Cricket: England find the feel-good factor

New Zealand 226 & 107 England 126 & 211-3 England win by 7 wickets
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The Independent Online
IT IS a fine line, so self-belief is important. One little thing. One session, can turn the outcome. You have to believe in yourself and put it right. And 11 people did."

Not Nostradamus but Nasser Hussain, England's jubilant captain, following Saturday's victory at Edgbaston. Not a prediction either but something of a thanksgiving prayer, and had England lost so soon after bombing out of the Carnival of Cricket, their world would almost certainly have been at its (wits') end. Fine lines indeed.

According to Hussain, the yo-yoing nature of his first match in charge has aged him 20 years. If it has, the unexpected win will have helped smooth over one or two wrinkles, while the performance of his two youngest players, Alex Tudor (aged 21) and Chris Read (20) should keep him from the bath chair a while yet. As Hussain pointed out, no doubt with a glance back at his own difficult start with England, first impressions of Test cricket are important and both Tudor - with the bat - and Read - with the gloves - made telling contributions to the victory.

The feel-good factor, totally absent at Edgbaston a month earlier when India dispatched England from the World Cup, also returned and Saturday's crowd seemed oblivious that they had been short-changed out of three hours' entertainment. Indeed, the only people likely to be left cursing another finish inside three days are at Sky Television, whose first home Test broadcast this was. Instead of filling 15 hours of airtime with live cricket they were forced to plunder the vaults to fill the void.

Even the England and Wales Cricket Board, which not so long ago would have been ruing the loss in revenue, will be happy. As New Zealand have known for some time, a win, irrespective of the circumstances, is far better for the game as a whole than the ideals of level playing fields and Tests that last into the final session of the fifth day. Sport is a spectacle, not a time-trial, and the swings in fortunes, however rapid on this seam bowlers' paradise, were undeniably thrilling.

Winning has become everything in modern sport to the extent that style and content have become virtually irrelevant. This Test, Tudor's fine batting apart, was settled by poor cricket played on a poor pitch.

But while a contest littered with error is never the best way to sell your prime exhibit, few can deny England showed great character in overcoming a severe first-innings handicap to win by seven wickets. Hearteningly, it is a side to their game that appears to be developing and the same spirit was also seen at Melbourne and Sydney last winter when Alec Stewart was at the helm.

With scores of 1 and 0 and two missed chances at second slip, Stewart had a stinker of a match. Losing the captaincy - a difficult matter that was not handled well - has probably not helped, but it is not the cause.

Despite the difficulties of facing the new ball, Stewart's footwork is awry and he knows it, which is why his confidence is suffering. He is a determined character but England need him to find form fast; the selectors will probably not look much beyond the Lord's Test before requiring evidence of a revival.

How quickly fortunes change and, as the first England captain to win his debut Test in charge since 1982, Hussain will be hoping the breaks that have so far gone his way continue. With five fast bowlers to choose from, his decision to settle for Tudor and Andy Caddick to partner Alan Mullally in place of Dean Headley and Chris Silverwood was probably based on nothing more than a hunch. As it turned out Caddick and Tudor were match-winners, though unexpectedly it was Tudor's batting - with undefeated knocks of 32 and 99 - rather than his bowling that made Hussain's first Test a celebration instead of a wake.

With a previous highest first-class score of 56 for Surrey - for whom he bats between No 8 and No 10 - Tudor's efforts, especially his 99 as nightwatchman in the second innings, seemed to come as a revelation to everyone but himself. If clues to his ability were just about apparent in the assured defence of his first innings, they were out in the open during the second, and Surrey must fast-track his development by pushing him up the order.

In a back-foot style reminiscent of prime-time Richie Richardson, Tudor unleashed an array of mainly off-side boundaries. Cause and effect can sometimes get muddied, but the net outcome was that the Kiwi bowlers lost both heart and direction. In the 43.4 overs it took England to score the 208 required, 38 fours were struck. With almost a four-ball every over to feast upon, it was a shoddiness few Test sides would have been capable of and England must go on to win this series resoundingly if they are to give South Africa more than a passing scare this winter.

When dissected, Tudor's batting can be explained by hard work. Apart from recently seeking out advice and help from Graham Gooch, Tudor also has Mark Ramprakash as a net partner and confidante. Having teamed up together in Australia last winter, Ramprakash reckons his input has amounted to little more than a willing supply of throw-downs and the advice that it is all right to leave the odd one outside the off-stump. Ironically, it was a tip Tudor chose largely to ignore on Saturday.

Although Tudor beat the 98, made by Harold Larwood, as the highest Test score made by a nightwatchman for England, he may well remember Edgbaston for the one run he did not score rather than the 99 he did. With his bowling lacklustre in comparison, perhaps he felt a three-figure score in only his third Test would have given him ideas above his station. If he did, it was his only misjudgment.

With the headlines dominated by him and Caddick, whose eight wickets and 33 runs in the first innings represented a fine return to the team, it was easy to overlook the likes of Read and Phil Tufnell, who simply delivered when asked. As anyone will tell you, wicket-keepers are best judged when standing up and Read, apart from the under-edge he spilled off the spinner in the first innings, was neat and unobtrusive.

Although there was a case for not playing him, Tufnell too kept things simple and responded well to his new captain. Before play started Hussain was inundated with advice from former Test players to play four seamers, and it would have been easy for a new captain to capitulate. But rightly or wrongly - the patter of the game suggested the latter - Hussain stuck to his guns, thought on his feet and muddled through. It is that knack, rather than the inflexible tactics of previous captains, that must be retained if England are to prosper under him.


New Zealand won toss

NEW ZEALAND - First Innings 226 (A C Parore 73).

ENGLAND - First Innings 126.

NEW ZEALAND - Second Innings 107 (A R Caddick 5-32).

ENGLAND - Second Innings (Overnight 3 for 1)

M A Butcher c Parore b Nash 33

77 min, 67 balls, 4 fours

A J Tudor not out 99

181 min, 119 balls, 21 fours

*N Hussain b Allott 44

80 min, 57 balls, 10 fours

G P Thorpe not out 21

27 min, 21 balls, 3 fours

Extras (b7, lb2, nb5) 14

Total (for 3, 43.4 overs) 211

Fall (cont): 2-76 (Butcher), 3-174 (Hussain).

Did not bat: M R Ramprakash, A Habib, C M W Read, A R Caddick, A D Mullally, P C R Tufnell.

Bowling: Allott 15-0-71-2 (nb4) (8-0-28-1, 7-0-43-1); Doull 7-0-48-0 (4-0-21-0, 3-0-27-0); Vettori 6-1-22-0 (3-0-10-0, 3-1-12-0); Nash 7-0- 29-1; Cairns 4-0-18-0 (nb1); Astle 1-1-0-0, McMillan 3.4-0-14-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Third day: 50: 39 min, 8.4 overs. 100: 101 min, 23.0 overs. Lunch: 127-2 (Tudor 55, Hussain 28) 30 overs. 150: 147 min, 34.3 overs. 200: 181 min, 42.1 overs. England won at 2.37pm.

Tudor 50: 103 min, 62 balls, 11 fours.

Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and P Willey (Eng).

Man of the match: A J Tudor


Compiled by Jo King