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The Electronic Telegraph New Zealand v England, 3rd Test
The Electronic Telegraph - 5-9 August 1999

Day 1: England find it hard going on problem pitch

Michael Henderson

First day of five: England 108 for 5 after 61 overs

England's cricketers remain tethered to the seabed, dreaming of that blessed day when they can cast off their chains and reclaim their liberty. After a grindingly dull day at Old Trafford, which started an hour late and lost 31 overs when the rain returned in mid-afternoon, they resume this morning having made 50 fewer runs than they would like to have made, and lost two more wickets than is reasonable.

For over upon over it was hard going, and hard watching, particularly when Michael Atherton was at the crease. The Lancashire opener offered a tortured masterpiece of self-denial on his return to the Test side, scoring runs off only five of the 90 balls he faced. But no batsman ever felt 'in' as England found out that winning the toss did not grant them a passage to the rose garden.

Chris Cairns and Dion Nash rose so manfully to the challenge that Chris Harris, preferred to Geoff Allott, was not required to bowl. The ball swung for them on a muggy day and, more disconcertingly in view of the fact that New Zealand must bat last, it constantly kept low on a pitch of uneven bounce. It is much too early to say, therefore, that England cannot win this match. They can, which is not to say they will. The tourists look a spirited lot.

If it was not a good day for England, it was a terrible one for the Lancashire club. Fewer than 8,000 people turned up for the first day of an important Test - important in terms of the outcome of this series - and the pitch proved inadequate for international cricket.

Pitch preparation is an imprecise craft at the best of times, and Peter Marron, Lancashire's experienced groundsman, should not have to bear the brunt of the criticism. That should be directed at the England and Wales Cricket Board, who know that the square has been relaid and that Marron is restricted in his choice of pitch.

They also know that this year represents the centenary of Test cricket at Trent Bridge and Headingley. There was an unanswerable case for taking the Tests to those grounds, a case they chose to ignore. So yesterday there was the unedifying sight of an opening batsman, Atherton, using his bat as a shovel to dig out the ball in the first 15 minutes of a Test.

Criticism of England's batting ought to be softened a bit by the self-advertised inconsistency of the pitch, and by its dreary slowness. Nasser Hussain, the absent captain, had called beforehand for batting of a suitable Test-match tempo but even he could not have set the metronome at two beats in the bar. Yet that is what England managed, 91 runs off the bat at the weary rate of one and a half an over.

Mark Butcher's first task, after winning the toss in his first Test as captain, was to survive the hour before lunch. Cairns ensured he failed, taking the edge of his bat in the fifth over for Stephen Fleming to grab a good low catch at first slip. Cairns hit Alec Stewart at once on his left arm, prompting a lengthy delay for repairs, and it was a relieved Stewart who played out a lively opening hour.

He never settled, though, and Nash was eventually rewarded when Stewart nicked one to Adam Parore. Two runs later, the rain came and it was not until 5pm that play could resume.

That last session, so crucial to England's chance of winning this game, went poorly. It is all very well occupying the crease, as Atherton did, but a batsman must have something significant to show for it. By finding a beauty for Atherton, which drew him towards the ball and swung late to find his edge, Cairns enjoyed a true moment of glory.

Graeme Hick now entered and declared himself with two resounding boundaries through cover and midwicket. ``Now is the hour,'' he seemed to be singing, but audiences have heard this song before, many times. After Russell Tiffin gave him the benefit of the doubt for one lbw shout from Nash, the umpire felt compelled to reward the bowler when he again hit the batsman, on the back leg, and he was not wrong.

England ground on, to sarcastic applause whenever a batsman found the ropes. That is not a sound any professional likes to hear, for it mocks the very essence of his being, but it was heard loud and long when the hundred came up in the 50th over.

Mark Ramprakash has turned himself into such a caricature of woe that he could walk straight into Pilgrim's Progress. Graham Thorpe is no less careworn, anxiously searching for some runs to bolster his self-esteem, and the pair vowed to bat through to stumps in a joint endeavour of worthy dullness.

Daniel Vettori, turning the ball out of the rough outside the left-hander's off-stump, had Thorpe caught at short leg and Dean Headley performed the night watch, though it was not one that Rembrandt would recognise. Days do not come much duller than this.

Day 2: Third Cornhill Test: Fleming raises standard

Michael Henderson

Second day of five: New Zealand (128 for 2) trail England (199 all out) by 71 runs

Despite the considerable vocal nuisance of the North-West Glee Club, whose members had clearly earmarked the Manchester Test as the venue for their summer ``fun in the city'' gathering, England and New Zealand tried hard to make the second day of this third Cornhill Test compensate for the longeurs of the first.

The players failed to convince the more bibulous spectators, who seemed unaware of the way the tourists were beginning to take a light grip of another low-scoring game, but the strokeplay of Stephen Fleming after tea introduced a touch of class to a game that had hitherto been deprived of it. Four times the New Zealand captain drove beautiful straight boundaries before Peter Such struck him on a front pad that was, according to umpire Tiffin, in line with the off stump.

Until Fleming joined the persevering Matthew Bell it had been another day of bread and water, with a couple of cherries thrown in to provide relief. Mark Ramprakash made his best Test score in England, 69 not out, fulfilling his captain's demand for prudence, and Peter Such maintained a straight(ish) bat for 72 run-less minutes, 71 more than he is used to, as he helped Ramprakash add 31 for the ninth wicket. It was the second longest duck in Test history, bettered only by New Zealander Geoff Allott's 101-minute effort earlier this year.

In an act of communal spontaneity this ground has surely never before witnessed, the pavilion rose to him when he was finally out. The members in that long-established ``pit of hate'' actually stood up. Such, the duffers' duffer, actually raised his bat to acknowledge them, and Ramprakash actually took off his gloves to applaud the returning hero. It was as if the world had suddenly been turned upside down.

Those spectators were at least paying attention to the cricket, and grateful for the surprising application a hopeless batsman had brought to the crease, despite his inability to score. Not everybody at Old Trafford yesterday, it should be said, behaved like perfect guests.

At times the din from the bleachers was thoroughly off-putting. At times it was offensive. If it wasn't a group of young men, feeling heroic after pints, it was the small army of pub singers belting out rowdy versions of songs one would pay good money never to hear again.

The Lancashire club, naturally, are happy to admit anybody who is prepared to buy a ticket. Heaven knows, the game needs the money. But those cricket-lovers who sat next to the rabble-rousers cannot have enjoyed the day. When England players are jeered for not intercepting the ball before it reaches the boundary, and when marvellous strokes are not applauded because the batsmen play for the ``other'' side, then something within the soul of cricket dies a little death.

Unless England take wickets this morning, they will die a more public death. By dismissing them for 199, and getting to within 71 runs of that score by stumps, New Zealand have given themselves an excellent chance of forcing victory, if they bat well today. The pitch, so poor on Thursday, has improved after heavy rolling (or got no worse) and, if the weather holds, the tourists should now enjoy the most favourable batting conditions of the match.

For England it was a familiar tale of woe, after they picked up in the morning on 108 for five. They have been bowled out in the first innings of each Test this summer for fewer than 200, and one must go back eight Tests, to the first match of the last Australian series, to find a first innings total of more than 300.

Ramprakash, whose capacity for self-denial has taken on an Athertonian dimension, did his best. The strokeplayer of his early years has gone for good. Personal and team circumstances have seen to that and the batsman who has emerged is less charming and more resolute. He needed to make runs here and, single-mindedly, he has done so.

For 4.5 hours he barred the way to all bowlers, moving past his previous best score in England, 67 not out against South Africa at Trent Bridge last summer. Besides Such and Dean Headley, who did the nightwatch, he received scant support from the others.

It took Ramprakash 139 balls before he found the boundary, so careful was he not to surrender his wicket. Given the inadequacy of so much of the English batting this summer, and in view of the state of the game that he inherited, it is hard to find fault with him. It just seems a shame that the bloom has gone from his game.

Having put so few runs on the board it was imperative that England held everything that came their way. Graham Thorpe let them down at once. When Matthew Horne touched the last ball of Andrew Caddick's second over towards first slip it went in and out of Thorpe's hands. It was a bad miss.

Horne had claimed seven boundaries by the time Caddick yorked him in the fourth over after tea. The only other wicket England bought belonged to Fleming for 38, 23 runs after Phil Tufnell thought for all the world he had him lbw, not offering a stroke. Tufnell didn't care one little bit for David Shepherd's understandable reluctance to share his view. In fact his response came close to dissent.

England's plan today is straightforward: strike early, and often. Should the New Zealanders go ahead, say, with six wickets in hand, this game can only be pointing one way.

Day 3: Astle century exposes the cracks in England

Scyld Berry

Third day of five: New Zealand (399 for 6) lead England (199) by 200 runs

New Zealand batsman Nathan Astle celebrates reaching his century

Eight months ago the hill stand at the Sydney Cricket Ground rose to applaud England's cricketers. With admirable zeal they had just given Australia a fright and were not a world away from squaring the Ashes series at two-all.

Since then England's downward spiral, both in Test and one-day cricket, has been so extreme as to be deeply saddening for anyone with the slightest sympathy for them. They are a side sans a regular captain, sans confidence, sans everything. 'Cricket Just Got Better' proclaims a Channel Four poster near Old Trafford, but England's only response has been to get spectacularly worse.

England were at the bottom of their game and New Zealand at the top of theirs even before the tourists batted their way yesterday into a position from which an innings victory could all too easily follow. They are a young and inexperienced team from the smallest of Test-playing nations: before this match their players had scored only two more Test hundreds than Mike Atherton off his own bat, or Alec Stewart.

If yesterday was the turn of England's bowlers to be outplayed by New Zealand, it was once again England's batsmen who landed them in it. Wide as the cracks in the pitch are after three days, they are nothing when compared to those in England's batting, which will have to improve beyond measure to save this Test. The fightback which saved the match - and series - against South Africa on this ground was far longer than a year ago.

For every failure England have an excuse, usually a good excuse, and the dampness on the opening day which led to the occasional ball kicking was significant. However England could have gone further in their recovery from their overnight score of 108 for five if their selection of the final eleven had been right.

Chris Read was included as a sop to youth amid the old-timers, not in any realistic expectation that he would score substantial runs. He has all the makings of a wicketkeeper-batsman to rank with Alan Knott, although he could not hold on to a back-pedalling chance offered by Nathan Astle when he had made 84 and mishooked. England do not need makings now though, but runs made.

Alec Stewart should have been keeping wicket here, thus allowing an all-rounder to balance the side. For a start, Mark Ealham would have been just the man to keep Mark Ramprakash more active company than Peter Such could manage, and an opening total of 250 would have at least given England some foothold on the game.

Second, England needed a third seamer here, although the pitch has become a slow turner - the need being officially acknowledged when Mark Butcher took the second new ball the moment it was accessible. New Zealand managed to bore England out by accurate seam bowling to a tight and athletic single-saving infield, and Ealham would have been the ideal bowler to reply in kind.

Never were England able to impose the same restrictions on the opposing batsmen. Either Butcher placed a man at deep square which allowed the single that dissipated the pressure on the novice Matthew Bell; or else the width bowled by England's seamers demanded a third man; or else England's infielders were too aged to keep the game tight (the drawback when young players are not up to international standard). New Zealand's fielding is quite up to Australia's or South Africa's as they have effected one run-out per Test.

It is no compliment that England carried on yesterday from where they had left off on Friday, most ordinarily. Andy Caddick's first three overs cost 17 as Astle seized the advantage more like a modern Australian than a New Zealander of old. So again England's spinners had to come on and bowl without pressure on the batsmen or a close-set field.

The start had to be delayed until 11.45 after heavy rain in the night had made the outfield soggy, and from then until 3.20 the crowd of 10,000 had to wait for some reason to applaud England. By then Bell and Astle had added 153 for the third wicket, and at the goodly rate too of three runs an over.

Even after his 26 not out to knock off the runs at Lord's, Bell's Test average was no higher than 11 before England went to work in this match to make a batsman of him. By the time they had finished every member of New Zealand's eleven here had a Test score of at least 70.

New Zealand have produced defensive opening batsman before, all too many indeed, but Bell had proved himself to be something more before he was caught off a mishook at mid-on. When the bad ball was there to be hit - a Tufnell full-toss, a Hick long-hop - he hit it hard, and throughout his innings his game was well-composed and his mind clear.

Astle is a player of rough technique and fine eye as well as the urge to dominate. Such had found the right speed to bowl on this pitch earlier than Tufnell, and Astle made sure the Essex off-spinner did not get on top yesterday by twice pull-driving him for six. The reward for hitting the ball over the boundary was that it came back considerably damper, and sure enough England did not take a wicket until it was replaced.

Whereas crease-occupation was once the objective of New Zealand's batsmen, they kept on looking to score after Bell and Astle had both gone, the latter to a fine catch off a mishook the ball after reaching his fifth Test century. Their Australian coach Steve Rixon has instilled in them the self-belief which led him to say soon after his appointment: ``If I was playing for New South Wales second XI against Australia, I'd still think that I'd win.''

Roger Twose attracted his share of short balls when he came in but too often England had no short-leg to catch his fendings-off, as if their strategic objective had long since been revised downwards to a draw. Craig McMillan has had a poor tour but he came good against Leicestershire in the tourists' last match, when again a county side ushered England's opponents into touch, and an early off drive at Caddick was a brilliant hit.

So many runs have New Zealand scored that England's second innings is bound to be one long struggle. It will be all the harder for Butcher to lead from the front with only 77 runs in this series so far, and a Test average of 27. He kept on communicating with his bowlers yesterday and spoke up at the drinks breaks but it is an invidious position for him.

On his eighth recall Hick has immediately picked up from where he left off, as the unluckiest England batsman of his time in terms of lbw decisions. It was Atherton and Stewart who saved England against South Africa and England will surely need them both to do it again.

Day 4: England get just deserts

Michael Henderson

Fourth day of five: England (1st Inns 199) & 118 for 2 trail New Zealand (1st Inns 496 for 9 Dec) by 179 runs.

The anger has passed, like a fire that has burnt itself out. What remains is resignation, the knowledge that, whatever befalls England at Old Trafford today, there is neither the talent nor the will to mend things. That has been the general feeling at Old Trafford during this depressing, though illuminating Cornhill Test, in which New Zealand have bettered England in every respect.

Don't look back in anger: Mark Butcher departs the field

``Rain, rain, go away''. That's what the tourists were saying last night, after drizzle deprived them of 17 overs in which they could have embarrassed England further. If they get in a full day's play today it is hard to see how England, still 179 runs behind, can prevent the tourists securing a second successive victory.

Frankly, they don't deserve a draw. The cricket they have played has been so poor, and the manner in which they have played it so listless, that they deserve to lose. Or, to put it more charitably, the spirited New Zealanders deserve to go one up in the series.

It was only when Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart came together yesterday afternoon, reviving memories of their valiant partnership on this ground last July, which did more than anything to save the Test against South Africa, that England looked engaged. Atherton's departure, to a decision he cared little for, ended a stand of 99 when England needed them to match the 226 they made last time.

Sweeping at Daniel Vettori, who had switched to bowling around the wicket, Atherton seemed to be caught at slip off his forearm. To the naked eye David Shepherd's decision seemed a fair one and Atherton was unwise to walk off mouthing epithets. If he is happy to accept the benefit of the doubt, as he was last year when Allan Donald had him caught behind at Trent Bridge, he should also accept that when umpires err he leaves without a resentful mutter.

There was also some doubt about Mark Butcher's dismissal, lbw to Dion Nash. Shepherd judged that the ball pitched in line with the leg stump, and not outside it. Butcher was defeated as it kept low, and it capped a miserable game for the man who replaced the injured Nasser Hussain as captain for this match.

Hussain has been far from inactive. As New Zealand marched relentlessly on towards a lunchtime declaration, 297 runs ahead after Craig McMillan completed his third Test hundred, the captain was meeting Duncan Fletcher, who will take up the coach's post in October. Fletcher also spoke to David Graveney, Graham Gooch and Bob Cottam, respectively the manager and the batting and bowling coaches of the England team.

These meetings served as a prelude to last night's liaison when Fletcher, Hussain and Graveney were joined by Lord MacLaurin, Brian Bolus and Simon Pack. MacLaurin is the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, Bolus chairs the board's management advisory committee and Pack holds the grand title of international teams director.

This meeting, which has been interpreted as a council of war, will only produce hostages if the decision-makers share the public disquiet about England's miserable performance this summer, which started with the World Cup and has not yet ended. There is another Test to come, at the Oval, which may inflict greater misery.

The cricket-watchers of the North have spoken resoundingly in the last week, by not turning up. Old Trafford was half-full on Saturday and about 5,000 spectators attended yesterday, a pitiful attendance for the fourth day of a Test match. Those who came, out of a sense of duty, felt shame at England's performance and a certain sympathy for the beleaguered players, as though they had suffered enough. Cricket-watchers have certainly taken about as much as they can endure, hence the resignation.

Saturday afternoon, when Nathan Astle and Matthew Bell ploughed on past England's apology of a first innings, represented the lowest watermark of English cricket for many a summer. These players may privately vow to do their best and, privately, one may believe them, for nobody steps on to the field determined to do less than his best. The public impression they made was one of hopelessness.

Players wandered around as if in a dream. Butcher, understandably perhaps, looked lost, not knowing what to do or where to turn. The ground became eerily silent as people turned to private matters. Even the able seamen of Channel 4, who have strapped themselves to the mast of cricket's clipper, struggled to talk up a game they have just spent millions on.

Bell's innings, which ended when he pulled a catch to mid-on, served as a rebuke to England's batsmen. Simply by hanging around, he showed the gumption that their batting has lacked for so long. He is not the most gifted player in the world, or even in New Zealand, but he played a full hand here, just as Matthew Horne had done at Lord's.

Since winning that last Test New Zealand's players have grown an inch, and nobody represents their spirit more than Chris Cairns, who has embraced his all-round responsibilities with verve and skill. He got off the mark by driving Peter Such high and straight for six. No England player has approached that sort of boldness. The New Zealanders hit 10 sixes in their innings as each of the four main bowlers conceded more than 100 runs.

Of all the wretched sights in this ghastly summer perhaps the most demeaning came yesterday morning when Phil Tufnell, bowling defensively around the wicket, provoked Cairns into smashing the ball to long leg. The bowler threw up an arm in triumph and the fielders gathered to celebrate this remarkable act of skill. The score was 425 for seven, the cause was hopeless and the crowd, three-parts bored, one-part ashamed, didn't know where to look.

Day 5: England hierarchy toil on the low road to contempt

Michael Henderson

Match Drawn: England (1st Inns 199) and 181 for 2, New Zealand (1st Inns 496)

Lucky old England. The showers that cut short play on Sunday evening returned yesterday to save them from defeat in the third Cornhill Test, and deprive New Zealand of the victory that would have put them 2-1 ahead in the four-match series. The teams remain level for the final game, which begins at the Oval on Thursday week.

Alec Stewart was 83 not out when the rain, which had prevented a resumption until 2pm, dropped from a leaden sky. In the 24 overs New Zealand were able to bowl, Stewart and Graham Thorpe added 63 fairly easy runs. Stephen Fleming, the tourists' captain, thought that his team would have won if conditions had remained dry. He was not alone.

Those are the basic facts. The sub-text of this match told a different story, which awaits resolution. England may not have disgraced themselves as they did at Lord's, where they lost inside four days, but they can take nothing of value from this match. It would be a brave man, indeed, who took them to win the last Test.

The people responsible for selecting and running the team will take a different view. They will make the usual noises about saving the match and looking forward to the challenge of winning at the Oval. They can talk as much as they want because nobody believes them any more. They argue with the conviction of men who know they are wrong, and it sounds awful.

Norman Mailer once ran for mayor in New York with the slogan ``No More Bull****''. England have adopted the slogan, and dropped the first word. Quite apart from the performance on the field, which was wholly inadequate, the off-field shenanigans left experienced observers open-mouthed in bewilderment. It came to a head last night when Mark Butcher, the stand-in captain for this Test, faced the press conference alone, without so much as a helping hand, as is customary, from the manager or coach.

Butcher, who is not sure of his place in the side next week, was effectively left to spin in the wind as David Graveney and Graham Gooch packed up and went home. Nasser Hussain, the regular captain, was also unavailable to talk about the game. Clearly, he felt that as Butcher had led the side out, he was the best man to take questions. That is a respectable view but it wouldn't have hurt to have been by his side.

The real story, though, the one that cannot yet be told fully, concerns the meeting at the team's Worsley hotel on Sunday night. It was a lively, occasionally heated encounter that brought together Hussain, Graveney and Duncan Fletcher, the incoming coach, with Brian Bolus, Lord MacLaurin and Simon Pack, representing the England and Wales Cricket Board.

It emerged last night that Fletcher, who begins his new job on Oct 1, will help the selectors pick the team for the final Test. Glamorgan refused to release him until the end of the season but it is obvious that the ECB's inability to grasp this contractual nettle has caused utter confusion. There will now be five selectors for the final Test, an absurd arrangement that shows the game's governing board to be a laughing stock.

If ever a tale reflected cricket in a poor light it was the way the ECB went about playing down the Sunday night engagement. MacLaurin, feebly, tried to pass it off as ``a few friends having a drink'' (oh yes, in Worsley?) and afterwards there was no attempt to present the meeting as having any significance. In fact, it was an extremely significant evening, as Fletcher's co-option proves, and it will have serious consequences for the Test team.

Neither Gooch nor Mike Gatting, the two other selectors, attended the dinner. Had they done so, their ears would have burned, for there is no doubt that their period in office has run its course.

Gooch officially leaves the job next month, and Gatting goes in February. After they have picked the team for the Oval Test, however, they will not be required. The party for South Africa will be picked by Fletcher, Hussain and Graveney, in that order.

Although the 'Congress of Worsley' was not unanimous on every count, there is little doubt that Fletcher favours a general move towards youth, and he will receive the support of a captain who knows that, after this latest shambles, there is nothing to lose from adopting a bold course. No team can prepare for the future by returning, ad nauseam, to those who have failed in the past.

People other than Gooch and Gatting should examine their own positions. MacLaurin, the ECB chairman, has not proved the reformer his admirers took him to be when he clambered aboard two years ago. Pack, the high-ranking military man who has somehow become the board's 'international teams director', is regarded as a Candide figure, stumbling from one misadventure to another, thinking that all is for the best in the best of all possible worlds.

Then there is Graveney, who recently extended his contract as chairman of the selection panel for a further two years. A nice man, he has been outflanked so constantly during his time in office, not to mention outvoted on key matters of personnel, that he must wonder whether his voice counts for anything.

This has been an awful five days for English cricket, on the field and off it. The men charged with holding the ring for the summer game should know they are held in contempt. They should also know how richly they have earnt it.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
Editorial comments can be sent to The Electronic Telegraph at et@telegraph.co.uk