Cricket: Hussain deepens England's pain

Second Test: Injury will keep captain out for three weeks as home cause goes from bad to worse
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The Independent Online
IF ENGLAND are to save the Second Test and win the series against New Zealand they will almost certainly have to achieve both feats with a new captain. Barely half an hour after the start of the third day they found themselves without their recently appointed leader, Nasser Hussain, who left the field and his side still in desperate danger of losing for the first time to the Kiwis at Lord's.

The position did not improve much, if at all, after his departure. New Zealand extended their lead to 172, which might have kept the match reasonably poised if England could be relied upon to dig in and set the tourists a teasing target in the fourth innings. But the loss once more of top- order batsmen made this seem utterly fanciful. Hussain was gone and so were England. They claim that any inherent weakness at Lord's is non-existent. The only other explanation then is that they have an inherent weakness to Test cricket anywhere.

Hussain has an unusual agreement for an England captain which allows him to go when either he or the selectors have had enough, instead of being installed for a specific term. The third full over of his sixth active day in charge seemed a touch premature, however. So it transpired. Hussain had broken the third finger of his right hand while fielding a ball running down to third man. This will keep him out for at least three weeks, according to the initial diagnosis, and if that proves correct he will definitely miss the Third Test and probably, therefore, the Fourth and final match, which begins on 19 August.

With a differently structured team being fashioned under fresh leadership the injury is hardly opportune, particularly when there is a game directly at stake in the next two days, and Hussain can hardly be expected to bat unless England play cock-up cricket of a specially impressive variety. Graham Thorpe, a captain of vast inexperience, has taken over for the rest of this match but the chairman of selectors, David Graveney, and his panel must decide if that is appropriate for the remainder of the summer. If not Thorpe then who? And whoever it is, where would it leave Hussain if his replacement took England to rampant victories?

On the evidence of this match the latter is not a question with which the selectors will have to wrestle. There are times when England look as though they would have trouble responding to a clone combining the genes of Aristotle, Alexander the Great and Don Bradman. In the absence of that trio as well as Hussain this contest will take some salvaging.

New Zealand had lost six wickets overnight and England knew their long tail would not be removed immediately. They might not have supposed that they would also add 108 runs in the morning session. England did not bowl well. If Alan Mullally was out of form, the persistence of the bowling from elsewhere also left something to be desired.

First Daniel Vettori and Adam Parore put on a cheeky 33 in 51 balls, Vettori playing square of the wicket, Parore having a bash in most places. When Parore went continuing his have a go policy Vettori was joined by Chris Cairns and they continued in much the same jaunty fashion. If it was there to hit and plenty was they hit it.

Vettori is only 20 and is in his 21st Test match. He is still not the finished article as a left-arm spinner (though, of course, it is impossible to come up with an English 20-year-old of his calibre and pedigree) but his batting will make him an international all-rounder one day. He was confident of what to leave and what to play and the shot with which he brought up his third Test half-century with a little dance down the wicket and perfect extra cover drive for four was the best of the morning, probably of the day, almost of the match.

For a while it was all too reminsicent of Alex Tudor on the Saturday of the Edgbaston Test including the square of the wicket shots. The dismissal of Cairns, a man who could be said to be up for this match if the quality and quanity of sledging is anything to judge by, hastened the tourist' demise. But a stand of 70 in 104 balls had already given England far too much with which to cope.

At last Phil Tufnell snared the final two wickets, the first of which crystallised a bad day for England's fledgling wicketkeeper, Chris Read. Vettori edged, deceived by his fellow left-armer's flight, the ball hit Read's gloves, looped up in the air and Thorpe ran backwards from slip to take the catch. Read had an untidy morning; he is still growing accustomed to Tufnell's wiles and was not helped by the bounce but he will know that he fluffed too many standing back.

He is also 20, in his second Test, and the selecors must keep faith with him. He has safe hands, he is learning and there is no surely no point having come this far in turning elsewhere. It is perhaps too early to begin a Read Must Stay campaign but he must.

England began the long haul back with some confidence. The pitch was different from that which they had encountered on Thursday, the sun was shining. There was some wear, for sure, but nothing that would grant untoward spin on the third day. Alec Stewart determined to keep on hitting himself back into the runs and into form. It worked for a while but his timing was awry. The bat sounded dull. By contrast, Mark Butcher looked ready to play a long innings.

It was Butcher who went first. His shot to Vettori's turning ball was misjudged and on him quickly. His leading edge was caught by Nathan Astle. The early runs for Stewart dried up but he saw only one way out. It was hit or bust time. He bust as he missed a good length ball playing with a horizontal bat.

When Thorpe was bowled by Cairns's wonderful slower ball - neither the first nor, one suspects, the last - England looked lost. Mark Ramprakash had come in at three for Hussain but he was beaten a time or two and looked for a while as though the end might come at any moment. His pragmatism at least helped him to survive for a while, though his approach might not have inspired Aftab Habib, a batsman maybe playing for his place. The end came for Ramprakash when he decided to try to hit a poor ball from Astle, who had been brought on presumably more in hope than genuine expectation.

All Ramprakash managed, to a wide ball going wider, was a bottom edge to the wicketkeeper. England were without their captain and in the evening sunshine they seemed without hope.

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