Hamilton…there won’t be a musical about this place!

Another transfer day as the tour heads for its final destination of Hamilton before heading home from Auckland this time next week.

There’s very little to say about Hamilton – it’s ok as cities go acting as a centre for the surrounding areas but it’s clearly not renowned for its tourist attractions; adding 5,000 or so England fans should bring it to life in what should be its overcrowded centre.

However the journey from Rotorua was uneventful in pleasant countryside apart from a short stop in Tirau renowned for its quaint signs and antiques. What interested me the most was the ‘home kill service’ which I took to be either a pest control service or at worse a firm of hit-men given the nature of the employees sitting outside! Turns out to be a mobile abattoir and butchering service for the local farmers etc.!

So…a few more tourist photos today before we concentrate on the cricket tomorrow.

Not quite sure about this coffee shop!

Some of the quirky advertising in Tirau

Sheep are clearly big here – the look in their eyes is worrying
Maori ‘totem’ pole Hamilton

And finally…the best of downtown Hamilton

Rotorua – a must for the bucket list

Today is a full tourist day spent in Rotorua; renowned for its geothermal action of geysers, mud pools, hot springs and so forth. A town built around these features with most of them within a reasonable travelling distance and coupled with Maori villages, it’s a tourist hit.

The town itself is somewhat nondescript but surrounding the low rise shops, malls and eateries are more hotel rooms than you can probably shake a stick at.

So very few words from me in this blog – other than you must come and see for yourself – and I’m going to let the photos do all the talking. There are loads more I could upload but then what would I have to show people when I show them my holiday snaps?

One of the world famous geysers of Rotorua- the power needed is immense
Day started with a Maori cultural show

Audience participation in learning the Haka

This weeks spellings to learn are…

Steam vent used as an oven

Mud pools – my video camera work needs attention I know!

And finally…Donald Trump appears in steam from geyser in Rotorua

Rotorua – a farter’s delight

Today was another transfer day – Tauranga to Rotorua so there are very few photos so far.

En route we stopped at a Kiwi Fruit Farm (that’s not a NZ farm selling or growing fruit but growing and selling Kiwi fruit).

There’s not much excitement in watching Kiwi fruit grow but it was fascinating to learn how they are a key agricultural product. I always thought they grew in low bushes but they are more akin to grape vines.

Kiwi fruit ‘vines’

On arrival we left our bags at the hotel and en masse rocked up at the Rotorua Skyline for a gondola ride up to the luge runs – longer than Queenstown – and the first in the world and also offers three grades of runs. After the first lesson we took the basic run but we lads weren’t content with that so went straight to the advance run for the next five runs before a final basic run.

The most amazing fun and I can confirm that in the private contest between the TM and myself (4-0 to the TM after the Queenstown leg), the final score was 7-4 to the TM; and hence a worthy winner of the inaugural Hoke Poke Ice Cream Cup for Kiwi lugeing 2019.

Hoke Poke Ice Cream Cup winner 2019

Back to the hotel and a short wander around Rotorua’s CBD.

Rotorua is renowned for its Maori history and culture as well as geothermal activity, geysers and mud pools etc. One product of this volcanic activity is the smell of bad eggs (Hydrogen Sulphide) in the air at all times. This fart-like smell or odour is a farter’s delight – I’m sure the more genteel readers I have will not understand what farts are but I guarantee every man does!

Rotorua race course (as seen from hotel balcony)
Rotorua Skyline

Well, well, well – Day 5 1st Test NZ v E Mt Manganui

I’m starting at the end since all those gathered about at the end of the match when England didn’t even manage to match BJ’s 205 all by himself, was ‘well, well, well…’ But before we get to the end…

The day dawns dry and with the prospect of being as hot as the previous days – 25C but feels 10c hotter. England need a rearguard for performance to get out of jail free here. But starting at 55/3 needing 208 more just to make NZ bat again looks a tall order.

Root doesn’t look the part and departs to one of the more stupid shots we’ve seen but cometh the hour, cometh the man -Stokes.

Lunch is taken at 98/4 – again slow in terms of run scoring but just what England needed.

Calls from some in the ex-corporate tents now used for mere mortals such as myself until the tent become too packed an like a sauna, included mass sackings, advice on how to play every ball, to detach Yorkshire from the UK and tow it out to sea and to sack Root as captain.

Roots captaincy seems to have gone backwards over the recent months – he had the benefit of the wisdom of Sir A until last summer, the egofest which is Anderson and Broad has diminished (and perhaps did his captaining for him?) and he doesn’t seem to inspire the team or spectators.

His batting has been badly affected and his additional bowling role cannot have helped but there we are. There’s no or little chirping in the field when things get tough and the whole thing just seems like ‘something to be done’. And I don’t mean just this test…the Ashes series was also poorly captained and if it were not for Stokes and a few umpiring errors…

So…does he go or does he stay?

Buttler is the only realistic alternative which is not saying a lot. The team is in transition and will continue to be so for a while. The reliance on Bairstow and Stokes to provide the batting powerhouse cannot be taken for granted.

And as for this match – bowling choices were poorly made; Archer not handled at all well – ‘just bowl bouncers’ seems to have been the order of the day – and the lack of any management when things go wrong or not as planned was too obvious. Plan A is in place and as I’ve said before Plan B is to repeat Plan A until it works! Or so it seems

Anyway, the slow pace may have upset a few spectators here and at home but the morning session was marginally England’s.

The afternoon was definitely NZ’s as first they took Stokes to a stupid loose shot (again how many times have I said this in the past five days) Denly was unlucky to have been caught off his glove, whilst Buttler (spotted last night in delights of Tauranga’s CBD) went to one of the most stupid shots ever. Curran S and Archer rallied the score from 138/8 to close to 200 but the inevitable end came with Broad lbw to a full toss. What has Broad done in this game?

Interestingly Radio NZ cricket commentary team spent most of the day debating whether England were in one-day mode, five day-save-the-test-at-all-cost mode or somewhere between and getting horribly lost? I think I know where I stand on this!

All credit though to NZ – they climbed their mountain out of trouble on Saturday morning (key session that one…especially in silence), ploughed on regardless for the rest of Saturday and almost all of Sunday (it seems 615/9 dec is their best ever score against England!). They learnt from their mistakes, played as a team and deserved their win. They can drink deep tonight from the well of victory.

Kiwi’s celebrate Root’s departure

No other candidate for MoM

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
Burns…bat too far from body!

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!