TEAM ENGLAND, Modern England, New England - the number of monikers used to prompt cricketing renaissances have been bewildering in recent times. To date, none have worked, at least not to the extent that a golden age has followed, so it is early days on whether the latest incarnation can fare any better than its predecessors after New Zealand ended the day on 170 for 8. But if world domination remains a distant fantasy, one thing has stood out, England at least looked and played as a team.
One good day may be enough to know all things, as Dostoevsky once claimed, but it is not often enough to win a Test match. With England still to bat, the tenet holds doubly true and Stephen Fleming's unbeaten vigil of 52 in four and a half hours may yet be crucial. So far England have conceded a first-innings deficit in each of their last 13 Tests, a woeful record for a side whose batting, on paper at least, is worth much more.
Having the captain back helped matters. Apart from winning the toss, and putting New Zealand into bat, Nasser Hussain has an acute mind and an urgent demeanour. His team responded and for once New Zealand were forced to play like a team wearying from four months on the road.
Smarting at recent criticism that the dressing-room atmosphere is poisonous towards newcomers, much fuss was made of the two debutants, Ed Giddins and Darren Maddy. Happily both contributed to the cause, Giddins with one wicket, Maddy with a fine acrobatic slip catch. In Test cricket, it is regular contributions, rather than constant pecks on the cheek from senior players, that are the only sure way for players to feel they belong.
For much of the day the cricket was slow and desperate, though this was less to do with the conditions and more to do with the lowly standing of both sides. When you are battling at the bottom of the food chain, there are no points for style when trying to gain the upper hand. The Kiwi batsmen took this to extremes and they batted as if they were gaining inches via unwieldy shovels, rather than setting a challenging total with willow.
Hussain's decision to bowl appeared to be a curious one. Give that the pitch was said to be a good one, and that Chris Cairns was playing only half fit, it would have been understandable if he had opted to bat. What probably deterred him was the forecast for cloud and rain, atmospheric conditions that he felt compromised England when they opted to bat first in the previous two Tests.
At lunch, with the score on 45 for 1, Hussain would have had the first pangs of doubt. Andy Caddick had bowled well, but a strong wind had meant those seamers operating from Pavilion End, Alan Mullally and Ronnie Irani, struggled for rhythm.
With the pitch affording some movement and with occasional swing to complicate matters, ball beat bat on a fairly regular basis. England's best chance of the morning came from a run-out opportunity before either batsman had scored.
One of the rules of cricket is to never take your eye off the ball, which is exactly what Mark Ramprakash, fielding at short-leg, appeared to do as Hussain's diving throw from mid-off came in over the stumps. Hussain had another chance two overs later and a direct hit would have sent Matt Horne packing after another mix-up with his opening partner Matthew Bell.
Given that those operating from the Vauxhall End looked more dangerous, it was against the run of things that Irani struck first, by having Horne caught by Caddick at cover, after the batsman flayed at a wide one. The wicket brought Fleming to the crease. By the close he was still there, his mood and strokeplay combining to keep England at bay.
After lunch, Hussain gathered his players for a huddle on the outfield. Cynics may claim this is reactive rather than pro-active of recent events, but the results were fairly prompt as Alan Mullally removed Bell in the second over of the afternoon. The shot, a loose push away from his body, was a sloppy one, a sin also committed by Nathan Astle as Caddick found some reward for his labour.
With the score on 62 for 3, the debutants combined to send Roger Twose on his way. This time a poor shot to a ball swinging away was plucked from the ether by Maddy's salmon leap at third slip.
The worst shot of the day came from Craig McMillan, whose wild charge at Phil Tufnell would have not have been out of place at Balaclava. Two balls later, Tufnell got rid of Adam Parore to a smart catch by Ramprakash at short-leg. After tea, Mullally again struck promptly, squeezing one trough between bat and pad as Cairns got in a tangle. From 104 for 7, England should have been looking to bat before he close. Instead, a 53- run partnership between Fleming and Dion Nash kept New Zealand in the game.
County reports, page 25
THE OVAL SCOREBOARD
England won toss
NEW ZEALAND - First innings
M J Horne c Caddick b Irani 15
106 min, 82 balls, 2 fours
M D Bell c Stewart b Mullally 23
129 min, 97 balls, 1 four
*S P Fleming not out 52
270 min, 196 balls, 3 fours
N J Astle c Stewart b Caddick 9
18 min, 14 balls, 1 four
R G Twose c Maddy b Giddins 1
26 min, 20 balls
C D McMillan b Tufnell 19
38 min, 30 balls, 2 fours, 1 six
A C Parore c Ramprakash b Tufnell 0
1 min, 1 balls, 2 fours
C L Cairns b Mullally 11
31 min, 19 balls, 2 fours
D J Nash c Ramprakash b Caddick 18
104 min, 67 balls, 2 fours
D L Vettori not out 7
23 min, 15 balls, 1 four
Extras (b5,lb7,w1,nb2) 15
Total (for 8, 377min, 90 overs) 170
Fall: 1-39 (Horne), 2-45 (Bell), 3-54 (Astle), 4-62 (Twose), 5-87 (McMillan), 6-87 (Parore), 7-104 (Cairns), 8-157 (Nash).
To bat: S B O'Connor.
Bowling: Caddick 28-16-36-2 (nb1) (5-2-3-0 11-8-12-1 7-4-14-0 5-2-7-1), Mullally 24-12-25-2 (7-5-5-0 8-3-7-1 4-1-7-1 5-3-6-0), Giddins 14-4-35- 1 (w1) (5-1-9-0 5-2-16-1 4-1-10-0), Tufnell 14-3-33-2 (nb1) (2-1-8-0 1- 0-1-0 4-0-15-2 7-2-9-0), Irani 10-3-29-1 (5-1-16-1 2-1-6-0 3-1-7-0).
Fleming's 50: 257min, 188 balls, 3 fours.
ENGLAND: M A Atherton, D L Maddy, *N Hussain, G P Thorpe, A J Stewart, M R Ramprakash, R C Irani, A R Caddick, A D Mullally, P C R Tufnell, E S H Giddins.
Umpires: G Sharp and S Venkataraghavan.
TV replay umpire: J H Hampshire.
Match referee: P L van der Merwe.
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