Cricket: Rhodes scholar of long innings: New Zealand battle to avoid follow-on

Worcs . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .343-7 dec

New Zealand . . . . . . . . . . .147-5

RAY ILLINGWORTH has not had to look far for the first brick in his new England team: about four miles. Steve Rhodes, born in a neighbouring Bradford suburb to the chairman of selectors, yesterday took the penultimate step towards graduating from the longest international apprenticeship in the game.

With both Illingworth and Keith Fletcher watching, Rhodes, who made the first of five England A tours nine years ago, scored an unbeaten century as Worcestershire reached a strong position against New Zealand.

On a pitch that had begun to display variable bounce, the tourists ended the day still 47 runs short of saving the follow- on with five wickets standing. Only the captain, Ken Rutherford, with a solid 59 not out, had looked comfortable after James Brinkley, the latest Australian-bred Pom to try his luck in England, and Neal Radford had reduced them to 24 for 3.

Martin Crowe, leg before padding up, was the most

illustrious scalp for the Scottish-born Brinkley, the wicket coming from one of several balls he brought back sharply. Rutherford led a recovery but Stuart Lampitt dismissed Mark Greatbatch and Shane Thomson in successive balls, the latter well caught low down by Rhodes.

While Rhodes' wicketkeeping has always been good enough to put him on the fringe of the England side, his batting has prospered dramatically with the advent of four- day cricket. After making two centuries in 12 years, the 29- year-old has now scored five in 21 months, all but this one in the extended game.

'It gives you time to build an innings,' he said. Tim Curtis, his captain, added: 'He is good enough to make Test centuries. There was a bit of pressure on him here, he knows the spotlight is on him. As a keeper, I don't think there is anything to choose between him, Jack Russell or Colin Metson.'

For all his loquaciousness on the pitch, Rhodes is not one to shout the odds off it and, with Illingworth sitting a yard away when the media cornered him, he was even more circumspect yesterday.

'I'm very happy with my game so far and chuffed to get runs today,' he said. 'When your name is being mentioned there is a danger that it can distract you from your job.'

Rhodes looks a player to thrive under pressure, just the type Illingworth is looking for.