Posts Tagged Grant Elliott

For Grant

I first saw Grant Elliott play in 2008. New Zealand were playing England in an ODI at Old Trafford, and, batting first, had lost their top 5 batsmen for less than 50 runs. Adding insult to injury, two of those wickets had been taken by Stuart Broad, his accuracy miraculously unimpeded by his combination emo-bangs-Flock-of-Seagulls hair. Broad and Tremlett, enormously tall bowlers both, were extracting vicious rearing bounce and movement off the pitch, and the Kiwi batsmen had looked alternately clueless and frantic in the brief moments they were actually at the crease.

I was watching for Daniel Vettori. He may have batted like a man still learning how to control all four of his new prosthetic limbs, but everyone knew he was the only one who could save New Zealand.

I had never seen nor heard of Grant Elliott before – unsurprisingly, as that was only his second ODI. After leaving his native South Africa for New Zealand, doing time in domestic cricket, and playing for Weybridge in the Surrey leagues to hone his skills, he’d finally earned a call-up to the New Zealand side, as injury cover for the all-rounder  they would clearly much rather have had, Jacob Oram.

Jacob Oram is tall, burly, a well-known presence with his shambling walk and shaggy hair and broad gleaming grin, promising big hitting and salvation in the middle order. Grant Elliott, lean and rangy, walked out to the middle wearing a New Zealand kit at least two sizes too big for him, every inch a stoic yet forlorn substitute for the Real Thing, epitomizing the hopelessness of the cause. A club cricketer being unceremoniously tossed to the wolves that had decimated the heavyweights, his presence barely registered. A bored-sounding Geoffrey Boycott mentioned that, though this was Elliott’s second ODI, it would be his batting debut, then promptly resumed talking about how terrible New Zealand were. He didn’t mention that though Elliott hadn’t batted in his debut ODI (rain had curtailed New Zealand’s innings) he had bowled…well enough to return figures of 3-23, claiming Owais Shah, Paul Collingwood and Luke Wright. Perhaps Boycott didn’t remember, or thought it wasn’t relevant. Surely one of Broad, Tremlett or Anderson would take out the newcomer and the England juggernaut would roll on.

Two dot balls, a few moments of Daniel Flynn’s wild slashing, and Elliott was facing up to red-hot Stuart Broad. A ricocheting short ball sent him leaping, arching back as it whistled past his helmet, far too close for comfort. Broad grinned his best version of a shark’s smile; and I saw Elliott smile also, wide and easy, considering, amused…relaxed. It wasn’t a shaky grin of false bravado, or the sweaty anxious involuntary grimace-smile of a newbie who knows he is cannon fodder. Suddenly the overlarge shirt, not being Jacob Oram, and the direness of the situation didn’t seem to matter. He resumed his stance, touched his bat to the deck. Looked up again, directly at Broad standing at the top of his runup, and smiled again, even wider this time. A lopsided, Han Solo smile.

Bring it on.

He didn’t set the ground alight that day with explosive hitting. Grant Elliott is not that kind of player, quite, and Brendon McCullum had already tried that only to hole out for 17. What he did instead was stay at the crease, calmly leaving good deliveries and putting away bad ones, remaining as Flynn, Hopkins and even Vettori the saviour came and went in quick succession. When Kyle Mills opened up and began to hit long and hard, Elliott let him, concentrating on his self-imposed task. Leave good balls, hit anything that’s there to be hit. Only at the end of the penultimate over, in a bid for a final quick haul of runs, did he go, misjudging only slightly, but enough for Luke Wright to hold the catch a step in from the boundary.  He’d made 52, but he’d stayed for 102 balls and over 2 hours.

Later in the day, he would run in, send down a fast fullish delivery to Chris Tremlett, and watch it balloon up off the top edge of the bat directly into his captain’s hands – his second wicket, winning the game for New Zealand with 22 runs to spare, and he’d smile again, a huge triumphant grin as his teammates mobbed him.

He wouldn’t be remembered for any of that, though. Five minutes at the Oval ensured that Grant Elliott would be permanently stamped That Guy Ryan Sidebottom Smashed Into and Paul Collingwood Screwed Over. Even as Mark Gillespie hit the winning runs, in the glorious chaos as Kyle Mills completed the run and leapt, punching the air, and the usually mild-mannered Daniel Vettori, who had sat glowering with cold, barely-suppressed rage on the balcony though the final overs, sprang to his feet screaming obscenities and pounding the railings with clenched fists, the cameras only briefly caught Elliott, laughing with joy before disappearing into a tangle of hugging New Zealanders.

The next time I saw him, he steadily took New Zealand to victory against Australia at Melbourne in the Chappell Hadlee series, and I wondered if he’d do it again to give them the series in Sydney.

I didn’t see the Han Solo smile in Sydney. The Sydney innings was pure grit, and running. Lots and lots of running. Watching big-hitting batsmen rack up boundary-runs is what people seem to want to see, but I couldn’t stop watching Elliott, sweating profusely, chest heaving, pale eyes intense and staring in his narrow dark face, pounding the SCG pitch. Always forcing one more run, darting in and out of the crease in a way that most Indian batsmen can’t even visualize as part of an aspirational yoga excercise, tempo never easing until a final, tired swing at the death found Michael Hussey at deep midwicket. He sweated and bled for his runs the same way Iain O’Brien did for his wickets, because he had to.

I was riveted.

He became a stabilizer, a composed middle-order striker with correct, technical strokes and the ability to stay at the crease instead of perishing in a flurry of misguided shots. And he kept chipping in with the ball, economically bowling wicket to wicket, getting swing, prising out a wicket here, two more there, a strong solid extra bowler. And every now and then, breaking through the earnest intentness: the incongruous wide, lopsided Han Solo grin – a misplaced swashbuckler’s smile.

The Champions’ Trophy would be the pinnacle. A ripping bowling spell, produced out of nowhere, in his home city of Johannesburg, was more of a joyous fairy tale than you ever usually get in real life, a bellow of incredulous jubilation ringing out at each wicket. After the high, he was out for just 3 at New Zealand’s turn at bat, which went mostly unremarked on in the wake of the Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill blitzkrieg that carried New Zealand through to the semis. It emerged later that a spitting delivery from Stuart Broad had snapped his thumb. It was still broken as he fought his way to an unbeaten 75 in the semifinal, and as he shook hands with a Pakistan team gracious in defeat.

The thumb was the beginning of what looks to be the end. Injuries forced him out of the New Zealand side at the highest point of his rise, and the window closed. In 2011, he was 32, still fighting injuries, and not selected for the Test or ODI teams, remaining instead captain of the domestic Wellington Firebirds.  In that capacity, a few days ago, he reached 188 not out against the Central Stags in the Plunket Shield, breaking free of a lean run of form, just shy of a maiden first-class 200. He then declared the innings, remaining on 188, to give his team the best chance of bowling out the opposition for victory in the rapidly worsening weather.

It didn’t work. It’s difficult for a non-player like me to comprehend the frustration of something like that, but despite the fact that it’s kind of heartbreaking, it’s reassuring in a way. It’s always nice when an awesome, classy player does something to remind you of that fact about himself.

Grant Elliott turned 33 yesterday, which is why I’m writing this. Because I was a fan ever since that first ODI and that first awesome Han Solo smile, all the way through. Because I still listen to Plunket Shield on the radio in the middle of the night to see how the Firebirds are going with him at the helm. Because cricket is great at fêting its rockstars and celebrities, but usually ignores the quietly classy, and the gritty, driven guys who do the hard unglamorous stuff well. For reasons I can’t begin to understand, ESPNcricinfo  didn’t include Grant Elliott’s birthday on their list of notable happenings in cricket for the 21st of March. I’m not sure why they didn’t feel they needed to acknowledge him, but they didn’t, and it’s not the first thing they’ve done that I disagree with, but it is something I can combat. So I wrote this.

For Grant.

Happy birthday, GE.

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Return of the Mac

I just referenced a song in this post title that was released in 1996. FOURTEEN. YEARS. AGO.

I am SO OLD.

…anyway.

You’re probably expecting me to talk about Brendon McCullum now. You would be entirely justified in this expectation (and yes, I’m very aware of how many times I have used the word ‘expectation’ and its alternate conjugations here in the last few days, it has in fact started to lose all meaning for me) since, of course, Baz done good today. He’s been persona non grata a little bit for his decision to quit keeping, at which he is undeniably excellent, and for being all reputation and no runs of late. Going out to bat against the world’s number one Test side and scoring a shitload of runs is obviously the best way to counter this sort of thing, which is exactly what Baz did and bloody good on him for doing it.

But it’s the other Mac that has drawn my interest. The inconspicuous Mac. Mac the Lesser. Also known (by me, in my head, involuntarily, every time I see him or hear his name mentioned) as TIMMAY!*

Tim McIntosh.

Tim McIntosh is a bit of a cipher. He’s New Zealand’s Test opener, but no-one really knows anything about him – most people, even those who watch cricket regularly, probably couldn’t pick him out of a lineup. Yet in the past year he’s not done too badly – scoring 4 50s (and twice – against Australia and Bangladesh – getting agonizingly close to 100s) in addition of course to coming off a pair to score 102 and 49 against India in Hyderabad. This relative annonymity is quite possibly because unlike the Big Mac (sorry) Brendon McCullum, he isn’t exactly an electric batsman. (Cricinfo’s profile of him calls him ‘a graduate of the Mark Richardson School of Batting,’ which pretty much sums it up.) It is just so typical of the fate of guys like him that when he does something awesome, like score a century and a fifty in the same match after coming off a pair, flashier stars like Baz, Harbhajan, and Chris Gayle swoop in to eclipse him.

Not here, though. Today I celebrate the achievement of quiet, unassuming Timmy Mac. He took on the top Test side in the world on home turf with the axe hanging over his head, and if it wasn’t for him, New Zealand could well have fared far worse in this match.

A footnote: People who know me should have suspected I wouldn’t let this go unmentioned: my beloved Grant Elliott – now CAPTAIN of the Wellington Firebirds, bitches! – has just scored 122 against Northern Districts in the NZ Plunket Shield. It is possible that the percentage of my readership that cares about this is less than 3%, and that’s being optimistic, but you know what? I don’t care! GO GRANT ELLIOTT! WHOO!

 

*I know, I KNOW. I’m a horrible person for this. Tim McIntosh is a fine upstanding and rather hot specimen of a man in the peak of physical and mental health. I AM NOT PROUD, OK?! IT IS AN INVOLUNTARY MENTAL ASSOCIATION!

 

 

 

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Hurts so good

Bangladesh v. New Zealand.

This is not, I will admit, a contest to set the world on fire. Certainly not in comparison to India v. South Africa, which starts the day after the first ODI at Napier and will in all likelihood draw the attention of most of the cricket-watching world, including probably a good number of less-than-patriotic Bangladeshis and Kiwis. (Yeah, you know who you are. Shame on you.)

Logically, it shouldn’t have been a tough call, which series to watch. On one hand, my national side, riding an unprecedented wave of not-being-crap, facing a wounded, cornered tiger of a South African team: one supremely confident side on home turf facing one with a severely dented collective ego to rebuild and an extremely large point to prove. Both high-ranking teams with explosive, brilliant players. There is no way that this series will fail to entertain.

By contrast, there is New Zealand facing Bangladesh – the perennial runners-up versus the eternal optimists. New Zealand are, as has become the norm for them, without several of their key players because of injuries – Jesse Ryder, Shane Bond, Kyle Mills and one of my personal favourites, Grant Elliott (yes, really. Shut up! He’s awesome), are all MIA, which has the effect of making the series much less interesting (to me, anyway) while affecting the probable outcome very little. Because Bangladesh have just been pounded into the ground, then dragged back out only to be fed through a meat grinder and then tossed down a mine-shaft by India, and New Zealand have turned winning ODIs while shedding players like autumn foliage into something of an art form. Making predictions in cricket is a fool’s game, but you’d be hard-pressed to come up with a convincing rationale for this being anything other than a series weighted heavily in the Kiwis’ favour.

So, no contest, right? India-SA all the way. Unfortunately, no. Because I love NZ, and I love Bangladesh possibly even more, so I’ll be watching every moment, if not necessarily from the edge of my seat. This might seem like a good thing, in that either way a side I like is going to come out on top at the end of it all, but in actual fact it’s an extremely surreal feeling. I’m not entirely sure that I like it. When New Zealand pummelled Bangladesh to a pulp at the T20 in Hamilton, I experienced something of an epiphany: this must be what genuine, bona fide masochism feels like. There’s the pleasure of your side sailing effortlessly to a thumping win, mixed in with the simultaneous anguish of your side suffering a thorough walloping.  It’s probably not quite on the level of whips and chains and weird arrangements of rope, but I’d be willing to bet it’s on the low end of the same scale.

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DO. NOT. WANT.

So this was announced yesterday, so it’s already old news, but somehow I’d missed it until right now, so for me the horror and nausea are all too fresh.

NO. OH HELL NO.

First it was India in Sri Lanka. Then it was the Compaq Cup. By some miracle, they managed not to play each other at all in the Champions’ Trophy or the World T20, but then we had Sri Lanka in India. And then, because they still hadn’t had enough of gazing into each others’ eyes across a flat deck, we got the Tri-Nations series with Bangladesh. That adds up to three Tests, five T20s, and FIFTEEN GODDAMNED ODIs. In a single year.

The reason for this is apparently to ‘fill the void’ in their fixtures calendar for 2010, which occurs during a period in which all the other major countries have prior commitments. Would a little lateral thinking have killed you, powers-that-be of Sri Lanka? I mean, hell, Zimbabwe are struggling, they just lost a series to Bangladesh, but they have Mark Vermeulen back, and he’s gone through hell and back to play for his country again, so why not them? Anything but this.

Please don’t misunderstand, I love the Lankans. Kumar Sangakkara is one of the more fascinating and charismatic leaders currently playing, and I personally look upon Muttiah Muralitharan as a delightful gift to mankind from some benevolent cosmic force. But all the same, if I have to watch them play another ODI against India before at least another year is out I’m going to set my eyeballs on fire.

Edit: Meanwhile, New Zealand cricket brings us a dose of much needed levity in the form of this story, about a NZ player who has been fined for a “foul-mouthed outburst” mid-match.  Leaving aside all debate about whether this is a boneheaded and/or over-prudish stance (it is) and whether New Zealand are being too harsh on the player in question (they are), it does beg one question: the Kiwis aren’t particularly known for being foul-mouthed bad boys, so who was it? Did Daniel Vettori have an involuntary flashback to that fateful day at the Oval and erupt into a profane (yet sexy) tirade, images of a stricken (yet sexy) Grant Elliott dancing before his eyes? It was during a domestic match, so could it have been Craig McMillan, the salty old dog. No, none of those? Then who?

It was…wait for it…Tim Southee.

The 21-year-old farm kid from Whangarei, who looks like this:

…yeah. Not so adorable now, is he?

Oh no, wait, he totally is.

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