Cricket: His country called, and Tudor rose

First Test: England find a swashbuckling hero to answer the rallying call in spectacular fashion
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ENGLAND'S UNFORGIVING trek through the Edgbaston minefield was transformed yesterday into a blissful walk in the park. Instead of being ambushed by New Zealand's array of seam bowlers who a mere 24 hours earlier had seemed to be dealing only in hand grenades, they swatted them aside as if they were carrying nothing more dangerous than candyfloss.

All predictions about the outcome of the match, prognoses about the state of the pitch and forecasts about the likely scorers of the runs were found to be woefully inaccurate. At the start of play the tourists were 13-8 on with the bookmakers to take nine more wickets while preventing England from scoring 203 more runs, and the odds seemed a trifle generous. By 2.40pm, after a mere three hours' play, England had won for the loss of only two more wickets and they had done so with considerable elan and no little excitement, thanks largely to a gloriously unfettered innings of 99 not out by their freshman fast bowler Alex Tudor.

If it was not the dreamland of Edgbaston against Australia two years ago - this was New Zealand, let us not forget - it was in the same neck of the woods. Only a day earlier England had been 45 for 7 in their first innings, 181 behind, not just the victims of hand grenades but of having picked them up and taken out the pins. Nasser Hussain, their new captain, came to face questions after the victory carrying a glass of champagne. "I said at Lord's last week that I expected my time in charge to be full of ups and downs," he said. "I just didn't think they would all come in one match. You have got to have people in your dressing- rooms who are gutsy."

Tudor was rightly, but bizarrely, the man of the match. Heroes, England wanted heroes. And here was one. He had come in the previous evening as the nightwatchman and nobody expected his vigil to last much beyond the normal hours for the job, probably somewhat less. The tall young man from Surrey, playing in only his third Test match, his first at home, took the role into new territory, staying around so long and lending it such a refreshing style that when he went in to the dressing-room at the end he was probably met by the men in suits responsible for ensuring the regulations of the social chapter are upheld.

Everything Tudor touched, and that was a huge amount, turned to gold. He played with the fearlessness of youth and in doing so he carried out the instructions of his new captain to perfection. He was unbeaten on 99 when he flashed the last of his 21 fours behind the wicket.

How he deserved a hundred to become only the third nightwatchman in Test history to reach such a landmark, but there was to be no room for romance at the other end.

Tudor, whose inexperience did not allow him quite to exploit the bowling conditions as he might have done on the first two days, had to settle for beating the 98 scored by Harold Larwood when he acted as nightwatchman for England against Australia at Sydney in 1932-33. He rode his luck but he struck with might. He started off with a cover drive, which he played assertively with one knee to the ground, and he brought up his fifty with another joyous drive to the boundary.

If the off-side was his favoured hunting ground at the outset he soon became aware of the leg-side's presence, flicking dismissively off his pads. Towards the end when England were strolling it in the early afternoon sunshine and the pitch had all the devil of your best-loved pair of old slippers, he took four fours off one over from Simon Doull. He loved it and the crowd loved him. They chanted his name throughout his stay of 119 balls. The last Tudor to be greeted like this in England was probably Elizabeth I when the Armada were sent packing.

The third day of the contest simply never met expectations. Tudor, who had replaced the hapless Alec Stewart and faced one ball on Friday night, came to the wicket with his county colleague, Mark Butcher. From the start it was clear that England's strategy was to attack and to do so quickly.

They did this before knowing that the pitch had ceased to play expansive tricks, that the high sunshine and the lack of humidity meant that the ball would not swing any longer, and that the New Zealanders would bowl less then adeptly. Of course, it might have been England's approach which created the last on that list.

Butcher is in a rich vein of form this summer and he is beginning to look a composed, well-structured Test player. He has a hundred against Australia under his belt, but this series could be the making of him. He played with some class, especially square on both sides of the wicket, and it was a surprise when he got an inside edge to Dion Nash and became Adam Parore's 100th Test victim. It probably surprised Butcher as well.

Hussain played with the authority his new job has swiftly bestowed on him. His first 36 runs all came in boundaries and they were haughtily struck. When he was bowled through the gate by Geoff Allott's inswinger there was time for Graham Thorpe to join the party. Some might observe that he spoiled it, for he blazed away so mercilessly that he made it impossible for Tudor to score a hundred - unless he deliberately set him the formidable task of hitting a six to do so while winning the match.

Seven wickets is all well and good but it gives the selectors more to talk about than they might have wished. There is a team to pick for the Second Test at Lord's. If Darren Gough is fit it will be fascinating to see who they might omit from a winning side: a left-arm swinger, Alan Mullally, who lends variety, a comeback man, Andrew Caddick, who has just taken eight wickets, or a young and extremely fast bowler who has exhibited unmistakeable signs that he might possess all-round qualities.

Just this once, and only this once, the selectors may be thinking that it would not exactly be unhelpful if Gough were to be unfit. He certainly needs to be sure he is fully recovered and the long gap between Tests of three weeks might not be enough.

There will be the age-old Stewart problem, this time for different reasons. Not so long ago he was captain, wicketkeeper, batsman: now he will be pushed to hang on to one job.

But this was Tudor's day. One step at a time, however. He showed that he can bat like Larwood, now he must start to bowl like him.


New Zealand won toss

New Zealand - First Innings 226 (A C Parore 73)

England - First Innings 126

New Zealand - Second Innings 107 (A R Caddick 5-32)

England - Second Innings (Overnight 3 for 1)

M A Butcher c Parore b Nash 33

(Thin inside edge to seaming ball; 77 min, 67 balls, 4 fours)

A J Stewart b Allott 0

(Beaten by inswinging yorker; 4 min, 3 balls)

A J Tudor not out 99

(181 min, 119 balls, 21 fours)

*N Hussain b Allott 44

(Neck and crop attempting extravagant drive; 80 min, 57 balls, 10 fours )

G P Thorpe not out 21

(27 min, 21 balls, 3 fours)

Extras (b7, lb2, nb5) 14

Total (for 3, 186min, 43.4 overs) 211

Fall: 1-3 (Stewart), 2-76 (Butcher), 3-174 (Hussain)

Did not bat: M R Ramprakash, A Habib, C M W Read, A R Caddick, A D Mullally, P C R Tufnell.

Bowling: Allott 15-0-71-2 (nb4) (8-0-28-1 7-0-43-1), Doull 7-0-48-0 (4- 0-21-0 3-0-27-0), Vettori 6-1-22-0 (3-0-10-0 3-1-12-0), Nash 7-0-29-1, Cairns 4-0-18-0 (nb1), Astle 1-1-0-0, McMillan 3.4-0-14-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Third day: 50 in 39 min, 8.4 overs. 100 in 101 min, 23.0 overs. Lunch 127-2 (Tudor 55, Hussain 28) 30 overs. 150 in 147 min, 34.3 overs. 200 in 181 min, 42.1 overs. England won at 2.37pm.

Tudor 50: 103 mins, 62 balls, 11 fours.

Umpires: S A Bucknor and P Willey TV Replay Umpire: R Julian Match Referee: P L van der Merwe

Man of the match: A J Tudor


Compiled: Jo King