IT WAS not so much the Lord's bogey that struck England yesterday as the first innings fudge. With technique as exposed as their soft underbelly, England's batsmen struggled to 183 for 9 before bad light and rain ended play early half an hour after tea. Unless Nasser Hussain and Phil Tufnell conjure another 120 runs for the last wicket this morning, England will have failed to pass 300 in a first innings for the sixth successive Test. The captain's calls for consistency, made only the previous day, appear to have fallen on deaf ears.
Apart from half-centuries from Hussain and Alec Stewart, the latter heartening but by no means curing the opener's woes, it was a miserable display. Both Lance Cairns, with 5 for 75 and Dion Nash (3 for 49), could scarcely believe their luck at the ineptitude that confronted them as seven players failed to get into double figures.
It is rare that matches, let alone series, can be won with such low scores and when the England captain spoke the other day of his team being on a winning run of one, he was clearly not being ironic. Conditions, while challenging, were nowhere near as treacherous as those at Edgbaston.
While getting skittled by bowlers with fabulous pedigrees is understandable, falling foul of the kind seen week in and week out in county cricket calls for some big questions to be asked, the most pertinent being the role of the coaches involved at county as well as national level.
If not all of it was dire, most was, and apart from most batsmen attempting a curious steer to third man, only Hussain appeared determined to play the ball from under his chin. It paid dividends, though none too hastily, and the captain, battling hard between sweetly struck boundaries, took 132 balls to reach his fifty. He was only involved in one run-out, with Andy Caddick, but it was the lanky bowler, going for his third who looked to be at fault as Mat Horne's throw came in from the midwicket boundary.
When you start reaching for balls, as many of England's batsmen did, holes soon appear and Aftab Habib was bowled for the second time in Tests through a gate you could lead a prize bull through. Stewart, too, erred and four balls after raising his bat to the full house, he used it to steer a wideish ball to first slip. It was a scrappy knock and Stewart could have been out on seven when he attempted a quick single. Nash's throw, as he fielded a mid-off, shaved the stumps. Twenty-three runs later, Stewart passed 6,000 Test runs, the ninth Englishman to do so.
Hussain may come in for some criticism for winning the toss and batting first, but most pundits who saw the pitch felt it looked good and full of runs. His opposite number, Stephen Fleming, said he would have done the same thing, so it was probably a good toss to lose. Certainly Fleming and his bowlers would not have been unhappy that the ball swung and nipped of the seam as much as it did.
The day before the match, Hussain spoke of the way overhead conditions often aided movement at Lord's and he was perhaps unlucky that ground was cloaked in gloom from start to finish.
For most it was like batting with Kafka in your back pocket, and nearly all wore a harrowed look of concern at the crease. It translated itself into their batting and it was difficult to believe that it was England, rather than New Zealand, who had won the previous Test.
Mark Butcher looked marooned, taking 52 balls for eight before inside- edging Chris Cairns to the keeper. The tall all-rounder also accounted for Butcher's Surrey team-mate, Graham Thorpe, with one that left the batsman up the slope.
Batting with overdue care and attention is not an accusation that can normally be levelled at England, but for the most part their efforts seemed limited to tentative prods and the pushes.
Perhaps feeling the pressure of expectation on his home ground, Mark Ramprakash clean missed a full toss. The mistake follows his 27-ball duck at Edgbaston. After a fruitful May, he has barely scored a run in June and July, with just 66 runs coming from his seven first-class innings. As Graham Gooch mentioned on Wednesday, bad trots are rarely solved by going into survival mode, which is precisely where Ramprakash has been in his last two Test innings.
He was not the only one guilty of watching something other than the ball and Chris Read was flummoxed by a slower delivery from Cairns. Read is only 20, and probably has not seen the gamut of slower balls used by bowlers around the world. Cairns has a good one and Read was kippered by it, the youngster shaping to duck what he thought was a beamer only for the ball to drop like a stone and bowl him between his legs.
For England, the chaos began well before play and with Alex Tudor pulling out with a sore knee the previous evening, Angus Fraser was summoned from Taunton as cover for the other bowlers. Fraser set off at 7am, getting as far as Chiswick before receiving another call that he would not be needed. A crotchety soul, few would have blamed Fraser if his U-turn had been accompanied by a V-sign in the general direction of NW8.
More curious, though, is the nature of Tudor's injury, which has apparently been troubling him from before the first Test. If that is so, why has he been playing for Surrey? And why did Surrey then send him for a scan without the tacit knowledge of the England selectors?
Such lack of communication between county and country has long held cricket back in this country and David Graveney and co were quietly fuming. With Darren Gough now similarly indisposed after playing for Yorkshire, the reality of centralised contracts draws ever closer. As England are once more found wanting on the Test stage, it is the counties who have most to answer for.
Fraser's wasted trip; Channel Four's screen test, page 24
England won toss
ENGLAND - FIRST INNINGS
M A Butcher c Parore b Cairns 8
(60min, 52 balls, 1 four)
A J Stewart c Fleming b Nash 50
(105min, 62 balls, 8 fours)
*N Hussain not out 59
(215min, 137 balls, 11 fours)
G P Thorpe c Astle b Cairns 7
(36min, 25 balls, 1 four)
M R Ramprakash lbw b Nash 4
(8min, 7 balls, 1 four)
A Habib b Nash 6
(17min, 9 balls, 1 four)
C M W Read b Cairns 0
(8min, 7 balls)
A R Caddick run out (Horne-Astle) 18
(50min, 40 balls, 1 four)
D W Headley lbw b Cairns 4
(26min, 22 balls, 1 four)
A D Mullally c Astle b Cairns 0
(10min, 6 balls)
P C R Tufnell not out 0
(8min, 3 balls)
Extras (b5, lb8, nb14) 27
Total (for 9, 59.2 overs) 183
Fall: 1-35 (Butcher); 2-79 (Stewart); 3-102 (Thorpe); 4-112 (Ramprakash); 5-123 (Habib); 6-125 (Read); 7-150 (Caddick); 8-165 (Headley); 9-170 (Mullally).
Bowling: Allott 10-1-37-0 (nb3) (6-1-21-0, 2-0-9-0, 2-0-7-0); Cairns 20.2-1-75-5 (nb11) (9-1-18-1 8-0-44-2, 3.2-0-13-2); Nash 22-11-49-3 (18- 9-36-3, 4-2-13-0); Astle 7-3-9-0 (2-2-0-0, 5-1-9-0).
Progress: 50: 77 min, 16.5 overs. Lunch: 80 for 2 (Hussain 9, Thorpe 1) 26 overs. 100: 136 min, 29.4 overs. 150: 229 min; 49.1 overs. Tea: 156 for 7 (Hussain 35, Headley 4) 52 overs. Bad light stopped play 4.35pm.
Stewart 50: 102 min; 58 balls; 8 fours. Hussain 50: 209 min; 132 balls; 9 fours.
New Zealand: M J Horne; M D Bell; *S P Fleming; N J Astle; R G Twose; C D McMillan; A C Parore; C L Cairns; D J Nash; D L Vettori; G I Allott.
Umpires: M J Kitchen and R E Koertzen. TV Replay Umpire: N T Plews. Match Referee: P L van der Merwe
Compiled by Jo King
ENGLAND'S TOP RUN-MAKERS
Tests Runs Cens
G A Gooch 118 8,900 20
D I Gower 117 8,231 18
G Boycott 108 8,114 22
M C Cowdrey 114 7,624 22
W R Hammond 85 7,249 22
L Hutton 79 6,971 19
K F Barrington 82 6,806 20
M A Atherton 88 6,045 12
A J Stewart 88 6,019 12