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Events putting England under severe scrutiny

By Christopher Martin-Jenkins in Wellington

5 February 1997

THE possible participation of an 18-year- old spin-bowler, who looks like the school swot and has been chosen after two firstclass matches, and England's difficult situation make the second Test against New Zealand at Wellington a mouth-watering prospect.

The match starts at 9.30pm GMT tonight. England have to cope with the the knock-on effect of New Zealand's last-wicket stand at Auckland - one of the great escapes from the cricketing dead the need to end their sequence of draws this winter and the consequences of another near-miss, or, worse, a defeat.

It is a point which hardly needs emphasis after Auckland that, if England cannot take 20 wickets, they probably will not win, so nothing is more important for them during the next five days than the performances of their probable new-ball bowling attack of Dominic Cork and Darren Gough.

These two have scores to settle with New Zealand's gifted middle-order of Stephen Fleming, Nathan Astle and, assuming his recovery from an ankle sprain, Chris Cairns.

More than that, they have the incentive of serious rivalry from their opponents' new-ball pairing of Simon Doull and the strong, pacey, but unsophisticated Geoff Allott.

Cork and Gough have both made a lot of money since they burst into Test cricket with eye-catching performances. To an extent both of them have since been deflected from the main target.

They have played in the same Test team only four times in 19 games since Cork's dynamic debut at Lord's against the West Indies in 1995 and they will be sharing the new ball from the start of a match for the first time tomorrow, assuming Andrew Caddick is recalled as the third seamer after a tour spent mainly as a taciturn outsider.

Chris Silverwood's injury during fielding practice at the Basin Reserve - split webbing between forefinger and thumb, requiring five stitches and ruling him out until Christchurch next week will have made no difference to the final England XI.

Alan Mullally's continuing inability to make the batsmen play against the new ball is likely to end his unbroken run of nine Tests, not least because Allott's selection will create the rough which England like to think their spinners need.

Silverwood's apparent lack of stamina after bowling so well on the first day against New Zealand A at Wanganui, however, had already persuaded the tour selectors to turn instead to Caddick for the long spells into the wind, which Wellington often demands.

A final choice will be made in the morning between Craig White and one of England's pair of spinners, but the best bet on a true pitch will surely be a balanced attack of three fast and two slow bowlers.

White had his moments with the ball in the first Test at Auckland (two for 77 in the match), but his first-ball duck there and his inability to take his chance with the bat in Wanganui seem to have confirmed him as a cricketer who promises more than he delivers.

Robert Croft, on the other hand, has looked a doughty little cricketer in his three Tests, and it was a mistake to leave him out at Auckland.

None of New Zealand's team has had any first-class cricket since the first Test, except the two men who won instant promotion as a result of the New Zealand A XI's success in Wanganui, Allott and Chris Harris.

The four England players who were able to relax after their exertions at Auckland - Cork, Gough, Alec Stewart, Graham Thorpe should be in the right frame of mind to build on their success, and in the case of the two bowlers it is crucial to England's chances that they should do so.

Caddick is an enigma who has himself been treated enigmatically on this tour. It seemed to dawn on the tour selectors only halfway through the Wanganui match that this was one potential asset, which they had not even tried to use properly.

Caddick's virus at the start of the Zimbabwe visit and a couple of lacklustre performances gave Silverwood the inside track. Silverwood, who has had a good tour whatever might now follow, outperformed him both in Palmerston North and in the first innings against New Zealand A.

With his mechanical action and detached air, Caddick still seems a person apart, hard as he is trying to be a team man. It is hard to be sure how much this is due to his New Zealand upbringing and his decision to become a naturalised Englishman in order to play professional cricket.

England left him out at the Oval last August to accommodate Chris Lewis against Pakistan - after Caddick had taken six wickets at Headingely - and they have probably been wrong to overlook him on this tour until now. The next few days will tell.

Never a man for hyperbole, Atherton said after England's net practice that this was a Test match ``as important as the last one and no more important than the next''. It is one of the England captain's strengths to be able to focus on the big occasion and, within the occasion itself, on the next ball.

While it is true, therefore, that his own cricketing future will be at stake in this and the last match of the series at Christchurch, he will be keeping his eye on the ball both literally and metaphorically.

This is good news for an England team who need his batting to be at its best on a pitch which is very hard and covered with a beautifully even mat of thickish grass.

If sunshine returns, this should be a lovely pitch on which to bat during the middle stages of the game. England should play both spinners and bat first if they have the choice.

New Zealand's strategy depends on Cairns's full recovery. The fact that they did not call for a replacement yesterday (Danny Morrison, Heath Davis or Jeff Vaughan would be the likely candidates) suggests that his ankle will allow him to bowl.

If so, Steve Rixon, the coach, and Lee Germon, his captain, may find the courage to risk playing their tall, bespectacled meteor Daniel Vettori. He will be 18 years and 10 days old tomorrow.

Son of an Italian father and New Zealand mother, he is a natural bowler with that loop and curl in his flight, which comes from sharply imparted finger-spin.

He could become the youngest from his country to play Test cricket. It is an exciting prospect not just for Vettori but for all of us.

Source: The Electronic Telegraph
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Date-stamped : 25 Feb1998 - 15:33