Cricket: Problems pour down on tourists: England's hopes of confirming their one-day supremacy dampened as New Zealand's injury worries grow

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The Independent Online
WHAT with whales, mops and boys with brooms, all doing their bit to try and get Lord's fit for play, there was no shortage of activity on the field yesterday. With England only achieving a seven out of 10 for their performance at Edgbaston, Ray Illingworth, gave an early indication of what a hard taskmaster he can be. Yet even he could not have faulted the groundstaff's efforts, even if they were all in vain after some heavily- leaden skies dumped their contents on a Lord's that, despite the profusion of striped brollies among the spectators, struggled to look at all jolly.

If 'not a ball is bowled' today - and the forecast is not promising - it will be the first one-day international to be completely washed out since Sri Lanka enjoyed such a fate against the West Indies at the Oval during the 1979 World Cup. With a minimum of 30 overs per side constituting a game, the TCCB will have to summon either the fire brigade or a hot Scirocco wind off the Sahara if things are to get under way on time today.

New Zealand have never played a one-day match at Lord's before, and those spectators interested in experiencing first-hand such momentous events should not dispose of their ticket stubs for this second Texaco Trophy match, unless Sunday lunch and an afternoon kip appear more enticing. After the first game in this series, that might well prove a better option.

Rain is never welcome this early in the season. But an unscheduled day off does allow a healing 'window' for the injured, although it is doubtful that it will be enough for Darren Gough to recover from a sidestrain in time to enhance his Test claims.

It will certainly give Danny Morrison, the one experienced New Zealand bowler, time to recover from his hamstring injury. Morrison is clearly missing his wife Kim, who has acted as his personal masseuse throughout his injury-prone career. The latest prognosis is that it will be at least a week before he can be put through his paces, and he must now be a doubtful starter for the first Test.

This will be a big blow for New Zealand, as they be relying on Morrison to carry their weak attack through the summer. His absence will put even more pressure on the batsmen to post big totals, and the veterans Martin Crowe and Ken Rutherford and the stylish newcomer Stephen Fleming will be expected to provide the bulk of the runs.

Over a series, this may place too much pressure on Crowe, who is looking a long way short of his fluent best. The injury to his right knee is debilitating and he tends to gallop like a pantomime horse. This cannot help his batting. The thing that elevates a player like Brian Lara above the good Test batsmen is his faultless footwork, the balanced platform he provides for all his strokes.

Crowe was, and may still be, a great player, but his bad knee now handicaps him so much that he cannot be confident of achieving his punishingly high standards any more and his dismissal during last Wednesday's match was a case in point. Having played and missed at Gough's first ball, he was out to the second. A flat-footed guided cut that ended up at slip, it was the shot of a man unable to shift his weight to where he wanted it.

As is customary with new beginnings, Illingworth's appointment has been met with genuine enthusiasm and expectation. However, if England do play well against New Zealand, it may just be a false dawn, for the real ordeal will come with the South Africans later in the summer. Illingworth recognises this problem. He said yesterday: 'Of course, we could have a cock-up if certain players get runs and wickets against New Zealand, as they may not be the players we require for South Africa. It is a problem and we've got to be careful about that. It's something we'll be looking at very closely.' Just how closely will be evident next Sunday, when the Test squad of 13 players is announced.

First on the agenda at this week's selection meeting will be to find someone who can bat at number six and also do a decent job with the ball. Two candidates, Chris Lewis and Dermot Reeve, are in the team for today's game. Wheteher or not they get the chance to catch Illingworth's eye is another matter. His attention has been drawn to Headingley, where Craig White has just shown his credentials with a century and five wickets against Essex. John Stephenson and Dominic Cork are also being looked at.

It used to be said that a strong Yorkshire meant a strong England. If White does get the nod, a strong England will mean a depleted Yorkshire, but could be a long-term answer to that troublesome number six slot.

(Photograph omitted)

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