Cricket: Kiwis' state of collapse

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New Zealand 249-6 dec & 101-9; Middlesex 156-4 dec. Match abandoned as draw

NEW ZEALAND will need better days than this. Once again their batting folded without a glimmer of substance and their propensity to succumb to an attack some way short of full strength was nothing short of abysmal. This was the fourth time in six innings that New Zealand have collapsed, and only persistent rain saved them from defeat.

It is not often that English counties win a share of the Tetley Challenge pool money but if the Kiwis remain as helpless as their flightless national emblem, they will be more remembered for their boosting of English players' pay packets than for their traditionally tenacious cricket.

Geoff Howarth, the team manager, refused to make excuses. 'It's not good enough,' he said yesterday. 'We've done a lot of talking, but sometimes talking is not enough. People have got to get their act together and produce the goods.' With next week's one-day internationals looming, somebody asked him if there were any problem positions within the team. 'Yes. Numbers one to eleven are a problem as far as the batting is concerned.'

Resuming at 34 for one on a sluggish pitch allowing occasional movement off the seam, New Zealand were soon in trouble when Blair Hartland, a stodgy opening batsman, having taken 85 minutes over his 10 runs, proceeded to deposit the ball gently into gully's hands following a meek pushed drive off Kevin Shine. This opened the floodgates and the persevering Richard Johnson removed both Mark Greatbatch and Shane Thomson in the space of two overs and he finished with three for 35 from 16 overs. Johnson looks a fine prospect and if he can find a yard or so in pace, may well find himself taking wickets at Test level sooner than many Middlesex supporters might think.

Not even the skipper, Ken Rutherford, could stop the rot and he was one of the few batsmen who did not significantly contribute to his own downfall. This reached a farcical nadir when the wicketkeeper, Adam Parore, ran himself out in a nervous bid to open his account. Pushing the ball out to cover, he promptly set off before realising that it was in fact cover's right hand and not his left that he was testing. Ordinarily this would not have been a problem except that Jason Pooley only bats left- handed. By the time Parore had realised his mistake and remade his ground, a stump had been uprooted and the umpire's finger was bidding him farewell.

With the last pair posting the highest stand of the day, heavy afternoon rain saved the tourists. With the FA Cup final on the box, this was no doubt popular with both dressing-rooms. Much now depends on the state of Martin Crowe's knee, not least the chances of New Zealand achieving a workable total or two.

Contrary to some normally solid dressing-room gossip, Mike Atherton took the more mundane option of getting in some batting practice against the Alma Mater, rather than spend a potentially historic afternoon watching his beloved Reds take the double, though this seemingly selfless action was not entirely of his own volition. Although captain of England, Atherton is still regarded as a bit of a whipper-snapper. This does not bode well for his future head-to-heads with his chairman, Ray Illingworth. Instead of going to him, Illingworth is making Atherton and the other selectors come to Northampton, where they will select England's one-day squad for next week's two-match Texaco series.

This is certainly a departure from the Dexter regime, where Lord Ted would don his biking leathers and scoot off with a few names and an astrology chart, and track down Gooch's whereabouts. With customary bluster, Illingworth has already stated that the selection will be based on a 'Horses for courses' pragmatism, typical of the new regime. Selected as if there were a World Cup to win. If this is the case, then, despite his advancing years and declining sprightliness in the field, Gooch should find himself winding his way to Edgbaston come Monday night.

There should also be an abnormally high number of bits- and-pieces cricketers like Dermot Reeve, Shaun Udal and Richard Illingworth, and a place (if fit) for one-day specialists such as Neil Fairbrother. Stephen Rhodes should also get the nod as keeper, and either Mark Ilott or Martin Bicknell should make the squad. This will be hard on some who toured the West Indies, but then pity should have no place in modern cricket, particularly if England are to discover a harder edge.

ENGLAND (possible 13): Atherton, Stewart, Gooch, Smith, Hick, Hussain, Reeve, Rhodes, Lewis, Udal, Fraser, Caddick, Ilott.

(Photograph omitted)