The independent voice of cricket

New Zealand v West Indies

You won’t realise how much you missed Test cricket until you watch this incredibly tight leave

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 3 minute read

Test cricket just hits different when it’s played in New Zealand.

There’s something uniquely charming about watching Test cricket in the Land of the Long White Cloud, where there are grass banks pockmarked by supporters rather than stands packed to the rafters. The luscious green bleeds onto the outfield, and in this case the pitch, making the surroundings an extension of the playing field, rather than somehow separate. It’s an ambience that makes the action seem both incidental and enthralling all at the same time. For some, it’s in the background until there’s something to take notice of, then perhaps a speckle of applause before the leaning back on their hands. For others, it’s the perfect environment for properly focussed observation, with the battle high-quality and the distractions few.

Even just it’s existence, knowing that in some corner of the globe there are two sets of mild-mannered men in whites going toe to toe for six hours a day over five days, is enough, and the first Test against West Indies is shaping up to be a classic of the genre. You don’t have to have seen a ball of Kane Williamson’s innings for it to bring you comfort. You can just look at the first day scorecard, which saw him head to stumps 97 not out, and an impression is immediately evoked, of poise and balance, of caress and deftness, patience and caution, of impeccable negotiation of a capable attack on a testing surface. That he went onto make 251 is almost indecent. Save some for the rest of the summer Kane, because God knows we’ll need it.

And yet that wasn’t even the best part. That honour fell to a leave-alone by Tom Blundell, and in particular, a gorgeous slo-mo replay after the fact. Everything is aligned. The feet move, drawn towards the ball even as the hands shy away, covering for any movement as the delivery angles in. Even after it passes by, the back foot continues to move across, until the bottom halves of the leg and middle stumps are visible.

In truth, Blundell probably didn’t expect the miss to be as near as it was. Kemar Roach is one of the most skilful seamers going, and he did absolutely everything right to engineer a misjudgement. Well, almost everything. But then they say there are only two types of leave. Watching at home, this was a very, very good one.

Stick the sound on, and you’ll hear a commentator in the background orgasm in Kiwi. “That has missed by a coat of polyurethane,” says another, inflected with the perfect amount of twang. Roach bites his chain and smiles in bemused frustration, before putting it behind him and walking back to his mark. There’s plenty more to follow. Absolute heaven.

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