ONLY two days in, and there is already a wearying sense of inevitability about this series. If New Zealand's batting can best be described as iffy, their bowling gives you the feeling that the only danger of an Englishman failing to relegate Lara's 375 to the realms of a Goweresque cameo, will be from drowning in his own saliva.
Graham Gooch, on 151 not out, is already a member of the Test-match 300 club, and promising to tour Australia this winter was a small price to pay for the chance to dip his bread against an opposition attack whose combined total of Test- match wickets (22) was the same number as Gooch has personally taken with his own gentle dobbers.
Gooch and Mike Atherton, on 101 not out, have so far put on 261 for the second wicket, and short of Gooch retiring through old age, it is difficult to see how they might be separated.
New Zealand have one quick bowler in Heath Davis, but he is not exactly the most accurate purveyor of missiles to hit Nottingham since Robin Hood, and while the rest of them are a bit straighter, their velocity is by no means guaranteed to dislodge the bails. At least not the heavy variety in use in yesterday's wind, although those members of the touring party based in Wellington, where it can blow your hat all the way to Invercargill, doubtless thought it no more than a gentle breeze.
No more gentle a breeze, however, than batting was yesterday for Gooch and Atherton. This was their eighth Test partnership of more than 100, and their fourth over 200. Seven of these century stands were for the first wicket, which makes them the most prolific opening pairing bar Hobbs and Sutcliffe, although Gooch currently has to wait for Atherton and Alec Stewart to get themselves separated before it is his turn to bat.
Yesterday, he only had to hang around for 20 minutes, although he and Atherton will once again be re-united if Stewart is found hanging from the highest tree in Nottingham this morning. The final ball of the New Zealand innings had barely thudded into Stephen Rhodes's gloves before Stewart was hurtling up the pavilion steps to strap on the pads.
Stewart, with visions of Billy Bunter locked inside a tuck shop, threw back his head in undisguised anguish when he gave a low catch to mid-on in Davis's third over, the product of nothing much more than a forward prod from one of those modern-day bats containing enough wood to build an average semi-detached. In the current climate of bowlers rushing to the confessional box ('forgive me father, but I have tampered . . .') half the reason for them dipping their thumbnails in pickling vinegar is in an attempt to equalise an unequal contest. It is bit disheartening when a routine forward defensive pings away through the covers for four.
However, having bowled out New Zealand for 251, the lowest first-innings total against them since Pakistan in 1992, England's batsmen would have had to have been issued with a couple of bits of balsa wood to make it much of a contest. New Zealand's bowling is crushingly short on Test-match experience, and Gavin Larsen, making his debut after 54 one-day internationals, must have been badly disorientated by the sight of slip fielders as he ran in to bowl.
Davis, the last-minute replacement for the injured Danny Morrison, is a half Maori with the middle name of Te-Ihi-O-Te-Rangi, a tribal name which presumably does not translate as 'oh straight one'. Davis has it in him to make Devon Malcolm look like Derek Shackleton, and the fielder at short leg occasionally requires eyes in the back of his head to see the ball (not to mention his life) flash by him.
However, Davis recovered pretty well from understandable nerves, and it was the sheer mundanity of the New Zealand attack which allowed Gooch and Atherton to bat as though they were having a quiet pillage in the school fathers' match.
This was Gooch's 20th Test- match century, although his first 50 was, by his own standards, not terribly convincing. He looked as though he was wary of Greeks bearing gifts, but once he had satisfied himself that this was a genuine present, he ripped off the wrapping with rare gusto.
Shortly before the close, Atherton joined him on three figures, and - like Gooch before him - has blossomed as a batsman since inheriting the captaincy. After seven Tests against Australia and the West Indies, Atherton has earned a spell in the armchair, and the weather is a far more potent obstacle than New Zealand to England's first Test victory at Trent Bridge since 1983.
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