Cricket: Same old problem for supporters

Andy Farrell discovers there are plenty of things to watch in New Zealand apart from the falling rain
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The Independent Online
Have more people ever travelled further just to watch the rain fall? New Zealand is the most distant cricketing outpost from England and the one with the nearest climate to home, yet hundreds of supporters are here on tours ranging from first class deluxe to Barmy Army class.

You could understand it for Australia, West Indies and South Africa, with a guaranteed exit visa of a winter suntan. Here, the queue at immigration is so long because customs officers are looking not just for food and plants (and hard drugs, etc) to confiscate, but shorts and T-shirts.

Those who ignored the tourist board's promotion on the descent into the airport - shopping on Lambton Quay, the Botanical Gardens, the views from Mount Victoria Lookout - because they thought they had five days' activity lined up have been proved reckless in the extreme. Wellington could have doubled for Weymouth as the sea drizzle hung over the Basin Reserve yesterday.

It was not quite jolly boating weather, but it was certainly less hindrance to the participants in the BT Global Challenge. While some were complaining that the northerly which kept the rain clouds over the Basin was in the wrong direction for a fast start, at least they were off on time with the 1pm sounding of a gun from the New Zealand Navy frigate Waikato.

The 14 identical boats and their crews, who set off from Southampton last September, have spent the last 40 days in port and were given a handsome send off by a flotilla of local yachts and those lining Orient Parade. As they made for the turbulent waters of Cook Strait, Save the Children was edging overall leader Group 4. Next stop Sydney, six days away.

There are those who would have condemned the hierarchy of the England cricket team to such a journey, preferably without an anchor, but after the last few days it would have been no surprise to find some of their Kiwi counterparts had stowed away in search of quieter waters.

There have been allegations of late nights and ball tampering, but what was indefensible was the New Zealand batting display after a delayed start on Thursday. England were by far the better prepared team and yesterday they were again keen to get under way. Some played cards in the dressing- room, while others headed for the indoor nets. "We try to remain focused but relaxed at the same time," explained Robert Croft about such situations.

The frustrations, built up over past near-misses and being kept off the field, mounted. Pocock edged Gough over Hussain at fourth slip, while Young found the vacant third slip region off the same bowler. With Parore and Pocock together, Croft, who had already hit the stumps to no avail with one throw, was wild when a run-out was on. In the last over before the second drinks break, the Welshman was on his knees imploring umpire Steve Bucknor to give a positive decision.

Croft, England and their supporters had to wait until the last half-hour of the day before his triple breakthrough. The Barmy Army had been through their repertoire of "Rule Britannia", "Jerusalem" and the National Anthem as well as other less intelligible offerings. David Lloyd, the England coach, had sat in the front row of the main stand biting his nails.

There was a lookalike Ray Illingworth, and a host of tour host celebrities: John Snow, Dickie Bird, Richard Hutton, Barry Duddleston, John Edrich, Bob Taylor. They know that for people to continue to part with good money to follow their national team abroad, the odd England victory would not go amiss.