Cricket: England's abject surrender

England 186 & 229 New Zealand 358 & 60-1 New Zealand win by nine wickets
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The Independent Online
NASSER HUSSAIN was not on the players' balcony as Matthew Bell clipped New Zealand to victory by nine wickets. In 10 days' time he will probably not even be with his team, the fracture to the middle finger of his right hand taking two weeks to heal sufficiently for a return. As well as losing a Test, England look as if they have lost their leader as well. The Lord's curse, it seems, is getting greedy, dealing two major blows instead of the usual one.

You might think that another England defeat at Lord's was a familar story, but this one is different. Before yesterday, England had not lost to New Zealand for 17 Test matches, a sequence that showed a clear mental superiority if not necessarily one of player power. That has now been broken and, no matter how well England play for the rest of the summer, they have broken the golden rule of domination and allowed a side bruised by defeat in the first Test to get back into the series.

We tend to respond to England's losses at cricket by gnashing our collective teeth and wailing at the moon, especially against a team as timid and underachieving as New Zealand. Their victory, the first at Lord's and only their third ever against England in this country, certainly implies an inferiority on their part, and the dour way they went about scoring the 58 runs to win did not speak of a side used to winning.

The reality is that we are deluding ourselves. According to Wisden's Test rankings England are currently seventh while New Zealand prop up the list in ninth place - a proximity that suggests this series should be a fairly close contest. So far it is 1-1 though England, but for their remarkable Houdini act at Edgbaston, could well have found themselves two down with two to go.

Actually, all talk of a hoodoo at HQ is beginning to wear a bit thin. Lord's is a tricky ground mainly because of its sloping pitch. This demands a decent technique from the batsmen and discipline from the bowlers. England have been found wanting on both counts, the batsmen in particular, treating the demands of a Test match with the kind of slapdashery they employ in county cricket.

New Zealand on the other hand have acknowledged their shortcomings and applied themselves accordingly. Their batting might have been dominated by will over skill, but their bowling combined imagination and discipline. Theirs was a resolute triumph, marred only by their collective overruling of the umpire's decision to call for a replay after Phil Tufnell edged Dion Nash to second slip.

The incident, under investigation by match referee Peter van der Merwe, appeared to hinge on whether or not the ball had carried to Nathan Astle. Tufnell, at least initially, seemed to question the catch, standing his ground before marching towards the pavilion. As square-leg umpire Rudi Koertzen had already called for the replay he was told to hang around, a fact that annoyed the Kiwis. Moments later they were seething as the third umpire Nigel Plews ruled Tufnell in, the replay afforded him - a poor angle from behind - proving inconclusive. The let-off was quickly forgotten and Andy Caddick was out in the next over without addition to the score.

Their captain unable to bat, England began the day 65 runs in arrears with five wickets standing. Without Hussain, any hope of leaving their opponents an awkward 140 to chase rested on the shoulders of two new men, Aftab Habib and Chris Read.

Habib has found Test cricket a different proposition from county fare. Despite an allowance for nerves he has not impressed and he struggled again yesterday. When he was eventually out to the third chance he had offered, his feet still at odds to the shot he was attempting, his 19 had taken 104 balls. Like John Crawley before him, he has a flawed technique that county cricket's lack of rigour has not forced him to change.

Read, along with Caddick, offered the most heartening innings of the day. With many already suggesting a return to the gloves for Alec Stewart, Read played his shots handsomely, especially against the new ball. Having added 78 with Caddick, he was cruelly undone by one from Nash that kept low.

Caddick, as he did at Edgbaston, mixed defence with some hearty clumps to score a career-best 45. His fine effort was something his top order batsmen should learn from.

Overcoming disappointment does not come that easily to Hussain and he has had a double dose here. Unable to bat in England's second innings, and having made an impressive start in his first two Tests as captain, he now finds himself having to hand the over the job.

On the evidence of this match the favourite, for what is almost certainly a one-off appointment, would be Graham Thorpe. The selectors may, though, look elsewhere. The two Marks, Butcher and Ramprakash, could be considered, while Mike Atherton and Robin Smith have also been touted. Butcher was considered able enough to lead Surrey while Adam Hollioake was away on Word Cup duty and, apart from poor shot selection in this match, has a sound cricketing brain.

Ramprakash, his captaincy of Middlesex failing to impress so far this season, is more of a risk. Another poor Test has put him under pressure again, though giving him something to take his mind off batting might be the nudge he needs to get back on track. Bringing in Atherton and Smith, unless both are firmly in mind for the tour to South Africa, should not be considered.

Hussain said he would choose Thorpe "on personal instinct" and that it "didn't mean anything long term". He also felt that the best way forward was to pick a squad for the next Test and decide on a captain only if he himself is unfit.

It sounds practical but Old Trafford, where the third Test is to be played, has been favouring spinners this season. Handling two of them is a job for someone with experience of captaincy, not just Test cricket.

Hussain's pain, page 4