The Dominic Cork factor continues to make its presence felt, and England's demolition of Northern Districts by 10 wickets yesterday was as much to do with his absence with an injured back as it was to do with his marvellous bowling on the first day.
Like a certain lager, Cork's unavailability seems to have reached parts of his team that no one else could reach. His colleagues' response with the ball, on a deadening pitch, was both impressive and heartening, particularly in view of his possible absence from the first Test in three days' time.
Moving gingerly, but not encased in the grimace of someone who has badly ricked their back, Cork admitted afterwards that "he felt a lot better," and that he was hoping the problem "would go away in a couple of days," and that his back would "hopefully be all right for Friday."
Unusually for a bowler, Cork claims not to have had a soft tissue injury of the lower back before, and his optimism after the gloomy rumours that it might take six weeks to heal may just be the bravado of a disappointed man. Mind you, he has recovered miraculously before, and the fact that he is not seeking expert help suggests the injury is short term rather than long.
However, his captain, despite the joys of reaching double figures for the first time in New Zealand, appeared more guarded and refused to speculate over his thoroughbred's chances of a quick recovery.
"I thought that Dominic bowled an exceptional new ball spell on the first day," Michael Atherton said after the match. "He's a real asset with these Kookaburra balls, which seem to swing." Unfortunately for Atherton, it is a skill few of his other bowlers can impart with any frequency, and Cork's presence is vital if there is any swinging to be done.
This meant that England had to make Northern Districts hop to a far more direct tune, with the initial bars from Darren Gough and a final chorus delivered by Alan Mullally, who finished the innings with 4 for 52. With little wind to blow him off balance, Gough's opening spell was arguably his finest of the winter. Charging in from the City End, he uprooted Matthew Bell's off stump with the third ball of the day, leaving a strokeless batsman standing transfixed over an empty stump-hole.
For seven overs Gough grunted and strained, never once sending down anything with less than maximum effort. His reward for such selfless effort was the prize wicket of the Test opener, Blair Pocock, leg before as he whipped across a straight one that clearly beat him for pace.
Pocock had scored 69 and had looked nothing like as assured as he had the previous day, his discomfort a clear testament to the aggression and pace Gough managed to generate - complementary fast bowling tools that saw him finish with impressive match figures of 6 for 74.
As Robert Croft was mildly disappointing in his first bowl since Zimbabwe, it was a day for the fast men. When Gough was rested, there was little respite as Alan Mullally and then Craig White hit the pitch hard. But if Mullally was the more impressive - the sharp caught and bowled to end the plucky innings of Michael Parlane was particularly fine - it was Craig White who wreaked the most helmet damage, with no fewer than five clanging strikes coming from his deceptively quick and accurate bouncer.
In theory, White's pace is a handy weapon to have and it ought to give Atherton the option to play two spinners in the first Test. However, he is probably not quite reliable enough (nearly half the runs he conceded were the result of cut shots) to be the third seamer, which makes the twin spin option a risky one - particularly if Cork does not play.
Unlike the bowling, the batting line-up for the Test more or less picks itself although, with the home side scoring enough runs to make England bat again, it was inevitable that the faltering form of the England captain should again come under scrutiny.
In the event, Atherton was not cowed by a situation of having to score 35 runs for victory and he played some forceful strokes, pulling and punching as if making his way out of a large paper bag - which is what doubt really amounts to, given its flimsy constructs and shortened perspectives.
However, his epic foray into double figures was not something Atherton wished to dwell upon. "The build-up of team confidence overrides any individual needs," he said at the post-match press conference. "I'm delighted by the way we've started the New Zealand tour. Our priorities were to win these games comprehensively and we've won both in two and a half days." This is a fact not unconnected to him winning the toss on helpful pitches - two factors unlikely to be guaranteed when the show moves on to Auckland.
Third day of four; England won toss
NORTHERN DISTRICTS - First Innings 69
ENGLAND - First Innings 294 (G P Thorpe 71, J P Crawley 65; A R Tait 5-96, S B Styris 4-110).
NORTHERN DISTRICTS - Second Innings
(Overnight: 99 for 1)
*B A Pocock lbw b Gough 69
M D Bell b Gough 35
M D Bailey c Thorpe b Mullally 26
M E Parlane c and b Mullally 74
M N Hart c White b Mullally 1
R G Hart b White 4
A R Tait c Atherton b White 20
S B Styris b Mullally 13
D L Vettori c Crawley b Gough 1
D R Bennett not out 4
Extras (b3 lb4 nb3) 10
Total (91.4 overs) 259
Fall: 1-9 2-99 3-114 4-156 5-164 6-171 7-212 8-243 9-255.
Bowling: Cork 9-3-23-1; Mullally 22.4-7-52-4; White 17-3-61-2; Croft 23-5-63-0; Gough 19-5-51-3; Thorpe 1-0-3-0.
ENGLAND - Second Innings
N V Knight not out 24
*M A Atherton not out 12
Extras (w1 nb1) 2
Total (for 0, 8.1 overs) 38
Did not bat: A J Stewart, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, C White, R D B Croft, D G Cork, D Gough, A D Mullally.
Bowling: Styris 1-0-10-0; Bennett 4-1-17-0; Tait 3.1-1-11-0.
Umpires: D V Cowie and C V King.