Cricket / Third Test: England's victory quest thwarted by the elements: Crowe and Parore untroubled during brief stay at the crease as Atherton's men are made to wait for New Zealand's demise

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England . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .382

New Zealand . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . .151 and 253-5

IT WAS still only mid-afternoon when, having given out details of possible refunds, the public address added: 'I stress this situation does not apply yet, but those with experience of Manchester weather may like to draw their own conclusions.'

Although a surprising number of people remained until the Ireland match had kicked off, the way the various landmarks normally visible from the press box became enveloped in the murk underlined that there could only be one conclusion, and it would not be of the third Cornhill Test.

Eventually at 10 past six, with the players already changed, the remaining few were put out of their misery, though the groundsman, Peter Marron, by way of hand signals, was rather quicker with the information than the public address.

Given a weather forecast so promising that some England players had checked out of their hotel in the morning, yesterday's rain which allowed just 81 minutes play in mid-afternoon was not anticipated. Judging by the comfort with which Martin Crowe and Adam Parore batted, England, having looked like wrapping up the series 2-0 on Saturday evening, will need at least three hours of today's final day if they are to conclude this match in their favour.

If the weather does not relent, Mike Atherton will have to settle for the consolation of securing England's first series win under his captaincy - and their first at home in four years. New Zealand can feel their escape is a belated compensation for their unrewarded excellence at Lord's and, to a lesser extent, their resistance here.

Yesterday they never looked like losing a wicket as Crowe and Parore added 48 runs in 18.5 overs, during which the ball rarely deviated in the air or off the pitch. Crowe, looking refreshed by his day's rest, batted beautifully to move within six of his second hundred of the series and guide New Zealand 22 runs ahead.

'New Zealand have a chance of saving the Test, we don't know what the weather will be like and they have a quality batsman at the crease,' the England coach, Keith Fletcher, said. 'While I don't think Martin Crowe batted particularly well in the first innings, in this one he has shown how good he is. I can only think of Brian Lara who is a better Test player at the moment.

Fletcher was full of praise for the way this season's new players, Darren Gough, Steve Rhodes and Craig White, had settled in, but he would not be drawn on whether the probability that Robin Smith and Graeme Hick would not have a significant second innings made further changes more, or less, likely.

There was, however, a heavy hint that time is running out from Ray Illingworth, the chairman of selectors, who said: 'The middle-order has not been satisfactory. There is a lot of pressure for batting places, but that is what Test cricket is about. Some of those players feeling the pressure should be, they have been playing it for some time and if you don't score runs over a period of time you can't expect to play.'

On current form they should be inevitable but, for the moment, England are more concerned with attempting to gain their biggest winning home series margin since they beat Australia 3-1 in 1985.

(Fourth day: England won toss)

ENGLAND - First Innings 382 (M A Atherton 111, P A J DeFreitas 69, D Gough 65; M B Owens 4-99, D J Nash 4-107).

NEW ZEALAND - First Innings 151 (M D Crowe 70; D Gough 4-47).

NEW ZEALAND - Second Innings

M D Crowe not out. . . 94

(257 min, 187 balls, 13 fours)

A C Parore not out. . .66

(155 min, 115 balls, 11 fours)

Extras (b8 lb8 nb3). . 19

Total (for 5, 341 min, 76.5 overs). . . .253

Bowling (to date): DeFreitas 19-5-42-1 (6-1-13-1, 6-2- 21-0, 7-2-8-0); Gough 20-1-82-2 (nb4) (3-1-12-0, 5-0- 22-1, 5-0-19-1, 7-0-29-0); Fraser 15-4-33-1 (8-3-12-1, 5- 0-17-0, 2-1-4-0); White 12.5-2-35-1 (6-1-17-1, 3-0-9-0, 3.5-1-9-0); Such 8-1-32-0 (6-0-24-0, 2-1-8-0); Gooch 2-0-13-0 (one spell).

Progress (fourth day): Saturday: 205-5. Rain delayed start until 1.45pm. 250: 335 min, 75.5 overs. Rain stopped play 3.07pm: 253-5 (Crowe 94, Parore 66) 76.5 overs. Play abandoned 6.10pm.

Crowe's 50: 108 min, 90 balls, 8 fours.

Parore's 50: 69 min, 59 balls 9 fours.

Umpires: S B Lambson and D R Shepherd, A G T Whitehead (TV replays).

Match referee: E de C Weekes.

(Photograph omitted)