Cricket: Kiwis look towards lower orders: Graeme Wright at Taunton finds the tourists in need of strength in depth

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The Independent Online
TAUNTON turned on one of those desultory days yesterday, and not only with regard to the weather. While the day started gloomy, Somerset began with a blaze after being put in by New Zealand, the first of the summer's tourists. When skies brightened, it was the cricket that was dull.

The green tinge in the pitch persuaded Gavin Larsen to bowl first, and he and Chris Pringle used it well to contain Somerset with their seam and swing. Larsen must have had second thoughts as Ian Fletcher raced to 51 off 44 balls after putting on 33 in the first three overs with Mark Lathwell. But with Fletcher's dismissal went the entertainment. Indeed, there was a sense of relief when rain late in the day suspended Andy Hayhurst's 255-minute trawl at 66.

Heath Davis, who went for 15 in the opening over, made the early breakthrough for the tourists, his accuracy benefiting from a reduction in pace. At full blast, his Heathcliffe scowls do not disguise a Heath Robinson navigation system when it comes to line and length.

Nor could yesterday's steadiness disguise the fact that their bowling is New Zealand's weak suit. They have not been helped by the injuries keeping Danny Morrison and Simon Doull out of action of late, and both fast bowlers face critical fitness tests this week. 'Morrison has the ability to get good players out,' Ken Rutherford, the tourists' captain, says, but he conceded that he lacked support. 'This tour is about finding one of those next-level- down players.' Pringle, Larsen and Dion Nash, plus Shane Thomson's quickish off-breaks, look like providing that support in the Texaco matches.

This is a young New Zealand side, both in age - the average is 25 - and Test experience. Although four senior players, Rutherford, Martin Crowe, Mark Greatbatch and Morrison, share 180 caps between them, not one of their 12 team- mates has yet played in 10 Tests. The vice-captain Larsen has not even appeared in one Test, except as 12th man, despite a wealth of one-day experience.

As Rutherford admitted, New Zealand are not privy to international cricket that often, so a tour like this is important in developing an experienced cadre on which to build. It was not a coincidence that New Zealand's success in the 1980s coincided with the regular presence in county cricket of players like Richard Hadlee, John Wright and Geoff Howarth. Still, as Rutherford says in his no-

nonsense way that, while New Zealand can no longer look to county cricket to bring on their Test players, 'the England team aren't producing a great side and they are playing county cricket all the time'.

Come to think of it, it is 10 years ago that Crowe came here to Taunton as a 21-year-old to establish himself as one of the most cultured batsmen of his generation. Recently his country's captain until a knee injury forced him out of a tour of Australia last November, Crowe needs 150 runs to become the only New Zealander after Wright to score 5,000 runs in Test cricket. Too often on the sharp end of media barbs in the past, he appears at ease with himself these days and views the tour as an opportunity to concentrate on his batting after the pressures of captaining a team in transition.

There is also an exciting talent in the 21-year-old Stephen Fleming. Should he mark his international appearances in England with the panache that announced his arrival at home against India, a 1 April birthday and his left-handedness will not be the only reasons for comparisons with David Gower. Rutherford, while discounting such comparisons, is none the less impressed by Fleming's big- match temperament.

This side bat a long way down, but there is concern to establish an opening pair to set up the innings. Only once in seven Tests last winter did the first wicket put on 50. However, Blair Hartland and Bryan Young should start the international series unless another Blair, the 22-year-old Pocock, scores sufficient runs to displace Hartland.