Cricket: First Test: Gooch suffers a shortfall: The former England captain announces his return with a resolute double century

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The Independent Online
IT WAS difficult to know who was the more disappointed party yesterday: Graham Gooch, for failing to challenge Brian Lara's record, having got 210 runs down the line, or Robin Smith, who, in sight of his tenth Test century, was run out for a typically pugnacious 78. After a lean winter, another century would have done Smith a power of good but his contribution was as important to England's cause, as they carefully extended their lead to 265, finishing the day at 516 for six.

England could not have scored more quickly, for this was an enhanced performance by the New Zealand bowlers, and even Gooch had to work considerably harder for his runs than he did on Friday. The contest has not yet been decided on a technical knock-out, and at least the opponent is up off the canvas.

They breed them tough in New Zealand, so Ken Rutherford showed no mercy when he opened up with his most profligate bowler, Matthew Hart, from the Pavilion End. On Friday both Gooch and Michael Atherton had smote Hart to all parts of Trent Bridge, so perhaps there was compassion in making him bowl before Gooch warmed to his morning task.

However, he barely got the bat swinging before he lost his partner, Atherton, caught behind by Adam Parore off Gavin Larsen's gently persuasive seamers. This dismissal presented Larsen with his first Test wicket and, although it was a half decent ball, Atherton something of a technician, was too early in planting his front foot and he ended up fishing for the ball outside his off stump.

This ushered in Graeme Hick, who, having shed some of his flat-track bully tag over the winter, did not sprint out to the middle and set about the attack without so much as taking guard. Instead he took his time and only one shot, a screaming cover drive off Hart, bore any resemblance to the dominator of yore.

At the other end, Gooch was anything but fluent and it was not until New Zealand took the new ball that the scoreboard began to rattle along at a respectable rate. Risky though it seemed, it represented New Zealand's best chance of a breakthrough, which duly came when Dion Nash hit the base of Hick's off stump with an in- swinging yorker of almost Waqar-esque perfection.

In fairness, both Heath Davis and Nash bowled some testing deliveries and Gooch in particular was defeated more than once by late movement from both seam and swing. Unfortunately for New Zealand, these occasions were more cancelled out by just as many that saw balls with 'Hit Me' written all over them. In public, Gooch can be a reticent man, but given a large meaty bat and the chance to strike some easy runs, this kind of invitation need not include the usual RSVP.

This is not good bowling, but it was not that long ago that Merv Hughes was a national joke instead of the bristling hero of recent campaigns. Both Davis and Nash have the makings of decent bowlers for they are athletic and on the evidence so far neither has hung their head in dejection.

When he stops being positive, Gooch can become a little lazy in his technique and it was just such a lapse that saw to his removal two balls after lunch to the accurate off-spin of Shane Thomson. Instead of letting the ball hit the bat in defence, he pushed casually forward expecting a little turn only to see the ball end up in Martin Crowe's hands at slip.

With Smith looking to push the score along with a combination of cuts and lofted drives, the debutant Craig White had time to settle. After a scratchy start where he seemed intent on trying to late cut every ball, a handsome cover drive for four seemed to calm the nerves. However, aware that Smith wanted to push things along, he danced down the pitch to Hart in order to loft the left-armer over the top, only to mistime the shot and offer the simplest of chances to Larsen at mid-off.

This setback did not prevent the other debutant, Steven Rhodes, from playing his natural game of biff and punch and he struck an obliging long-hop from Hart way over mid-wicket for six. After losing 45 minutes play because of rain, England restarted cautiously. With little batting to come, their caution was understandable. Even so, there were long periods when the spinners bowled in tandem, and both Smith and Rhodes seemed content to not take risks. Smith is never at his best against spin, and he carefully clipped and pushed his way to 50 before opening his shoulders against Hart, to strike the bowler over his head for four.

When Nash returned to bowl, both batsmen called for their helmets which is just as well as Smith came close to decapitation from Nash's fourth ball which failed to bounce. This sent Dickie Bird into a fit of gesticulation. However, as umpiring shenanigans go, it did not come close to rivalling the stop- go of the slo-mo required for umpire Steve Bucknor to give Robin Smith out moments later, when he called for the third umpire's ruling.

Looking for a quick single to short leg, Rhodes then changed his mind and sent Smith back. Stephen Fleming's throw to the bowler was a good one, but Larsen failed to take the bails off with his first lunge, finally breaking the bails with Smith a lot closer to making his ground than first appeared likely. After an age of replays, albeit from only two angles, none of them categorical due to stray bodies blocking the crucial views of both wicket and crease, Smith was eventually given out.

With Rhodes tantalisingly poised nine short of a debut fifty, Atherton may well be tempted to bat on. Rain is forecast for today and this would be his only false move in the series so far.

Richard Williams, page 5

(Photograph omitted)

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