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The Electronic Telegraph Somerset v New Zealanders, New Zealand in England, 1999
The Electronic Telegraph - 25-28 Jun 1999

Day 1: Kennis causes concern for New Zealend

Charles Randall

Somerset 407-7 v New Zealanders

The hard labour that the New Zealanders undertook during a long, hot day at the County Ground yesterday could not be practised in the nets. So in a sense Gregor Kennis's 175 against them assisted with adjustment. First the World Cup adventure, now the grind.

This four-dayer against depleted Somerset is the second of two matches New Zealand have been left with before they are thrust into the first Test against England at Edgbaston next Thursday. And they did not bowl well.

For Kennis, in his second season with Somerset after four years with Surrey, opportunity knocked at the age of 25 yesterday. His hundred, only his 15th in first-class cricket, was startling because his highest score to date had been 49.

Despite a glut of second-team runs last year, Somerset could offer him only luke-warm encouragement until it became clear Mark Lathwell would miss the summer with a knee ligament injury.

The Kennis name was inked into Somerset's plans, and the only county player to be born in Japan helped himself to a faultless hundred yesterday, batting for a total of 5.75 hours.

The New Zealand bowling, with Geoff Allott, their World Cup star, the most notable disappointment, was video-taped for analysis by England during their build-up for Edgbaston, but watching Kennis stroking runs with the proverbial stick of rhubarb would not reveal much.

The batting of Rob Turner, an England wicketkeeping candidate, would have more than passing interest because his 59 was his ninth first-class fifty of the summer. His run tally stands at 800.

The left-arm spin of Daniel Vettori was introduced as early as the 12th over, and though the New Zealanders claimed a catch off bat-pad early in Kennis's stay, they were given little encouragement by a sound batting strip and glass-like outfield.

Stephen Fleming did not post a third man for most of the day, and boundaries flowed. Kennis tucked in with 35 fours, and Turner continued his vintage season with 12 fours in his nonchalant 55-ball innings. Even Steffan Jones made batting look easy in the evening.

The wicketless Allott bowled his left-armers too short and wasted some early life in the pitch, with Marcus Trescothick in particular belting him away for runs. All day, if there was an edge, nothing usually flew to hand.

Nathan Astle's military seamers on a good line and length quietened Somerset's tempo, but he was almost alone. Nothing, though, should detract from Kennis's effort as a player who, until yesterday, could not convert second-team success into first-class achievement.

Kennis said afterwards: ``It's magnificent to go out there and score runs, because I've always believed in my own ability. It's been frustrating. I've always gone into second-team games expecting to score runs, and that's how I've started approaching first-team matches.''

As a baby, he was brought back to England from Yokohama, where his father worked for Lloyds Register of Shipping, and he went to Tiffin, Alec Stewart's old school.

Yesterday's innings was a steady progression to a 178-ball hundred, then a spurt to 150 followed by a slowdown as fatigue began to take its toll. He seemed aware that he was propping up a thin batting order.

Today Saqib Mahmood, a debutant from Middlesex League club cricket, should get his chance with his leg-spin, and New Zealand would definitely want to avoid further embarrassment.

Day 2: Kennis and Jones cane the tourists

Scyld Berry

Somerset (554) v New Zealand (229-4)

Interest in the forthcoming Test series may not have been raised to fever-pitch, or ticket sales for Edgbaston sent through the roof, as the New Zealanders dismissed a Somerset side thin in batting for 554 and lost four wickets themselves against a side thin in bowling too. Such is the game's perversity, the tourists will no doubt lose this match by an innings then proceed to defeat England.

It was not only Somerset's highest total against the New Zealanders but against any touring side. Gregor Kennis and Steffan Jones both hit maiden centuries, never having reached 50 in first-class cricket before. The best to be said about New Zealand's bowling is that it could be useful on pitches which have some life in them.

But at least the tourists had a four-day game to play and practise in. England's cricketers have not had a first-class match of any sort to play in since the middle of June. Perhaps it was just as well they were knocked out of the World Cup before the Super Six phase, otherwise some of them might not have had anything but one-day cricket before the first Test.

This is a deplorable lack of the right kind of preparation. It takes time at the crease to readjust from one-day to four or five-day tempo, and the England and Wales Cricket Board, while providing New Zealand with two first-class matches before the series begins, have given England's players none at all.

So if England are 100 for four wickets by lunch on Thursday we will know who to thank. The counties. The last fortnight has been packed with one-day cricket to gratify them, including one of the most fatuous competitions which even England have dreamt up, the Super (or Superfluous) Cup.

The existence of too many counties and too many players is often cited as the biggest problem in English cricket. An integral part of the same malaise is too many competitions. The official rationale for the Super Cup is that it reinvigorates the County Championship by rewarding those counties who finish in the top eight of it (and that the undisclosed sponsorship money from Benson and Hedges is worth having). But by giving players another competition to play for, by offering an alternative to the championship and National League, it has encouraged them to be softer.

Somerset resumed at 407 for seven after their first day of helping themselves to Kiwi fruit, and they continued to indulge until after lunch. Although the ball was still newish, Geoff Allott found no regular swing. He did not swing the white ball at Old Trafford either in the World Cup semi-final, and looks as though he will need Edgbaston to be at its cloudiest to do so in the Test match.

The eighth-wicket stand of 172 between Jones and Adrian Pierson equalled the Somerset record of Viv Richards and Ian Botham on a rare day at Leicester when they joined forces. Jones and Pierson were probably, on balance, more on top of the bowling as Jones passed 50 for the first time then reached his hundred off 146 balls.

Daniel Vettori missed a return catch only for the reprieved Ian Jones to slog 14 off his next four balls. Simon Doull did not bowl yesterday; his pace bowling colleagues did, to moderate effect.

This is a fine batting pitch with some pace and carry, yet New Zealand's opening batsmen offered three slip catches in the first four overs. Matthew Horne was dropped at second slip, and Roger Twose dropped at third before being caught at second.

Stephen Fleming played some lovely off drives, and some clips off his legs before he fell across the crease trying to do the same to a straight one. Then Nathan Astle fell to the most rustic of mows.

Horne, however, settled into his work until he dabbed a catch behind. Craig McMillan played rugged strokes in taking his team through to the close.

Day 3: McMillan's century turns the tide

Charles Randall

New Zealand (420 & 22-0) need 259 to beat Somerset (554 & 146).

New Zealand, having looked as though they were prepared to sleepwalk into the first Test this week, woke up to turn this Vodafone Challenge match around at Taunton.

Chris Doig, the chief executive of Cricket New Zealand, watched yesterday's markedly improved effort having missed the tourists' indifferent time in the field the previous day. The upturn must have been a coincidence, but it was difficult to be sure.

Their response to Somerset's huge total was inspired by a lively hundred from Craig McMillan, New Zealand's man of the future. He became the fourth batsman to reach three figures in the two warm-up games before the first Test against England at Edgbaston, which starts on Thursday.

The follow-on was avoided with eight wickets down and the New Zealand seamers quickly knocked chunks out of the Somerset second innings, with Simon Doull winning two lbw shouts in his first over.

Somerset, after scoring 554 in their first innings, could well lose the match. Yesterday, they were confronted by much more testing line and length bowling, backed by livelier fielding and safe catching, McMillan's brilliant dive in the gully for the final wicket rounding off a good day personally and collectively.

Whether New Zealand will worry England much at Edgbaston is open to doubt, though their confidence is high enough after reaching the semi-finals of the World Cup.

Doig, an executive with total responsibility for running the game in New Zealand, said: ``This side set themselves a target in September of making their mark and the two measuring sticks were doing well in the World Cup and trying to win a Test series in England - we've only done that once before.

``I was disappointed to hear that the fielding was below par because that's a part of our game we work on a lot. With our relatively weak attack our ability to put pressure on in the field in support of the bowlers has been critical.''

On Saturday, the Somerset overnight pair of Adrian Pierson and Steffan Jones went on to equal the county's eighth-wicket record of 172, the tail-enders quietly picking off some innocuous New Zealand bowling. If their tenure could be described as a feast, it was hardly a feeding frenzy, as these late-order stands often are.

The Pierson-Jones names joined the more eminent ones of Viv Richards and Ian Botham in the record books, which was flattering, and the placid County Ground pitch was not wholly to blame for New Zealand's inability to dig the batsmen out.

Jones batted with common sense and a straight bat for his maiden hundred, hitting 14 fours and a six before holing out to Roger Twose at long-on. The tall Pierson kept him company until he touched a lifter with Somerset well on the way to their highest score against any touring side.

McMillan's brand of aggression stiffened the New Zealand reply yesterday after Chris Cairns, his overnight partner, was held at second slip by Keith Parsons off the second ball he faced in the morning.

McMillan had suffered an appalling World Cup at the crease, but he mustered some authority at Taunton. His strokeplay was beautifully crisp and, with triumphant timing, he reached his hundred in 104 balls with a driven six over extra-cover off the bustling seamer Ian Jones.

Adam Parore looked in fine fettle during his 80 before Jason Kerr squeezed a good ball through his gate. One felt a really good seam-bowler, such as the resting Andrew Caddick, could exploit this pitch and this suspicion gained further credence in Somerset's second innings.

Gregor Kennis could not field yesterday while he recovered from an aching back, caused by a disc problem, after his 175 on Friday. The regulations compelled him to bat at No 8 after the in-form Rob Turner, followed by Pierson and Jones. It was almost as if Somerset had reversed their batting order.

Day 4: Visitors' confidence lifted by stylish win

Charles Randall at Taunton

New Zealand (420 & 282-4) bt Somerset (554 & 146) by 6 wkts

The New Zealanders could hardly have hoped for a better run-in to the first Test as they swept to an extraordinary victory over Somerset in the Vodafone Challenge match at Taunton yesterday with just under a session to spare.

They earned no prize money to enhance their glow of satisfaction. A few years ago touring sides would have pocketed a decent sum, and Somerset would have won 11,000 from Vodafone if they had won yesterday, but at least New Zealand took with them to Birmingham that crucial quality of confidence.

Very rarely could a side have been confronted by a first-innings total as high as 554 and marched on to win. New Zealand did it in style.

It did matter, if not much, that the county bowling lacked class, and it was interesting how comfortably the New Zealanders shrugged off the ``scoreboard pressure'' - as Jamie Cox, Somerset's absent Australian captain, likes to call daunting totals.

Stephen Fleming, their captain, said he was disappointed how his bowlers had failed to adapt to the easy pitch of the first day, but he added: ``We came back well. You need a time like today to jolt things back into action. A tangible result was nice to hang on to.''

He was well aware Somerset fielded a depleted attack, minus in particular Andrew Caddick and Matt Bulbeck. Fleming said: ``You can't equate that to Test conditions, but what we've had is guys batting in the middle, and that is valuable, so our confidence is high.''

Another advantage, the New Zealanders felt, was the potential problem for England caused by appointing a new captain, Nasser Hussain, without a coach in place since the departure of David Lloyd. Fleming said: ``It's a big series for England. It has been talked up as one they must win. So we quite like hearing that a lot of extra pressure has been placed on them by changing the captain and changing the guard.''

Somerset threatened to make life difficult in the morning after rain delayed the start by 45 minutes. Matthew Horne was struck on the helmet, surprised by a fast ball from Ian Jones, and in consecutive overs Keith Parsons plucked out Roger Twose's middle stump and had Fleming caught at slip.

Runs came easily, and the unbroken partnership of 148 between Nathan Astle and Chris Cairns took fewer than 24 overs. Both batsmen drove with power; Astle passing his fifty in 71 balls and Cairns even quicker, in 58.

Once these two became established Somerset looked powerless, though some sympathy must go to Saqib Mahmood, the leg-spinner making his debut. With Somerset's 554 safely in the bank, he was allowed only two nervous overs in New Zealand's first innings, one on Saturday and one on Sunday, each costing 17 runs.

Then, with the tourists requiring 13 runs to win yesterday, the luckless Mahmood, a club cricketer with Winchmore Hill in London, was tossed the ball for his third over of the match; that could certainly be interpreted as an insulting gesture by Marcus Trescothick, the captain. The contest duly ended on the sixth ball.

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