‘Million dollar baby’

Southpaw Corey Anderson is a ruthless striker of the ball and the sphere is regularly sent soaring into the crowd, writes S. Dinakar.

The aircraft touches down on Napier, known for art deco buildings and wineries. Outside, the air is fresh. In this part of New Zealand the sun shines bright in the summer. The Hawke’s Bay, located on North Island’s east coast, is a popular tourist destination.

Napier’s tale is that of courage and resilience. It rose from the ashes after an earthquake in the early 1930s left the entire town in ruins. The art deco that blends traditional craft motifs with modern age machinery — from the pre World War II period — is in many ways Napier’s inspiration as it was rebuilt from scratch. The colours are bright and the structures elegant. Napier has its own character.

Cricket adds to the city’s flavour. The Indians are in town and there is considerable excitement. Team India is in happy spirits. Its practice session at the quaint Nelson Park, adjacent to the McLean Stadium, the venue of the first ODI, is extensive. Media manager Dr. Baba informs that everyone in the team is fit. Soon, Mahendra Singh Dhoni emerges smiling. The mood in the camp is upbeat.

The Kiwis are confident too. And they are keen to have a crack at the Indians. The talk of a two-tier system in Tests has angered many New Zealanders. Batting great Martin Crowe rubbishes the idea.

The five-match ODI series is an opportunity for New Zealand to prove a point. “We will play attacking cricket,” warns captain Brendon McCullum.

The match day arrives and much of the crowd is seen sporting orange T-shirts. A local beverage firm has an exciting incentive for spectators. They need to buy these T-shirts for 30 New Zealand dollars each; it comes with a badge that has to be worn. If a spectator catches the ball with one hand, wearing the T-shirt and the badge, he nails a whopping hundred thousand New Zealand dollars.

The summer has already witnessed one winner in the preceding New Zealand-West Indies ODI series. By now ‘the one-handed catch’ has become a rage. Local newspapers have articles on “the best points in the ground to catch one lakh dollars.”

And each venue has different ‘catching’ points. For instance, Napier has short square boundaries. The ball is likely to land often in the crowd beyond the square-leg or the point ropes.

In the first ODI Corey Anderson gives nightmares in daylight to the Indian bowlers. This southpaw is a ruthless striker of the ball and the sphere is regularly sent soaring into the crowd.

But then, no spectator quite manages a single-handed take. The roar of anticipation in sections of the crowd ends with shouts of despair as big money narrowly eludes them.

This is a game within a game. It also forces the audience in orange to follow the proceedings in the middle with greater attention. Come to think of it, much of the Kiwi crowds here can be mistaken for those rooting for Holland. Orange is the colour of the season.

The other big story here is the emergence of Anderson. He is constantly referred to as the ‘million dollar baby.’ He will be a hot property in the IPL auction. So much so that experienced paceman Tim Southee is asked at a press conference — “How does it feel to have Anderson around for five minutes and seeing him get richer than all of you?” Southee’s smart response is — “He will have to dig deeper into his pockets for us.”

“Does that make him stingy now?” follows. A laughing Southee ducks the question.

Jokes apart, Anderson is a serious talent; a brutal striker of the ball and a handy left-arm seamer.

He is a simple young man from Canterbury who has fought his way back from injuries. Despite the pain he inflicts on the bowlers, there is a sense of calmness about him.

For the moment, he has shut his mind from the IPL. “I want to do well for New Zealand. I am focussed on that now.”

The right words from a strongly-built youngster who smashed the fastest ODI hundred on the first day of 2014, against the West Indies. That day, Queenstown, a quiet, scenic, resort, in South Island, witnessed some hitting of the violent kind.

New Zealand scores a tense win in Napier and the cricket caravan travels to Hamilton, a pretty town surrounded by the iconic Kiwi countryside of farms, cattle and sheep.

It’s also a day when an earthquake measuring 6.3 rocks North Island. Tremors are felt, and fortunately, there is no loss of life.

The second ODI gets underway at Seddon Park and Anderson, again, clobbers the Indian bowling.

The off-colour Ishant Sharma is hammered but this time his mauling actually makes a man of Indian origin considerably richer. Donning the orange shirt and the badge, Jatinder Singh, 22, holds on to the ball with his right hand after Anderson clubs one over the long-on region. “I can’t believe this. This has still not sunk in,” says Jatinder, who has his roots in Amristar.

Meanwhile, the Indian supporters chant “Kohli, Kohli” as the Indian tears into the Kiwi attack. But then, the Kiwis make the right moves. It’s a gloomy night for India on a day of clouds and rain. It’s no longer the No. 1 in ODIs.

As the night stretches on, the Kiwis break into a celebration.