Cricket: England pay for their apathy

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From the moment the first ball of the third day rose from a length and hit Llorne Howell clean in the throat, it was always going to be a test of mettle rather than technique. And it was one that the majority of England's top-order patently did not have the stomach for.

It has been plain since they arrived here that England have not wanted to play this game. It is, they claim, too soon after Auckland to be given their full attention, and apart from a handful of participants, their batting has reflected that, and they lost by 90 runs just before lunch on the fourth day. The lure of Wellington was clearly more enticing than a days hard graft in Wanganui.

It would have been worse but for a seventh-wicket partnership of 73 between Jack Russell and Robert Croft. Striking the loose ball sweetly, the pair had added 73 when Croft, on the brink of a fine 50, swept the off-spinner Paul Wiseman clean into short-leg's midriff, where the ball remained firmly lodged.

The unfortunate nature of the dismissal did not however, prevent Andy Caddick from hooking loosely at Heath Davis, the ball skewing to cover where Matt Horne took a simple catch. It was a careles way to lose a wicket considering Russell's dutiful application at the other end.

As this was one of the few games Russell was likely to play in until the end of the tour, he was clearly determined to make it last as long as possible, and he posted a gritty half-century just before lunch.

Which was rather what Michael Atherton could have done with on the third day. Instead, he failed again, shuffling across and missing a full- length delivery from the left-arm opening bowler Geoff Allott.

However, he is a perplexing fellow and despite tour figures of 316 runs from 19 innings at an average of 17.5, he still managed to produce a vintage knock of 83 in the First Test, which leads only to the conclusion that these days nothing outside Test matches raises his interest level to anywhere near boiling point.

At least there was a confident partnership of 71 between Nasser Hussain and John Crawley, replacing tentative pokes with a flurry of bold shots, to raise the spirits. Afterwards Hussaintried to sum up England's meek batting performance.

"It was a tricky wicket and they had two bowlers who hit the pitch hard. They simply got more out of the surface than us. There was a hole in the pitch but neither side found it that often.

"Actually, facing quick bowling on a pitch like that is exciting. It gets your heart going and your feet moving a bit quicker, which may be a good thing if Wellington has quickened up as much as they say."

In truth, the pitch here was fickle but not lethal, and it behaved in much the same manner as the droll description of flying: 99 per cent boredom (ie well-behaved) and one per cent sheer terror.

Allott has undeniably deserved his Test selection. Like Alan Mullally, he does not really swing the ball into the right-hander. Instead he bowls a tight off-stump line at a good enough pace to make batsmen hurry their shots, as eight victims can so far testify.

Results were not as forthcoming for England's bowlers. Chris Silverwood, who took six wickets in the first innings but went wicketless in the second, may have the dubious distinction of bowling himself in and out of Test-match contention in one game. Silverwood's performance ought to leave the door open for Andrew Caddick, who was again impressive and more than just a little unlucky to take just three second innings wickets.

England badly need a Test win, which will necessitate some bold selections: Caddick for Mullally and, if the new pitch warrants it, Croft for Craig White. But, judging by the weight of overs here, White is still in the thoughts as the all-rounder.

Picking a side to lengthen the batting order is understandable against strong bowling sides, but against New Zealand it is flawed thinking, especially if it compromises either the firepower or balance of the bowling attack.

Excepting the frenetic demands of one-day cricket, the top six should be the side's runscorers, and in Test matches they have to know and take responsibility for that. To rely on others is basically to start from a negative premise. England have to be weaned off this if they are ever to move out of the minnow pool they currently inhabit.

l Danny Morrison, whose last-wicket heroics saved the First Test in Auckland, has been unceremoniously dropped, in favour of Geoff Allott, for the Second Test starting in Wellington on Thursday. Chris Harris and 18-year-old left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori are also called up.

New Zealand A won toss

New Zealand A - First Innings 181 (M J Horne 64; C E W Silverwood 6-44)

England - First Innings 107 (H T Davis 4-22, G I Allott 4-44).

New Zealand - Second Innings

(Second-day close 107-4)

C Z Harris c Knight b White 71

L G Howell lbw b Tufnell 66

J Mills c Silverwood b White 20

P J Wiseman not out 12

H T Davis lbw b Caddick 0

R J Kennedy c Atherton b Caddick 11

G I Allott c Russell b Irani 1

Extras (b2 lb6 nb1) 9

Total (105.5 overs) 288

Fall: 1-28, 2-84, 3-101, 4-101, 5-218, 6-253, 7-261, 8-266, 9-267

Bowling: Silverwood 17-1-74-0, Caddick 27-5-52-3, Tufnell 17-4-45-2, Croft 24-6-48-1, Irani 6.5-1-13-2, White 14-2-48-2

England - Second Innings

N V Knight c Spearman b Allott 4

*M A Atherton lbw b Allott 0

N Hussain c Allott b Davis 57

J P Crawley c Mills b Allott 38

C White c Chandler b Wiseman 21

R C Irani b Allott 4

R C Russell not out 59

R D B Croft c Chandler b Wiseman 49

A R Caddick c Horne b Davis 12

C E W Silverwood run out 10

P C R Tufnell ct Kennedy b Harris 2

Extras (b7 lb6 nb1) 14

Total (for 6 wkts, (43 overs) 272

Fall: 1-3, 2-6, 3-72, 4-126, 5-126, 6-143, 7-216, 8-241, 9-66

Bowling: Allott 16-1-76-4, Davis 18-3-63-2, Kennedy 10-2-32-0, Wiseman 30-6--84-2, Harris 2.4-1-4-1

Umpires: B Bowden and E Watkin

New Zealand A won by 90 runs