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The Electronic Telegraph 4th Test: England v New Zealand
The Electronic Telegraph - 19-23 August 1999

Day 1: England start to look the part

Michael Henderson

First day of five: New Zealand (170-8) v England

New Zealand's Adam Parore is out for a duck caught by Mark Ramprakash off the bowling of Phil Tufnell

It has taken them four matches and three months but, as the last Test of a painful season began under appealingly bright skies and continued throughout a day mercifully free of interruption, England actually looked a team. Until they have batted, it cannot be said they are in a dominant position but they have given themselves a wonderful opportunity to shape this match.

The bowlers all played their part, after Nasser Hussain had marked his return from injury by winning the toss, and the fielders backed them up. There were two wickets each for Andrew Caddick, Phil Tufnell and Alan Mullally, who was preferred to Chris Silverwood, and one apiece for Ed Giddins and Ronnie Irani.

There was also a first Test catch for Darren Maddy, whose two-handed overhead snatch at third slip to dismiss Roger Twose gave Giddins his first Test wicket. Giddins, bowling downwind from the Vauxhall end after Caddick had taken the new ball, swung the ball considerably in fresh conditions that do not traditionally favour bowlers of his type.

The other player to be omitted from the original party, besides Silverwood, was Graeme Swann, the Northamptonshire finger spinner. He would not have done much bowling yesterday. There was moisture in the pitch, and some grass on it. Tufnell was given 14 overs; otherwise, it was a day for the quicker men, which they took to such an extent that New Zealand played out 38 maidens.

It was not a day for the dashers. Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan, who made hundreds at Old Trafford, surrendered their wickets to rash strokes, and Matthew Horne, the epitome of good sense when he made his century in the victory at Lord's, was guilty of indiscretion. It required a stand of 53 for the eighth wicket between Stephen Fleming and Dion Nash to ensure that they still have two wickets to defend.

Fleming, who set the tone of New Zealand's attacking batting in Manchester, was dogged in his watchfulness. He has resisted for four-and-a-half hours, and hit the pickets only three times from the 196 balls he has faced. Neither he nor his team-mates will curse that rate of progress. So far, only Fleming has kept New Zealand on just the decent side of embarrassment.

England could have bowled better, though it is hard to chastise them for their overall performance. Caddick pitched too short, as he often does, and from time to time, it was tempting to remind them that it is permissible to bowl at the stumps. It was Caddick who broke the irritating late stand when he got the new ball to kick and Nash fended off a catch to Mark Ramprakash at short leg.

Ramprakash had begun the day less happily. Matthew Bell was nought, and the score one, when he pushed Mullally towards mid-off, set off for a run, saw Hussain pounce, and turned back desperately to the crease. But Ramprakash, moving over the stumps from short leg, failed to hold Hussain's throw and the batsman survived. It was the sort of howler that would raise guffaws in a junior house match.

When Hussain missed the stumps at the non-striker's end in Mullally's next over, reprieving Horne and granting Bell two runs from the overthrow, it seemed this would be another of those fruitless days England have endured this summer. Not that New Zealand were finding it fruitful. The first hour brought all of 12 runs, one of them to Horne.

He had reached 15 when he threw the bat at Irani and spooned up a catch to point. In the second over after lunch, the 32nd of the innings, Mullally had Bell caught low by Alec Stewart but the wicketkeeper had his fingers pointing up five overs later when Astle tried to drive a ball from Caddick that was not full enough for the stroke.

The score became 62 for four when Twose was brilliantly caught by little Maddy, whose boots were two feet off the ground when he pulled the ball out of the sky. That was Giddins' first over back and when Hussain recalled Tufnell at the Pavilion end, the spinner found not one success, but two.

McMillan, charging wildly at Tufnell's second ball, attempted a fierce shot over the top and lost his wicket most horribly. Two balls later, Ramprakash, still on short-leg duty, dived full length to intercept Adam Parore, but his joy at taking such a good catch was qualified by the sight of Tufnell bounding down the pitch and jumping on him like a robber's dog.

In the second over after tea, when Mullally bowled Chris Cairns, England had reduced the tourists to 104 for seven. There were 30 overs left in the day, ample time to bowl them out and begin the reply. Or so they thought. Fleming, hitherto a lonely voyager on a turb- ulent sea, dropped anchor and helped Nash clamber aboard.

For the next 25 overs they would not budge until, with the new ball five overs old, Caddick banged in one that Nash could not counter. That brought in Daniel Vettori, who saw out the day with his captain. Indeed, he did more than merely survive. He stroked the last ball of the day, from Mullally, to the cover boundary with a flourish that said: I shall be ready on the morrow.

A long day, that began with the promise of rain, ended with not a ball lost. England resume in fair-weather conditions, knowing that by the end of play tonight, they will have a clear idea of which way this Test will turn. For the full house that is expected - there were 2,000 empty seats yesterday - the day will represent another victory for hope over experience.

Australia began their tour of Sri Lanka with a convincing six-wicket win over a Board President's XI in a one-day match in Colombo yesterday.

Set 209 to win from 50 overs, the Australians quickly adapted to the muggy conditions and scored 212 for four in 45.1 overs. Ricky Ponting made 60 on a sluggish pitch and retired to allow others some batting practice before Sunday's game against Sri Lanka, Australia's first international since their World Cup success in June.

Day 2: A glum day for Hussain amid England wreckage

Michael Henderson

England (150-7) trail New Zealand (236) by 86 runs

To ask Nasser Hussain this morning whether he had any misgivings about accepting the England captaincy would be like bumping into Lear on Dover Beach and wondering if he regretted dividing his kingdom. What's done is done. We live, each one of us, with the consequences.

But, as he considered the wreckage of another England innings at the end of a day New Zealand claimed as their own, Hussain might recognise what the mad king said when he achieved a measure of self-knowledge: ``As flies to wanton boys are we to the gods. They kill us for their sport.''

England are not dead, yet. Nor are they fully alive on the evidence of this bone-headed display. No matter how many brave words a captain utters, his team are only ever judged properly by deeds. After two days of this final Test, with England 86 runs behind New Zealand, and three not especially strong wickets in hand, Hussain is struggling to end his first series in charge as a winner.

With the inevitability of night following day, their batting failed them miserably. After New Zealand had added 66 brisk runs to their overnight score of 170 for eight, they then ripped out six wickets before England had reached 100. Mark Ramprakash and Andrew Caddick retrieved some honour in the last session with a stand of 47 but this was a thin effort on a day when they needed to bat with rigour.

Only Ronnie Irani was unfortunate. He was given out lbw to Chris Cairns when George Sharp judged the ball that struck him on the back pad would have clipped the top of off stump, and not, as Irani felt, passed by it. The others had no excuse and for Graham Thorpe, who has not succeeded once in this series, the consequences of failure could be severe.

Even if he makes runs in the second innings here, his place in South Africa this winter should go to another batsman. For the third time in this series he was caught at slip, this time first slip, by that excellent catch-snaffler, Stephen Fleming. Thorpe's inability to find his bearings around off stump may be the most visible form of his tiredness. Quite frankly, he looks clapped-out and there is no room on tour for players who have lost their appetite.

Thorpe does not belong to an exclusive club. Neither Michael Atherton nor Alec Stewart succeeded, and their places in the touring party must also be in doubt. Atherton, beaten by Dion Nash, offered Fleming a low catch he accepted expertly, and left after knocking off a bail with a flick of his bat. Stewart had a grim time against Daniel Vettori, who finally bowled him off his heel.

Vettori, without a shadow of a doubt, was the man of the day. He was involved in all three sessions of play, first as a free-scoring batsman and then as a wicket-taking slow bowler. He was accompanied, not merely supported, by Cairns, who cast aside the knee injury that put his inclusion in doubt with some rousing pace bowling from the Vauxhall end.

This, in deed, not gilded words, was the spirit that Hussain has demanded from his players. In the absence of Geoff Allott and Simon Doull, Cairns has carried a heavy load this summer, and he has not shirked. Besides Thorpe and Irani he also dismissed Hussain, who pulled foolishly to the deep square leg who was waiting for such a stroke, and departed to the sound of New Zealand laughter.

Darren Maddy, in his first Test innings, began brightly but had become thoroughly becalmed by the time Vettori fooled him with a curving arm ball that hit his unprotected stumps. Vettori, who had come on the over before, bowled for the rest of the day at the Pavilion end, 31 overs in all for Stewart's wicket into the bargain. Only Caddick, who drove him straight for six, felt free to challenge his growing mastery.

He could have had a third wicket, and will be disappointed that he did not because the player reprieved, Ramprakash, is still at the crease. Ramprakash was four when he heaved an ugly sweep towards midwicket and presented a chance that Nash, racing from mid-on, reached but could not hold.

Vettori's batting was at times delightful, though not surprising because he made a half-century in the Lord's Test and has since added a maiden first-class hundred against Leicestershire. He reached his fifty yesterday from 47 balls as he added 78 for the ninth wicket with his gallant captain. Fleming was 66 not out, having batted for 5.5 hours, when Caddick ended the innings with his third wicket.

There were three for Phil Tufnell as well but his performance was devalued by allegations of his conduct towards young spectators on the first day. He denied using foul language, and his word was accepted by his paymasters at the England and Wales Cricket Board. He should have saved his anger for the batsmen, whose shoddy work all summer long requires a vocabulary richer than he possesses.

Day 3: England have the upper hand after a day of thud and blunder

Scyld Berry

England (153 & 91-2) trail New Zealand (236 & 162) by 154 runs

It has been another crazy demob-happy Oval Test, blessed with a few fine features but of such a low standard overall that it is just as well, for England and for New Zealand, that promotion and relegation have not been introduced to Test cricket.

This final Test, which has culminated in England needing 155 more runs today, has been a bottom-of-the-table contest so packed with thud and blunder that neither side truly deserve to win it or the series.

In the 1938 Test match here Len Hutton scored 364 runs off his own bat, almost as many as New Zealand have made in their two whole innings combined, and possibly more than England will do if the fine stand between Mike Atherton and Graham Thorpe is quickly broken this morning. But so long as it remains unbroken, England hold the upper hand as this pair have been here before, and Alec Stewart too, when England knocked off the runs in similar circumstances in Christchurch a couple of winters ago. Atherton will not leave the job willingly to others. If limitless time has to be fed into the equation - the highest total of the match to make, eight wickets in hand - so too must his limitless patience.

Whatever the result, though, too many conclusions should not be based on a session or so of cricket today. If it is 2-1 to England, that would be no sort of triumph. But if England do knock them off, especially through Atherton and Thorpe, who has reached his highest score of the series so far, the value of experience in Test-match batting will have to be acknowledged, even by those who wrote Atherton's obituary earlier this year.

Conditions have been a major factor in the low scoring but not the only one. The batting of both sides has been execrable overall - England's in shot selection, New Zealand's in technique - while the pace bowling has been excellent, led by Chris Cairns and Andy Caddick. The captaincy of both Stephen Fleming and Nasser Hussain has been high- standard too, pressurising suspect batsmen into mistakes they have been only too compliant to make.

In addition, the umpire Srinavas Venkataraghavan must have flown over from India on a weekend return. His quickness to please bowlers helped Ed Giddins to celebrate his Test debut with a spell of three wickets for one run. But as the only bowler of distinction among Test umpires Venkat is entitled to his fire'em-out point of view, which has so far favoured England.

Above all, though, it has been the conditions which have altered since the time when the Oval was the truest batting surface in the northern hemisphere. The pitch has become lavishly grassed, and along with the greenest of outfields has maintained the ball's shine. It has duly swung and seamed, not greatly but consistently enough through the game to take the edges, and it has turned ever more as the game has pursued its eccentric course.

In such a context the batting of Cairns has been the 'stand-out' feature, as the Australians would say, of the match to date. Cairns indeed might be the only New Zealand man ever born whom Australians would like to claim as their own. He has the muscularity of a life- saving surfie, and the ability of a worldclass cricketer, if long concealed. He also has the best technique in the New Zealand side, both a back-foot hitter and capable of a long forward stride.

As soon as Cairns came in straight after lunch, the ninth wicket of the day went down, for the grand total of 42 runs thus far. His father, Lance, was a hitter, who had shared the previous eighth-wicket record for New Zealand on this ground. New Zealand's lead was then 125 with only four wickets left. The force was with England's seamers, the series there for the taking, and the tension so much that Adam Parore was consumed by the prospect of New Zealand's first series win abroad of the 1990s against anyone other than Zimbabwe.

But it was with batting reminiscent of Ian Botham at Old Trafford in 1981 that Cairns tipped the series back to New Zealand. Like Botham had, Cairns played himself in then went to town against the left-arm spinner - Ray Bright then, Phil Tufnell yesterday with consummate use of his feet, before thrashing the quick bowling too with awesome power. The four sixes which Cairns drove off 94 balls were exactly the same blend of muscularity and timing, so far as he went.

The batting earlier in the day formed a ridiculous contrast, starting with that of England's tail who picked up at 150 for seven. Mark Ramprakash and Alan Mullally added three more runs, but such a prolific partnership by England's lower order was too good to last, and the last three wickets went down in eight balls without addition. England cannot afford so many batting rabbits as they have in this side. Eight or nine is really too many.

So England duly fell behind on first innings for the 14th consecutive Test, of which they have won four. If the title of the worst Test team in the world is up for grabs today, the worst in the first half of Test matches has long since been decided. It was the freshest and sunniest of mornings, not one of those August dog-days at the Oval, yet England had so lost the faith of their supporters that they were received into the field in near silence.

It was Caddick who roused them first. Always England's best bowler in this series, perfect now in his angling of the seam, he pitched the ball that crucial yard further up and took his series haul to 20, ahead of Tufnell on 14 wickets. With Giddins - and Venkat - chipping in, and Mullally far more accurate with the old ball after wasting the new one, the New Zealanders were soon as windy as Wellington, until Cairns blasted England off their homeward course.

Next it was Atherton who raised the spirits, after Maddy and Hussain had nibbled and been caught behind. He began with quick singles, then with two consecutive cuts for four off Cairns, followed by a full-blooded hook in the day's last over as a definitive statement of his still-stubborn intent. The crowd, and momentum, were with England at last as Atherton and Thorpe were cheered from the field, a modicum of self-respect in sight.

Day 4: England strike rock bottom

Michael Henderson

New Zealand beat England by 83 runs

It is not true to say that England have the worst cricket team in the world. Even in their current state of disrepair, they would beat the Faroe Islands and give the Costa Ricans a run for their dollars, though there are worrying reports of strapping all-rounders emerging from Patagonia, and Greenland, on their ice pitches, would represent a mighty challenge.

Michael Atherton leaves the pitch after being caught out for 65 runs

Of the nine Test-playing countries, however, the one that gave the game to the other eight is now, according to the unofficial rankings drawn up by Wisden, incontestably the weakest. New Zealand, who won the final Test yesterday by 83 runs, to take the series 2-1, immediately rose from the bottom of that table above England, entirely on merit.

The worst team in the world. How merciless it sounds, particularly when it is bellowed, mockingly, by several hundred spectators in front of the Oval pavilion, as it was after this latest surrender. Nasser Hussain, who was booed as he took his place on the balcony, acknowledged the grim truth through gritted teeth, blinked, and returned to the dressing-room to absorb the brutal demotion within the bosom of his professional family.

This time last year, the captain held a junior rank as England came from behind to beat the South Africans 2-1. Now he leads the stragglers of world cricket, turned over by a New Zealand side who caved in at Edgbaston, regrouped and took two of the next three Tests, despite losing the toss every time. No wonder he looked dead behind the eyes.

``We've worked very hard this summer,'' Hussain said, without specifying at what. ``At half past 12 today, we still had a chance to win the series.'' Indeed they did, though it would have been an offence against nature if they had actually done so. For their spirit, as well as their skill, the Kiwis were cities, not just streets, ahead of the lily-livered rabble who have done service this summer as the England team.

They go to South Africa in October to face Allan Donald and Shaun Pollock, knowing that the last tourists, the West Indies, lost the series 5-0. When Hussain sits down today with Duncan Fletcher and David Graveney to select the touring party, he will do so with a heavy heart. On the evidence the players have presented this season, England will do exceedingly well to avoid a defeat of similar proportions.

The story of the last Test, as it unfolded yesterday, told the tale of a dismal summer. England were 143 for three and Michael Atherton was 64 not out, nudging them steadily towards victory in his unflustered style, when Dion Nash had him caught at the wicket off a bottom edge as Atherton essayed a pull.

Nash's next ball ended in Adam Parore's gloves, nicked there by Mark Ramprakash, and the last seven wickets went down for 19 flimsy runs. Apart from Graham Thorpe, whose innings of 44 was ended by yet another slip catch, nobody made more than 12. The cricket at the end, when Phil Tufnell was run out, belonged to amateur hour. One could have shed bitter tears of pity and shame at the whole wretched enterprise.

How widely these teams responded to adversity. The last three wickets of New Zealand's first innings made 132; their last four on Saturday contributed 123 after they had found themselves reeling at 39 for six. Not that England's recognised batsmen covered themselves in glory. The team failed to reach 200 in the first innings of any of the four Tests and, for the first year since 1972, no player made a hundred in an international summer.

For sheer gumption, England had nobody within a country mile of Chris Cairns, who was named man of the match and also New Zealand's man of the series. Cairns went into this game carrying a knee injury that put his place in considerable doubt, and banished all doubts with a superlative all-round performance.

He took five for 31 in England's first innings, then on Saturday afternoon, after England's bowlers had quite literally swung the game back towards a home victory on a giddy morning, he bludgeoned them into submission with 80 thrilling runs - the eventual difference between victory and defeat.

It was the most accomplished performance of the summer, and an experience so bracing that the whole crowd, Englishmen and New Zealanders alike, acclaimed it with joy. Four times he thrashed Tufnell for six, three times high into the pavilion and once, daringly, over extra cover as Tufnell bowled over the wicket into the rough outside the batsman's leg stump.

How appropriate it was that Cairns, who has played heart and soul all summer, should have been the man who took the wicket that gave New Zealand only their second series victory in this country. Roger Twose, the Englishman who changed nationality for cricketing reasons, was the delighted catcher when Alan Mullally slogged an easy catch to mid-on.

So, at the end of a summer that saw them asked to leave the World Cup class for failing to do their prep thoroughly, England are now recognised as the dunces of Test cricket. The joy of victory at Edgbaston swiftly turned to anger at Lord's, where New Zealand won by nine wickets, and to resignation at Old Trafford, where the clouds opened on England's behalf.

The mood yesterday was one of gallows humour as the wickets tumbled and then, as Hussain found out, it turned hostile for a brief period when the spectators took in the consequences of defeat. There is no longer anywhere for England to fall. They may not be the worst players in the world but they are now perceived to be the worst side.

This has been a horrible summer. Apart from the botched World Cup campaign, and the eventual mastery by the Kiwis, which led Cornhill Insurance to drop very public hints about their continued sponsorship of domestic Tests, there was the scarcely believable way in which Duncan Fletcher was appointed coach in June to the sound of trumpets and then allowed to work out his notice with Glamorgan.

When Fletcher eventually joins England, it will be to the sound of strings, and they will not be playing a rhapsody. Anybody who cares about English cricket, past, present or future, will hear that sound this morning and shudder. It is the sound of despair.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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