Cricket: England sublime and ridiculous

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The Independent Online
ENGLAND HAVE made a career from being miserable, hopeless or wretched and on their bad days they can be much worse. They are never dull. The proceedings on the third day of the final Test yesterday, almost regulation by England's standards, saw them go to hell and back again, having grabbed a glimpse of paradise in between. By the time a palpitating day's play drew to a close they had arrived at a place somewhere between the two. They know where they wish to go but the flames down below could engulf them yet.

The pursuers, England are left needing 155 runs to win the match - and the series - with eight wickets in hand. It would be the highest score of the game and the second-highest winning fourth-innings score in 82 Tests between the sides. It could go either way, though if England bat for the remainder of their second innings as they did in the first it will not reach lunch.

The pitch should improve and the continued presence of Michael Atherton is uplifting, if only because he has visited this sort of place so many times before. He looked in assured form, phlegmatic, imperturbable, playing some meaningful shots at the start of the innings and the end of the day, laying down his marker. So, too, did Graham Thorpe, who unleashed a couple of rasping strokes which he appeared to follow up with matching expletives. Only afer the day had finally ended did Thorpe, unsettled for some time, lend it an added twist by withdrawing his name from consideration for the winter tour to spend more time with his young family. - an understandable decision. He will, surely, return but often lately he has looked disaffected with his cricket. A rest would him good and it would be wonderful were he to start a winter off by helping England through today.

The Oval was bathed in sun and all but full. The crowd were enthralled. It would not need much England success (well perhaps an Ashes triumph) to turn round the game. Fifteen wickets fell while 256 runs were scored and during most of the play it was difficult to draw breath and impossible to avert your eyes.

Bestriding the most telling minutes of the thrilling first two sessions was the New Zealand all-rounder, Chris Cairns. Whatever the final pursuit yields might seem almost prosaic compared to his deeds then. He dismantled the end of England's first innings and not long afterwards - actually a mere two hours - he had to stride to the crease and rescue his side from 39 for 6. Cairns then made 80 of the cleanest struck runs anybody could ever wish to see off 94 balls, four of which from Phil Tufnell he smote for six, all of them still climbing when they crossed the boundary. Presumably, if the side are not in trouble he goes on the attack.

Cairns, always cast as the son of the former New Zealand seamer Lance, perhaps because it is meant to indicate that he was born with an innate advantage, has never satisfied his critics. It is judged that he has not fulfilled his vast talents and, worse, has not the stomach when it matters. The story of this match should give the lie to that forever. The day before it began he was put at only 50-50 to play because of a knee injury.

On Friday he undermined the initial part of England's innings, yesterday morning he ran in and finished them off. Not long after Daniel Vettori comfortably did for Alan Mullally it was Cairns who accounted for a strokeless Mark Ramprakash, caught behind playing his only shot of intent. Ed Giddins, in his maiden Test, was easy meat. England were 83 adrift. They needed to be closer.

For a brief and intoxicating interlude Hussain and his men shrugged aside the effects of another disturbing summer and somehow found themselves on the path to serenity. Andrew Caddick was electrifying with the new ball. Since his recall he has let down the side with neither bat nor ball and yesterday, when he had every right to be cursing the batsmen for mucking it up again, he steamed in. Five, maybe six times, maybe more, he beat the opening pair. His luck, it seemed, was to be out when at last Matthew Bell sliced towards point where Ronnie Irani took a smart catch.

England needed more inroads than that and they needed them quickly. It was not Caddick who provided them but Giddins. He had Matthew Horne lbw, he had Nathan Astle caught by Irani, again in the gully region and this time snaffling an even better catch. Roger Twose managed the thinnest of edges to Alec Stewart. That was 22 for 4, Giddins had taken 3 for 1 in 25 balls. Shortly after lunch it became still better for England. Stephen Fleming who seemed about to bed down again, nicked one from Caddick to slip, Adam Parore shouldered arms and must have been alarmed to see the ball break back, more alarmed to see his middle stump go cartwheeling across the square.

England, even England with their propensity for allowing teams off the hook, must have had visions of having to knock off something well under 200 at this stage. But Cairns was wonderful. With Craig McMillan he put on 40 for the 7th wicket off a mere 50 balls. With Nash he put on another 70 for the 8th wicket and in doing so dominated the strike.

Hussain rang the changes at the pavilion end. Cairns took 16 off a single over from Giddins, thus disabusing him of any notion that this is a simple game. But it was Tufnell for whom he reserved the least respect.

In the first over after tea, when another 30 minutes of Cairns would have taken the game beyond England's reach, he flat-batted back to Alan Mullally who held on to a low catch. The other two wickets followed in short order and England were back in it, always with a chance of course of batting themselves out of it. They began positively, an approach they have, bizarrely, honed in run chases.

Darren Maddy touched one to slip, Hussain, more culpably, pushed at one. But England denied Cairns - just - and finished with a flourish. Paradise, or the other place, beckons, but they must not forget that South Africa are around the corner.


England won toss

New Zealand - First Innings: 236 (S P Fleming 66no, D L Vettori 51)

England - First Innings

(Overnight 150-7)

M R Ramprakash c Parore b Cairns 30

(Thin inside edge off attempted forcing shot; 136 min, 110 balls, 2 fours)

A D Mullally c Bell b Vettori 5

(Tumbling catch off bat-pad at forward short leg; 44 min, 36 balls)

P C R Tufnell not out 0 (8 min, 1 ball)

E S H Giddins lbw b Cairns 0

(Trapped on crease pushing half forward; 4 min, 4 balls)

Extras (b1, lb5, w5, nb6) 17

Total (80 overs) 153

Fall contd: 8-153 (Mullally), 9-153 (Ramprakash).

Bowling: Cairns 19-8-31-5 (nb4) (6-4-11-0 5-1-8-1 5-1-11-2 3-2-1-2), Nash 14-5-40-1 (nb1,w5) (4-2-7-0 5-2-13-1 5-1-20-0), O'Connor 13-3-30- 1 (nb1) (2-0-6-0 5-1-18-0 6-2-6-1), Vettori 33-12-46-3 (31-11-44-2 2- 1-2-1), Astle 1-1-0-0.

New Zealand - Second Innings

M J Horne lbw b Giddins 10

(Beaten on back foot by seaming ball; 40 min, 31 balls)

M D Bell c Irani b Caddick 4

(Thick edge driving flat-footed at swinging ball;38 min, 24 balls )

S P Fleming c Thorpe c Caddick 4

(Edged straight ball to slip; 56 min, 29 balls)

N J Astle c Irani b Giddins 5

(Loose drive, stunning catch in gulley; 22 min, 19 balls)

R G Twose c Stewart b Giddins 0

(Thin edge to swinging ball; 9 min, 7 balls)

C D McMillan lbw b Mullally 26

(Beaten on back foot by swinging ball; 68 min, 42 balls, 3 fours )

A C Parore b Caddick 1

(Shouldered arms to seaming ball; 8 min, 11 balls)

C L Cairns c and b Mullally 80

(Tumbling return catch to forcing shot; 110 min, 94 balls, 8 fours, 4 sixes )

D J Nash not out 10

(97 min, 55 balls, 1 four)

D L Vettori c Ramprakash b Tufnell 6

(Inside edge on to pad playing back; 13 min, 6 balls)

S B O'Connor b Tufnell 6

(Bowled through gate by spinning ball; 10 min, 11 balls)

Extras (lb4, w1, nb5) 10

Total (54 overs) 162

Fall: 1-15 (Bell), 2-15 (Horne), 3-22 (Astle), 4-22 (Twose), 5-37 (Fleming), 6-39 (Parore), 7-79 (McMillan), 8-149 (Cairns), 9-156 (Vettori)

Bowling: Caddick 17-4-35-3 (7-3-11-1 5-1-12-2 4-0-11-0 1-0-1-0), Mullally 11-2-27-2 (3-0-8-0 2-0-5-0 4-1-9-1 2-1-5-1), Giddins 10-3-38-3 (nb2) (7- 3-9-3 1-0-16-0 2-0-13-0), Tufnell 16-3-58-2 (nb3,w1) (6-2-14-0 6-1-36- 0 4-0-8-2).

Progress: Lunch 37-4 (Fleming 4, McMillan 12) 20 overs. 50 in 123 mins, 27.2 overs. 100 in 173 mins, 38.5 overs. 150 in 217 mins, 48.3 overs. Tea 149-7 (Cairns 80, Nash 10) 48 overs. Innings closed 4.28pm.

Cairns 50: 73 mins, 63 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes.

England - Second Innings

M A Atherton not out 44

(118 min, 88 balls, 5 fours)

D L Maddy c Fleming b Nash 5

(Edge to slip off firm push to straight ball; 37 min, 16 balls)

*N Hussain c Parore b O'Connor 9

(Edged seaming ball through to keeper; 32 min, 24 balls, 1 four)

G P Thorpe not out 28

(47 min, 37 balls, 5 fours)

Extras (b2, nb3) 5

Total (for 2, 118mins, 27 overs) 91

Fall: 1-23 (Maddy), 2-45 (Hussain).

Bowling: Cairns 8-2-35-0 (nb2) (5-1-20-0 3-1-15-0); Nash 6-1-10-1 (nb1) (one spell); Vettori 8-3-22-0 (6-3-15-0 2-0-7-0); O'Connor 5-1-22-1 (one spell).

Progress: 50 in 77 min, 16.2 overs.

Umpires: G Sharp and S Venkataraghavan TV Replay Umpire: J H Hampshire Match Referee: P L van der Merwe Compiled: Jo King