Cricket: Atherton earns his moment of joy

New Zealand 124 & 191 England 383 England win by innings and 68 runs: SECOND TEST: England's trouncing of New Zealand by an innings and 68 runs takes embattled tourists into welcome territory
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The Independent Online
If a computer had simulated it, the result of the second Test here would surely have been a stalemate: while the current height of New Zealand's ambition is to play for the draw, England are not used to winning away from home, as they showed in the first Test in Auckland. Instead, with England's bowlers in rare mood, New Zealand were trounced yesterday by an innings and 68 runs as the touring team played their most intense cricket of the tour.

That is a drubbing in anyone's language, and it puts England into overseas territory (that is, one up in the series) they have not explored since they were last here, five years ago.

Gratifyingly, from the England management's point of view, it is also a situation that has at last given the England captain something substantial with which to thump his tub. And in his most impressive performance in front of the media this winter, Mike Atherton admitted feeling somewhat relieved that England had finally managed to convert supremacy into victory.

"We've got so close this winter a couple of times," he said, his hair matted with the usual alcoholic accoutrements of victory. "It was nice to finally finish it off. I'm very pleased for the players. We've worked hard generally over the longer form of the game and played some good cricket this winter. They deserve to get a victory."

At one stage, as persistent morning drizzle threatened to hold up play, it again looked nip and tuck as to whether England would get the win they had worked for. However, once it had lifted and England were able to take the second new ball, the result became a formality that even England's win-shy cricketers could not avoid.

"It was a different surface to the one in Auckland, which was a dead pitch," Atherton said. "There a tailender could hang around. But there was no way, given a new ball and bowlers bowling well, that tailenders were going to hang around."

It was, in hindsight, a good toss to lose, and Atherton might have said a quiet thank you to his opposite number, Lee Germon, for winning the toss and batting. The England captain would have made the same decision had the first day offered more than the two hours' play that were eventually possible after rain had delayed the start. At 56-6, on the first evening, New Zealand were essentially out of the match after just two hours' play.

There was another difference too, and it came in the lanky form of Andrew Caddick, a consistently menacing presence whose swing and bounce helped overcome the current lassitude of Dominic Cork, who was curiously out of sorts.

Darren Gough, who gamely took on a strongish wind on the last day, may have ended with the best haul - his 9 for 92 was his best Test return - but Caddick got more than anyone out of this engaging pitch, which, as Atherton pointed out, had something in it for everyone.

Euphoria can be a great disguise, and while the England coach, David Lloyd, is pondering the ease with which he has gone from being Basil Fawlty to Jim'll Fix It, there is still the unanswered question as to why this was Caddick's first Test of the winter. Indeed, he would probably not have played here had Chris Silverwood not been freakishly injured in practice two days before the start.

There is a theory that Caddick lacks the necessary mettle when the going gets tough. As this is virtually all the time where England are concerned, his absence - if that theory is correct - is perhaps understandable. However, it is hard to recall when he last let England down in a Test.

For all Caddick's niggling faults, he is a talented bowler who can win matches, and he was probably the decisive factor in a cohesive team effort. In any case, playing him can only be a positive measure and one that has the added benefit of allowing Gough to attack without compromise. It was Gough who got England going yesterday, taking four wickets in 21 balls before lunch, although it was fitting that Caddick took the last two wickets to secure victory.

But where exactly, with the Ashes series ahead this summer, does this rare Test win leave England in terms of world ratings? Although there was a time when beating the tenacious Kiwis at home was a hard-earned achievement - rather than something all but handed over on a plate thanks to the New Zealanders' limp and hair-brained batting - England's win, however welcome, was not the stuff of legends. That will come later, on a turning pitch, when Daniel Vettori has graduated from teenage Kiwi prodigy to prodigious spinner and midnight curfews are necessary only for schoolgirls in convents.

Yet there is a good feel and shape to this England team. For one thing, the bowling seemed balanced, and if Cork's arm and form were both below their best, Robert Croft and Phil Tufnell trussed up those that escaped the clutches of Gough and Caddick.

It is a performance for which Ian Botham, England's part-time bowling coach, can take only the most slender of credit, unless he has been issuing instructions at the end of his mobile phone on Lake Taupo.

Nevertheless, it is a combination that is only possible while Alec Stewart is able to stay free of injury and keep wicket. At present, Stewart is managing to do both, as well as score runs, but it is a precarious position from which to have everything else flow.

Making big runs is a habit his Surrey colleague, Graham Thorpe, also appears to have taken up now that he has regained his confidence and got his weight distributed properly between front and back foot. Thorpe scored his second century of the series at the Basin Reserve, an achievement that saw another nuggety left-hander, Martin Donnelly, make him the man of the match.

In contrast Nick Knight is suffering a minor crisis in confidence and, but for the absence of another opening batsman, would probably struggle to keep his place in the side.

As it is his slip catching has been outstanding and epitomised a much improved England fielding performance. As Croft was quick to mention after his decisive three-wicket spell late on Monday evening, supportive fielding lifts bowlers and creates pressure. Over the last five days, New Zealand could cope with neither.

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