Cricket: Plenty of pride despite the fall

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The Independent Online
LOOKING FOR bright spots in England's summer has not been, so far, the lightest of tasks. We have not been eclipsed but then neither have we exactly emerged into the sunlight.

After a series in which we have never dominated the New Zealanders with the bat, the players have been feeling the pressure. The loss of first- innings wickets at The Oval in the final Test of the series was exactly what we did not want. It was the culmination of a grim time.

It has not been made easier by bad pitches and a dreadful fixture list which has hardly given batsmen a chance to have an innings between Test matches, but we played badly at The Oval on Friday. It was not made any easier by the pundits. If you occupy the crease they demand assertion, if you assert and get out they demand to know why you did that. The line, how thin it is.

But there we were, in territory which has become all too familiar. Yes, the pressure was reaching us but there was still a belief that we could win. We are proud to be playing for England and we want to show the public that. We knew that if we could win the match, we would win the series.

The feeling of deja vu as I was left batting with the tail was pretty strong. I suppose I should be accustomed to it by now but I decided early on against purely staying there, which got me into trouble in the last match.

So when Nasser Hussain got out I decided that a few strokes had to be played. It almost proved my downfall when one from Daniel Vettori cramped me and I executed my intended slog pull wrongly. Fortunately, I was dropped. But it did not make the choice of strategy any easier.

Gloom but not despair, poor but not without hope. And there has actually been some brightness. He was there at the other end from me on Friday night as he has been before in this series, batting his socks off as he has done throughout the summer. As indeed he has bowled his socks off.

Andrew Caddick is our player of the series. He was left out of the side for a while for one reason or another, despite taking more than 100 first-class wickets last season, but when Nasser took over as captain he decided that he would try to embrace those who might be a bit out of the norm and said so. Back came Phil Tufnell and Caddick immediately.

Tufnell's recall has been largely successful but Caddick's has been a real triumph. He is tall, he bowls at good pace, he gets bounce and he just bowls and bowls and bowls. He has matured considerably and it is by no means an odious comparison to say that he is the nearest thing England have to Australia's Glenn McGrath. He proved it again yesterday.

How he has worked on his batting, too. Caddick is usually at the nets early to hone his batting - he likes batting - which is not something bowlers always do, particularly when they are taking wickets. He has worked hard and it has paid off. Throughout the summer he has hung around, batting stolidly and competently at No 8, and the straight six he hit off Vettori on Friday afternoon was the shot of a man who has grown in confidence. He is a huge asset to England at present.

England's position was always going to be a difficult one, of course, when we started shedding early-order wickets. It is impossible to put our finger on it but in that order are two players with 6,000 Test runs apiece - Michael Atherton and Alec Stewart - and another proven performer, Graham Thorpe. Those are facts beyond debate.

Nasser had been faced with a huge conundrum. First we had to get close to the Kiwi score, then we had to attack to bowl them out. But if they started hitting a few shots then men would be pulled out of positions close to the bat and we would be on the defensive again.

New Zealand also made more than we would have liked. Stephen Fleming was a rock but most of their late runs were down to Vettori. He is an awkward customer. He bats leg stump, hits shots to off, slicing them away, and then tucks them off his legs. He gets the ball in odd areas.

It has been a disappointing, disjointed season played on some poor pitches in some poor weather. And we have played some poor cricket.

But the one thing we have always tried to do is play with pride.