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The Electronic Telegraph Tour Match: Leicestershire v New Zealanders
The Electronic Telegraph - 30 July - 2 August 1999

Day 1: Vodafone Challenge: Aspiring bunch fluff their lines

D J Rutnagur at Leicester

First day of four: New Zealanders (250-8) lead Leics (125) by 125 runs

There was at least one Test candidate and a few longer-term England prospects in action but none of the selectors journeyed to Grace Road yesterday. If any of the three men had decided to come, his trip would have been wasted.

All the batsmen who they would have liked to see thrive flopped as Leicestershire were bowled out 40 minutes after lunch for the smallest score against these tourists. The home side were undermined by Andrew Penn, a fast-medium bowler drafted in to allow Chris Cairns and Dion Nash a rest before the third Test.

Darren Maddy, who, in view of his championship record this season, is a contender for an opener's spot, played 22 balls for seven runs before slicing a loose drive to gully. Ben Smith, who has made two largish hundreds and is in the selectors' minds for the future, also edged a drive.

Poor Aftab Habib, after scores of 1, 6 and 19 in his three Test innings, did nothing to redeem himself, driving over his 20th ball. Darren Stevens, who has opened Leicestershire's batting with distinction in his four matches, came in at No 6 and was caught at third slip without scoring. Poor footwork accounted for all these dismissals.

The pitch was not the fiend the Leicestershire scorecard portrayed it to be. On a warm, humid day, the ball swung. But that was about the only challenge to the batsmen. Geoff Allott and Shayne O'Connor, bowled steady, demanding opening spells for a wicket apiece.

Penn, 25 three days ago, is spending the summer playing for Esher in the Surrey League at weekends and advancing his law studies in London. He took four for 41 in his first spell and two more in 15 balls to wind up the innings.

Coming in at No 9, Penn capped his day by helping Daniel Vettori transform a sinking New Zealand innings. An over after tea, they were 76 for six and still nine runs behind when they lost their seventh wicket.

But Vettori, using his long reach, played all manner of shots to score his maiden first-class century. He and Penn, batting sensibly for an unbeaten 62, added 91 before Vettori, who faced 130 balls and hit 18 fours, played a fatal slog at Matthew Brimson.

Of the Kiwis' top-order batsmen, Matthew Bell, Stephen Fleming and Craig McMillan all failed, as did Nathan Astle. The early shocks were dealt by Scott Boswell, formerly of Northamptonshire, who was playing his maiden first-team game for his new county. He claimed Fleming, Astle and Chris Harris for 31 in his first spell of seven overs.

Day 2: Nixon and Wells give a lesson in obstruction

Scyld Berry at Grace Road

Second day of four: New Zealanders (260) trail Leics (125 & 333-9) by 198 runs

England's selectors could have saved themselves the prolonged debates which they have had about England's wicketkeeper this season. If they had selected Paul Nixon this summer ahead of Chris Read, they would never have had to entertain doubts about his batting capability.

Read is, or will be, a far superior 'keeper to Nixon but the Leicestershire player at present is far ahead as a salvage expert. It was imperative at the start of this summer's Test series that England should change their culture of collapse, and the subsequent disintegrations of their middle order have only reinforced the point.

Yesterday Leicestershire were in a position typical of England when Nixon came in. The county champions, through indisciplined batting, had been dismissed for 125 in their first innings (it does have a familiar ring, doesn't it?) and eventually conceded a lead of 135 to the New Zealanders. Then more poor batting a second time round brought the county near to their knees at 107 for five and to the verge of a wipe-out in two days.

Enter Nixon, bristling with purpose, a nightclub bouncer by nature. Perhaps disheartened by England's rejection, he had been having a poor run with the bat, like his captain Vince Wells at the other end, but together they settled down to halt the tourists' winning streak with a century partnership.

Shayne O'Connor, New Zealand's reserve left-arm pace bowler, had taken all five of Leicestershire's second-innings wickets by swinging the ball far more than Geoff Allott. A couple of lbw decisions might have been on the generous side - Darren Maddy and Stevens were forward and well-forward respectively - but there was no doubt about Aftab Habib's dismissal. It was replica of his second-innings dismissal at Lord's as he steered a catch behind the wicket with his weight on neither foot, taking him to a total of 35 runs in his fifth (and last) innings against the tourists.

Maddy was more impressive, and the strong work ethic of Leicestershire's compact opener has long appealed to Graham Gooch, but he too is not yet a finished international article. Yesterday he hit some dazzling legside shots with drive and pull, but closed the face of his bat too soon in his offside driving and looked far more limited on that side of the wicket.

Wells and Nixon rattled along at six an over before throttling back for a long stay. They didn't allow Daniel Vettori to dictate, as England had done at Lord's, but took 13 from his first over of the afternoon. Suddenly the New Zealanders no longer looked omnipotent or Australian. The misfields set in, the tourists' bowling looked thin, the county were back in the game.

The pitch for this match is set well over to one side, not 60 yards from the George Geary Stand, a symbol of the place which tourist games have in our scheme of things. Yet it was over the further boundary that Wells pull-drove Vettori as he pushed on to his first century of his World Cup-disrupted season, while Nixon went to his fifty off 83 balls.

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