Cricket: Rutherford the key to success for the Kiwis

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Worcestershire 343-7 dec and 103-6 dec

New Zealand 194-7 dec and 153-4

Match drawn

NEW ZEALAND escaped honourably here yesterday, but the tourists failed to dispel the considerable doubts about their quality. Ken Rutherford, who is shaping to be their key player, ensured his team avoided the indignity of either following on or suffering defeat with twin half-centuries, but he probably received as much sustenance from New Road's famed tea ladies as from his team-mates.

Rutherford, who, like England's captain, has thrived on the pressures of leadership, top scored in both innings and batted like a man in the best form of his career.

There was also an encouraging innings from Mark Greatbatch, slowly emerging from a miserable winter, and the seemingly innocuous Gavin Larsen maintained his unlikely success with the ball. But both opening batsmen failed, as did Martin Crowe, whose paltry yield of seven runs in the match has forced him to abandon plans to rest his problem knee at Somerset today.

The bowling was so unthreatening it could have been part of a New Zealand advertising campaign to promote the 'friendly country'. There is, at least, good news in this area for the tourists. Danny Morrison, who had a groin injury, plays at Taunton while Simon Doull's shoulder injury is progressing well.

But the overriding impression is of a weak team who will need to play to their maximum potential to cloud Ray Illingworth's new dawn. The chairman of the selectors did not attend yesterday, preferring to look for green shoots in his garden, but missed little. There were times when a promising finish looked in prospect but in the event, play ended eight overs early.

In the morning, Rutherford had steered his team past the follow-on in relative comfort despite Phil Newport taking two wickets in his first dozen deliveries. With Graeme Hick in violent mood - he took 16 off one over from the genuinely quick Davis Heath - Worcester then set a target of 253 in 49 overs. Hick fell to Larsen, one of four wickets in 11 balls for the vice-captain, who, after taking 14 tour wickets at 12 apiece, may be closing on that cherished first Test cap.

With the threatened rain staying away, Neal Radford, still irrepressible at 36, took three early wickets before tea to give the county side hope of their first win over the Kiwis in 57 years. But Rutherford and Greatbatch, adding 88 in quick time, turned the odds towards the tourists before the captain fell during a rare home outing for Hick's off-spin.

That would have gladdened Illingworth's heart, but not the nature of his bowling. The wicket, Rutherford walking after edging a lap shot, was undeserved for the spell merely emphasised how badly Hick needs the practice.