss with Burns and Sibley. Clearly the new approach is to score more runs than the opposition as opposed to scoring them more quickly, so the first hour sees the score reach 30/0 facing some fine Kiwi fast bowling.

From my viewpoint it wasn’t clear if the ball was doing anything but moving position to be with the ‘locals’ on the surrounding embankments and avoiding the harsh reflective sunlight at the first position, it’s clear that there’s more bounce from the Mountain End rather than the City End. Local colour just adds to the day and chatting to a Kiwi, I discovered he had just sold his cow, and would have more time therefore to go to the cricket!

Lunch arrives at 61/1 off 29 overs – Sibley gone for 22; he will go a long way I’m sure whilst Burns (who was out but given not out and no DRS) seemed to lack his usual fluency and is fishing a lot outside his off stump. Denly looks more composed.

And what a delight – the crowd was invited to walk round the outfield at lunch! Just wonder upon wonder and brilliant marketing to encourage the paying public.

The afternoon session ground out to 120/3 by tea – loose shot from Burns after his 50, and another loose shot from Root for 2. But this brings the current English superman to the crease. In the meantime Denly is approaching his 50. The bowling continued to be tight and chances went begging but at tea both sides would be happy.

The last session saw Denly leave late in the day for 74 after adding a hundred plus with Stokes who then took advantage of a tiring attack eager for the new ball to go to his 50 and beyond.

The day ends at 241/4 – England the happier no doubt but two quick wickets tomorrow morning and the complexion changes! NZ will need the new ball to work for them. Their bowlers were unlucky and will bowl worse than today and have better figures but that’s the game we love so much.

The projection is for a draw and given the generally benign nature of the pitch that’s probably a good call but we’ll see.

‘Now Jofra just don’t do anything stupid which could prevent you from playing’
First ball at Bay Oval
Sibley
Burns…bat too far from body!

Stokes
Not quite sure what’s happening at the salt factory!

But for me today was a first and a second – the first as above and the second time I’ve been able to lay down flat at a test match, spread out and watch the game – pure bliss!

Mount Manganui – the English men who went up a hill and came down…

Today is the last day of the ‘tourist’ stuff before the serious point of the trip starts – namely the first ever test at Mount Manganui (Mt M) in the Bay of Plenty.

Having had a travel day yesterday from Queenstown to Tauranga – uneventful flights except for the a) the opportunity to travel in a prop plane and b) no bag security checking for the ‘local’ flight, today had to be a bit of exploring, climbing the mountain and then recovering!

A walk from Tauranga into Mt M added to the collection of the total number of walks and steps taken over the past week as this is clearly a country where fitness is a priority!

We stumbled across a coffee shop where we found Mark Ramprakash huddled in the corner over an early lunch, girded our loins again and prepared ‘properly’ this time for an assault on the mountainside. The climb is 232m from ground level to summit and a choice of treks – ‘simple’ to ‘vertical’ – we chose the former even though it was still over 2km long!

A mural part way up Mt Manganui

The track started on a reasonable incline but soon progressed to close on a 10% gradient if not steeper and given our collective youth, we decided that frequent breaks to admire the sheep, view and have a drink were essential. One of the group decided to add a drama to the climb by falling down, and given the incline, was potentially heading to fly off the mountainside (H and S counts for little here!) but I managed to grab him before he flew past!

So…on we trekked, stopping to ask others who were on the way down how much further but when told us that they had seen a guy weighing 180Kg at the top, we each knew we could do it!

And do it we did! The views were spectacular as you will see below. Yours truly managed to fall over (on the flat bit at the top) and grazed my elbow removing a layer of skin, but I’ll survive. (The excellent local pharmacist was brilliant and recommended a Manuka honey and oil potion).

Stunning views
The gradient os about 1 in 10 if not steeper!

Ok…I’m trying to keep the camera level but just look at the slope on the horizon!
The view from the top!
The view from the bottom – 47 storeys below the top!
The cricket ground can just be seen on the right!

The trip down was more stressful on the legs – the mountain is the equivalent of a 47 storey building! But another fall/trip on the way down gives JA a 2-1-0 lead in the competition to see who can fall down mountains the most!

By the time we had reached the town at the bottom of MT it was filling up with English cricket supporters – you can tell them a mile off (probably me too!) so there should be a good English support for the test starting tomorrow when the blog reverts to cricketing matters. Steve Finn as also spotted in town (Middlesex and England followers will know who I mean).

But fear not dear reader, Rotorua is on the plan for next week and has a longer and faster luge than Queenstown – and more accidents too (so, said the pharmacist) as well as some geysers, hot springs, mud pools and volcanic activity but when it comes to shaking the earth, we English have got it covered in Mount Manganui!

Craziness in a crazy town – who’d notice?

Queenstown is world renowned for the place where bungy jumping first started and the craziness has just grown from there. Here you can throw yourself off any and every height. Paragliding, bungy jumping, white water rafting, mountain biking are just a few.

However, the group enjoyed hurtling down a mountainside on the luge track last week so much that we decided to spend our last full day here being completely crazy and having this thrill several times.

Completely crazy but who’d notice? One young person asked our advice about the luge and clearly didn’t believe how crazy we were/are! I’m taking that as the ultimate compliment in this crazy place.

However, the views from the gondola and the top of the mountain are even more striking than before; in essence they change with such regularity as the weather changes that no two days or even hours are the same.

So…hurtling myself six times down the luge track was just the greatest fun and thrill…even allowing for the cold wind on the chair lift and its unscheduled stopping at times. If…no, when you come to NZ and Queenstown you MUST try the luge…and remember ‘once is never enough’!

A few more photos showing the sheer beauty of this place. Probably no blog tomorrow as it’s a travel day in readiness for the First Test. So, tourist readers beware…cricket takes over by the end of the week!

There’s gold in those hills!

New Zealand is a country of many discoveries and today’s is the Otago gold rush of the 1860s! Did you know there was one? No…? Me neither! So today we went looking for gold in those hills…or to be more precise, those rivers!

But first a contrast – overnight rain had disappeared and dried out leaving overcast skies at dawn but snow on the mountain across the road (well, lake actually). So compare this view with that from last Friday.

Snow overnight

We have the hire car for the last day today and asked the locals where’s a nice place for a half day out. They recommended Arrowtown (about 25km away) as a ‘Western type’ town. And Western as in John Wayne and not Cornwall. And we were not disappointed as the following show. It’s a true Victorian colonial type rural/mining settlement built by gold diggers and seems to be thriving as a tourist and retail venue today.

Arrowtown

Miners cottages
Farmers market

To aid comparison – think Hahndorf, Adelaide and Niagara on the Lake, Ontario and I’m sure somewhere in the UK.

The group decide to walk one of the old trails – nominally 8km and 3 hours for ‘fit and able’ walkers but care was advised. Off we set – in the wrong direction! I need to remember that the sun is in the North at midday! It’s mucking up my internal compass no end!

After 30 mins, we’d made it to the first resting point before heading almost vertically up the mountainside. Now, without wishing to disparage my walking colleagues – none of us were prepared for such terrain, none of us are experienced walkers and none of us will see our 20th birthday again unless we’re cryogenically frozen and brought back to life!

So we decided after an hour that discretion was the better part of valour and it would be British and proper to know when we’re faced with overwhelming odds! Coming down the mountain was more physical than going up but the views in each direction were worth it. I hope you agree.

Refreshed by a local ice cream we headed back to return the hire car but stopped at the Edith Cavell bridge to watch the fast boats in the gorge. You can just about make out the look of fear in the faces of the paying passengers!

Edith Cavell bridge
And you can just see the fear in their…

The return of the hire car was fraught with challenge but that’s for another forum! All I’ll say is jobsworths are everywhere!

I’m sure they had them in the Gold Rush but what’s certain is that this country and this trip keeps coming up with gold medal standard stuff – not least the Otago ‘burgundy’ at dinner last night.

Marathon coach trip but well worth it.

Today’s escapade is a trip to Milford Sound, one of the most beautiful spots on the planet (or so the theory goes). And it gives the group the chance to escape the Queenstown International Marathon (yes, I didn’t know it held a world famous marathon either but with the gradient on many roads being almost vertical it gives itself to such activity). It will snarl up the whole town for the day, and probably tomorrow.

And since our tour manager, whilst aiming to improve his fitness is some way off marathon class levels, hadn’t entered the marathon off we go on a 270km each way journey to Milford. Total time is expected to be close to 13 hours but includes a boat trip and lunch so marathon sitting and watching the countryside pass is the order of the day.

Two hours plus and we reach Te Anau on the very edge of Fiordland National Park for a short pit stop before we set out again.

Te Anau and it’s rare bird!

The Park is renowned for its scenic beauty as well as being some of the locations for the Lord of the Rings series.

The last toilet break before Milford is at Knobs Flat and precedes some splendiferous scenery as we cross the snow line and come across remnants of last winters snow and ice lingering in the spring rains.

Knobs flat

The coach driver is keen that we keep to time since the 13h30 lunch cruise will leave without us if we are late! But as he keeps a running commentary he offers further stops for scenery, waterfalls, history and the like.

Cascade Creek

At The Chasm we stop to view the falls.

Incidentally it rains here almost every day and the waterfalls as they cascade as rivulets down the mountains are quite dramatic but we can’t stop where you like for some really clever photos as it’s avalanche country and stopping is not allowed.

Mountainside rivulets becomes water falls and then vanish within hours of rain stopping

If it doesn’t rain, most falls dry up within hours. But at the Chasm what starts as medium rainfall turns instantly into a thunder burst and even the best waterproof gear is useless. I arrive back at the coach as if I’d had a shower with my clothes on and windows steam up as we venture on.

I trust that the photos which follow justify my drenching!

The Chasm

Undeterred we plough on and reach Milford on time. The instructions given for the boat trip are clear and I gain the feeling that I’m being processed as part of a major tourist operation. Some 750,000 people visit Milford each year and given there’s very little else there, it’s mass people processing.

Our boat returns to the dock at – not before- the scheduled time, our coach is ready and the next batch wait for processing. There may be a time when numbers have to be restricted.

Nonetheless Milford lives up to its billing – it is quite special and even more spectacular on a sunny day but there’s something that doesn’t quite gel with me. Not sure what that is.

Milford Sound – the mist is from the Bowen Falls

Milford Sound – mean and moody today

We end the day – some 13 hours after we set off – in bright warm sunshine as the journey back to Queenstown ends. The scenery just gets ever more spectacular not least as the sun and cloud move round to reveal even more landscapes and features. It’s almost as if Mother Nature is trying to tell us something.

If you don’t have NZ on your bucket list…add it! You won’t be disappointed.

Adrenalin rush and the offer of a male strippers uniform

You just never know what’s going to happen next or what you’ll come across here in NZ!

Today’s weather was forecast to be the best of the days the tour’s stopping in Queenstown so it had to be the gondola Skyline ride.

Open the curtains in my room and this is the view!

Friends and family will tell you of my irrational fear of heights and in particular large structures held up by ‘string’ (or so it appears to me but it’s actually proper steel cables etc.) typified best by my dislike of the Dartford Bridge on the M25. I know it’s been there for years but one day…

You can just about see the string for the cable car as they climb vertically!

Anyway, loins girded the cable car to the top was uneventful and even calm for me (as I wasn’t looking down). But the views from the top were stunningly spectacular even for NZ! Sample glimpses follow…

Intriguingly there are various activities you can do at the top of this mountain – cycle down, paraglide off or even bungy jump (after all Queenstown is the world capital for such crazy things) but the one that looked the most sensible was the mountain top luge – or to be more precise a low slung carbon fibre moulded trolley with wheels and a brake which you could use as you hurtle down the preordained tracks.

So after watching others – including small children and aged others – managing to do this without risk to life or limb, it has to be done – not once but twice! But it meant each ascent up above the gondola was by ski-lift. Again, another structure held up by string! But it had to be done!

Suitable for all ages

But wowee! Brilliant! Massive adrenaline rushes both times and fear of stringed structures probably allayed.

And even those dressed as clowns!

A walk around the centre of Queenstown after the gondola descent brought this exclusive group to a fancy dress/party goods shop since our tour leader is planning more fun and needed feathers, a hi-vis jacket and balloons! Heaven knows what’s in store!

Whilst browsing an elderly lady overheard our conversations as to what we were looking for and handed me a male strippers costume (or rather lack of it) to consider! The goods were returned to the shelves as I want to leave NZ next month with an unblemished character!

Even more stunning views – lakeside

Goodness only knows what tomorrow brings when we head to Milford Sound!

Just tourist stuff today

Just a few photos taken at a few stops on the car journey from Fox Glacier to Queenstown.

The problem here is that you don’t know what fantastic views are just round the corner and each day’s scenery is better and more breathtaking than the last! When will it end?

In 200 miles today the scenery went from mountains to seaside, then to mountains and river valleys/gorges then lakes, highland areas reminiscent of the Peak District but more spectacular then to lake views, lakeside towns, vineyards, cheeseries, more gorges then to the splendour that is Lake Wakatipu (Queenstown). Just stunning from start to end!