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Atherton should pass test of character

By David Lloyd

23 January 1997

I WENT to Auckland to watch the New Zealanders play in a two-day practice match after our encouraging 2.5-day victory over Northern Districts. It was time well spent.

Here was an opportunity to video their bowlers, particularly Simon Doull, who was rested for the Districts game at Hamilton in order that we did not see too much of him before this week's first Test at Auckland.

He looks tall and rangy with a run-up similar to Gladstone Small and delivery very like Phil Newport. He hits the deck and has decent pace.

New Zealand's strength, I feel, will be their pace attack with Danny Morrison and Chris Cairns supporting Doull. The Eden Park pitch has had its fair share of water over these last few days, although the groundsman tells us it will be a dry pitch with a good covering of brown grass.

The ground itself is very impressive, but the cricket square is at such a strange angle that the playing area, which is primarily used for rugby, is quite small. The boundaries at backward square-leg are little more than 50 yards.

Both teams will ponder whether to use one spinner or two, and in our case which one of the two, Robert Croft or Phil Tufnell. If one of them does not play, it will be purely tactical, as both have been impressive while bowling together.

We have two problem areas: the injury to Dominic Cork and Michael Atherton's lack of form. Lack of form happens to most players from time to time and it is a matter of work analysis, confidence, strength and technique.

Michael lacks none of these things and I am convinced he will be back among the runs soon. I might be old-fashioned, but he deserves to be because he cares so much about England and his team. He has been through such a lot of late, and his grit and strong character shine through.

Dominic's injury seems to be on the mend. He pulled up with back pain in Hamilton and we all hope he will be 100 per cent fit tomorrow morning.

Wicket to wicket swing bowling gives us a great option and the opposition seem as concerned as we are in view of his performances already in this tour.

We will give him until the last possible moment to prove his fitness and, if I were a betting man, I think he will make it. If he doesn't, we get on with it and it gives a great opportunity to one of the other lads. This is a big game for England, we are in good heart and quite relaxed. The press seem to be, too. I hope we can keep it that way.

Our Zimbabwe leg ended very disappointingly and certainly rammed home the importance of results in one-day cricket.

Our poor performance overshadowed our dominance in the Test matches, and I am sure we would have triumphed in at least the Bulawayo game, with us calling the shots at Harare.

We moved on to New Zealand with scathing criticism back home, we are given to understand, which can only make the team more determined to achieve better results in New Zealand.

Our journey to New Zealand took us to Johannesburg, Perth and Sydney before we arrived in Auckland some 40 hours, given the time difference, since leaving Harare.

A long delay in Sydney meant we were able to watch the West Indies beat Australia in a World Series one-day game, albeit on television, and then to gauge reaction to the state of Australian cricket in the press.

They are getting a similar bagging to us and the only way a team can put that right is to win. It is the way of the world. New Zealand, like ourselves, are looking to re-emerge with a new board, new coach and a fresh marketing strategy.

Our welcome was warm and professional with a well-orchestrated press conference headed by New Zealand batting legend, Martin Crowe.

ITN had sent Michael Nicholson, and he wasted no time in attracting centre stage with his stinging observations.

I can only assume he was here to do a hatchet job on the captain, Michael Atherton, in particular, and myself with little concept of the enormous challenge facing English cricket in its quest to revamp the whole structure to enable us to compete at the highest level of Test cricket. We needed time to get over jet-lag, and it was good for the players to have a couple of days off and generally relax in Auckland before getting down to business again.

We were able to take in a boat trip and a barbecue. We were also promised a cyclone in the region, and it duly arrived after we had bowled against the New Zealand Academy team at Pukekura Park, New Plymouth.

The rains came before we had a chance to bat, but our bowlers, and in particular our new addition Cork, had a run out. The weather followed us to our next venue at Palmerston North and we won the toss and invited the Select XI to bat first. We bundled them out, with the seamers bowling really well with patience, aggression and generally getting the ball in the right place.

Alec Stewart and Nasser Hussain scored excellent centuries and then we got to work again with the ball and won by an innings.

Phil Tufnell picked up wickets in the second innings bowling with control and variation and in the pace department, Craig White caused problems with his deceptive change of pace. That win certainly took some of the pressure off the team.

I have to say we look more comfortable here with the people and the climate, which is slightly worrying because we should be able to adapt to any conditions. An innings victory was emphatic enough and we moved on to Hamilton to play Northern Districts.

Districts were bundled out by some really classy pace bowling from Cork, Alan Mullally, White and Darren Gough. We would have to work hard with the bat and work hard we did, with Nick Knight and Alec Stewart getting starts, but the telling partnership was between John Crawley and Graham Thorpe.

When we came to bowl the second time around, the wicket had lost its sting. Nevertheless, Mullally, Gough and White paved the way for victory in 2.5 days with some determined and hostile bowling.

I just feel we are getting some steel into our play.

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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:31