Essex v New Zealand, New Zealand in England
The Electronic Telegraph - 13 August 1999
Day 1: Irani stakes Test claim
Neville Scott at Chelmsford
First day of four: Essex (9-1) trail New Zealand (236) by 227 runs
This was a case of the dog that didn't bark. Though Nasser Hussain followed an encouraging further X-ray on his broken finger with two stints in the nets before play, he was ultimately unable to declare himself fit.
Heeding the advice of Essex physio James Davis, that more damage could jeopardise a return this season, he reluctantly accepted a week's further rest.
Hussain's own prognosis, however, before leaving an hour from lunch was: ``I will be 100 per cent fit for the Test'' - England's final, deciding encounter with New Zealand at the Oval next Thursday.
If he bats that day, it will be four weeks since his previous innings. Who will serve under him is the question most have posed endlessly since England proclaimed their coup d'etat last Tuesday.
Certainly, Ronnie Irani will be considered. On a green pitch, the very opposite of the spinners' surface supposedly in wait in South London, Irani cut balls back to bowl Matthew Horne, shouldering arms, and remove Stephen Fleming lbw in a six-over new-ball spell of two for 14.
The Botham succession has never remotely been settled. But if England search again for a seaming all-rounder, Irani presently looks in better form than any of the eight tried through the last three years. Uncapped Gavin Hamilton, clearly next in line, remains unfit.
New Zealand's riposte came from Matthew Bell and Nathan Astle, with 78 added at five per over before more errors undid both. Bell was skittled by Danny Law and Astle misjudge David Thompson's length to be bowled on a walking drive.
After rain removed 25 afternoon overs, more oddly cavalier strokeplay ended with five wickets in 53 balls as Roger Twose pulled a bouncer to square leg, Chris Cairns and Daniel Vettori went to slower balls and Craig McMillan played across the line before Shayne O'Connor fell in Irani's late return.
Belated resistance came from a 39-run last-wicket stand before Cairns had Paul Grayson caught at slip and Paul Prichard twice dropped in three fraught overs of the reply.
Former Sri Lanka captain Arjuna Ranatunga has been allowed to practise with the national squad again after a short ban following an unauthorised visit to Canada for an exhibition match last weekend.
Day 2: New Zealand Test rivals practise on Essex
Rob Steen at Chelmsford
New Zealand 236 v Essex 281-5
For visitors to these blinkered shores, being patronised by the local media is seldom a disadvantage. According to Craig McMillan, it has not only girded New Zealand loins appreciably, it has also given them a good deal to chuckle about.
Amid all the incessant naval-gazing, it has been all too easy to forget that these purported underdogs have bitten as ferociouslyas they have barked, calling the tune for 10 of this summer's dozen days of Test cricket.
Perspective, not for the first time, has been missing. While New Zealand boast four specialist batsmen with a Test average of 36-plus, England have but three; those with at least 20 wickets, two New Zealanders (Simon Doull and Dion Nash) and two Englishmen (Dean Hedley and Darren Gough) have done so while averaging under 30.
Moreover, just as the hosts have been handicapped by Gough's absence, so Stephen Fleming's team had to withstand a tour-ending injury to Doull, then voluntarily dispensed with Geoff Allott, the World Cup's most penetrative strike bowler, lest we forget.
Conservatism, born of that seemingly innate inferiority complex, lay behind Allott's omission at Manchester. The error is unlikely to be repeated. The burly left-armer, whose modest batting attributes prompted his exclusion from a side already numbering 10 first-class century makers, struck twice in his opening two overs here yesterday to ram home the point with much vigour.
Resuming on nine for one in reply to the tourists' somewhat lame 236, Essex lost the nightwatchman, Tim Phillips, leg-before in the first over. Paul Prichard was scarcely more resilient, caught behind offering the limpest of blades and the minimum of footwork.
Fleming soon replaced Allott with Shayne O'Connor, another briskish left-armer and rival for the third pace berth this week. The unconvincing Tim Walton soon buckled, shuffling across and pinned in front.
All of which paved the way for Ronnie Irani, the chap Nasser Hussain insisted on being his Essex deputy and his versatile belligerence was pressed with some force by the England captain at the selectors' meeting.
Having made short work of Fleming and Matt Horne with the ball on Friday, Irani eschewed his habitual thrustful approach. ``You want bloody-minded,'' he appeared to be saying, ``you got it.''
He and a similarly becalmed Darren Robinson were beginning to steer the ship towards calmer waters when the impressive O'Connor hit Irani on the right hand; treatment was extensive but Irani, being Irani, refused to submit. But O'Connor completed the job six overs later, despatching him leg-before on the stroke of lunch. As Robinson and Stephen Peters stepped up the resistance, adding 105 between lunch and tea, the one mystery was the sparing use of Daniel Vettori, whose flight and control in the Tests has yet to be matched by suitable tangible reward. This may, of course, have something to do with fatigue. Going into this match, after all, the spinner had sent down 375 first-class overs, almost double the output of Nash, the next most honest toiler.
It was difficult, indeed, to avoid the impression of a side taking a deep breath. While they know they have England's measure, deep down they may well suspect that the chance of a first major series triumph on foreign soil since 1985 went with the Manchester rain.
Day 3: Robinson grinds down New Zealand
Third day of four: New Zealand (236 & 94-4) trail Essex (493) by 163 runs
It has been a miserable week for the tourists. Denied victory in the third Test by rain and England batting which at last rediscovered conviction, New Zealand then lost a one-day game to Middlesex.
Arriving here, they batted as though demob happy on Friday and watched Essex come back through 138 overs from 98 for five to 493 all out by yesterday's early tea.
Darren Robinson, batting at four, made 200, the first double century for the county against touring sides, with Essex's total their highest in all such fixtures.
Worst of all, Geoff Allott left the fray for good midway through Saturday's play with a back problem, and Chris Cairns, who twisted a knee in delivery, limped off after managing to deliver just 11 balls yesterday.
Both men face X-rays and specialist diagnoses in London today. This leaves the outside danger that Dion Nash could find himself supported in Thursday's deciding test by left-arm seamer Shayne O'Connor, who would be playing only his eighth match, and the uncapped Andy Penn. Simon Doull has already gone home.
Nasser Hussain's injunction before play, so his deputy Ronnie Irani revealed, was: ``Keep going, grind them down and don't declare.'' Irani complied.
When interviewed, Irani proved so infectiously passionate about his England recall it seemed he might at any point leap from his seat.
He said: ``It mustn't be a case of doing just enough to get on tour. There can't be half measures . . . I've got to give it a right good crack.''
With such hunger comes greater maturity: ``I'm a far better player than when I last played for England [twice in 1996]. I hit the ball straighter, my head is more still and the mental side is much, much better.''
Though Steve Peters went early, top-edging as he hooked too soon at O'Connor, and just missed his hundred, Robinson ground greedily on.
His maiden 150 came from 396 balls and the 200 in 493, whereupon he fell to the third new ball.
Danny Law's rapid, undefeated 63 took the gloss off O'Connor's five for 130 before Irani struck in New Zealand's third over.
When Stephen Fleming, third out, sliced novice off-spinner Tim Phillips's fifth ball to cover and Nathan Astle went 25 minutes from the close, a bad week continued.
Day 4: New Zealand left to count casualties
Essex (493) bt New Zealand (236 & 217) by an innings & 40 runs
If the summer has taught anything it is that you underestimate New Zealanders at your peril.
Though most have been guilty, only the England management have had the power to make writing off the Kiwis into an article of policy. How it has backfired.
The irony is that now respect has at last been extended, the injury-hit tourists do indeed seem to be - dare one say it - in the steepest of declines. Failing to take the third Test has hit home hard.
In the last of six first-class games outside the Tests, capitulation came by an innings 35 minutes after lunch as thunder clouds massed. Within the hour, rain had arrived too late to save them.
This at the hands of an Essex side, lacking six first-choice players. Ronnie Irani sent down 22 of the 144 overs
New Zealand faced in the game, while three of four other front-line bowlers boasted a total of just three championship appearances between them this year.
For his part, the promising Ricky Anderson, who claimed the final three wickets in 15 balls, only made his debut in late May.
Anderson's key scalp was his last. Roger Twose, averaging 24.9 after a poor tour, had reached a best yet of 91 when a ball of good line and sudden lift rapped his bottom hand and lobbed into the gully.
Twose is not the first to discover that Anderson's fast, whippy shoulder action can hurry on far more rapidly than batsmen expect.
With the chance of Twose's century gone, Chris Cairns had further treatment to his twisted knee instead of going to the crease and the odds on his being fit for Thursday's Test are now deemed better than even.
Geoff Allott, meanwhile, is officially described as ``doubtful''. If his bad back did not prevent him coming in at No 10, it is unlikely to permit him to bowl.
Twose's overnight partner, reserve wicketkeeper Martyn Croy, fell in the day's 20th over, beaten for pace by a David Thompson ball of surprise accuracy. Though decidedly quick through the air, Thompson's figures mask a line so wayward he could rarely be hit.
Craig McMillan followed, deceived in the flight by teenage slow left-armer Tim Phillips as he tamely chipped to mid-on.
With the seventh wicket worth 41 in the afternoon's fourth over, the fight was still on, but Daniel Vettori flashed exotically at Anderson and Shayne O'Connor came and went, lbw to the same bowler.
Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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