Cricket: Third Test: Gough is the demolition man: Northern lights burn brightly for England as the dark clouds gather for a fragile New Zealand

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The Independent Online
THIS HAS been a great match for the north. First, England's beleaguered batting was given respectability through Michael Atherton, Phil DeFreitas and Darren Gough. Then, under slate-grey Manchester skies which undoubtedly helped the ball to move around, Gough, who capped a remarkable debut with six wickets, DeFreitas and Craig White, all inspired Illingworth selections from north of Watford Gap, demolished New Zealand's batting.

On a pitch whose generous pace and bounce showed the Kiwis' resilience to be paper thin, England's bowlers reigned supreme. By lunch, New Zealand were following on some 231 runs behind and, but for some accomplished resistance by Martin Crowe and Adam Parore late in the day, the tourists could have been on their way to Ireland for Sunday lunch. At 205 for five, when bad light eventually stopped play just before the scheduled close, they still need 26 runs to make England bat again.

It has been a long time since England's bowlers have been able to intimidate the opposition to such an extent. Gough, in particular, bowled some searing bouncers and only Crowe looked able to score runs during the sustained barrage. This he duly did, and he passed 50 in both innings, though the first of these knocks was laced with reckless slogs.

For once, England's attack bowled straight and with enough purpose for their captain's wishful thinking to become reality. Moreover, they were given a dream start when Gough's first ball of the morning, a wide loosener to Matthew Hart, was flat-batted to Atherton at cover.

Not for the first time has Gough drawn comparisons with Ian Botham, and when, later in the day, he had Rutherford caught down the leg-side off another loosener, wise sages were not only remarking on his equally beefy behind but on his knack of taking wickets with wayward balls.

Gough has had a sensational debut. He complemented DeFreitas's probing swingers perfectly and his accuracy was backed up with sustained hostility. Shane Thomson, assured at Lord's a fortnight ago, saw his batting rudely dismantled and he was given such a torrid time by Gough, that his eventual dismissal by DeFreitas was a case of third time unlucky as he wafted outside his off-stump.

The make of cricket ball used by Lancashire over the years has been the Reader, whose firmness and robust seam are favoured by some bowlers but not those who like to swing it, for they are notoriously difficult to shine. In this match, Duke balls are being used and it has been noticeable that DeFreitas moved the ball both ways yesterday.

The firm pitch is better grassed than usual and it provided the perfect springboard for White's slingy seamers. When he gets it right, he can be decidedly rapid and he dismissed Adam Parore with his second ball to give Steve Rhodes his third catch of the innings. Soon afterwards he thudded one into Crowe's helmet, a bumper so keen and straight that it knocked the batsman's silver fern badge clean off.

Often, such a shaking can galvanise a player, as it did here in 1982, when the Indian batsman Sandip Patil was struck a nasty blow by a rampant Botham. On that occasion, Patil went on to score an undefeated 129, striking Bob Willis for a record 24 runs in an over just moments after receiving treatment for shock. Unfortunately it had no such effect on Crowe who, having changed helmets, was further peppered by White. The Yorkshireman was clearly determined not to let the ringing subside in the batsman's ears.

With two bouncers in successive balls, the trap was set and Crowe, tucked up by an unconvincing hook, could only succeed in finding Gooch at long leg. Crowe was the eighth man out and the tail was wrapped up in the wink of an eye. This was unusual for an England side, but a bit of pace can be mightily unnerving for tail-enders of limited aspiration but much common sense.

When their second innings opened after lunch, New Zealand must have been hoping that the appearance of some watery sunshine might take the sap out of bowlers and pitch. They were disappointed, for the murk returned and none of the England bowlers showed signs of fatigue. Almost immediately, DeFreitas struck to have Bryan Young lbw and when Gough, who had switched to the Warwick Road end performed his magic with a rank leg-side loosener to have Rutherford caught behind, the New Zealand captain knew it was not going to be their day.

Much now rested on the two left-handers, the injured Mark Greatbatch and the talented Stephen Fleming, who has yet to score the volume of runs his reputation suggests. He did little to improve his standing when he drove loosely at Angus Fraser. With Atherton ruthless in exploiting Greatbatch's understandable apprehensiveness against the short ball, it was only a matter of time before the batsman, clearly worried by his broken thumb, perished in the trap at leg gully.

As fatigue took its toll, Crowe made his second fifty of the day as tired bowlers began to lose their zip. Unsurprisingly, Crowe was much more circumspect second time around, and whatever had caused the 'beans to bounce' in the morning had clearly been expunged. Not so Thomson, whose propensity to play loose drives meant that he once again perished to a less than testing delivery, caught at cover by a diving Robin Smith. There were no more alarms as Crowe found an ally in Parore and he took full advantage of the tiring pace attack and some overs by Gooch and Such for his fifty.

It has been four years since England have won a Test series (the last time was India in 1990) and 13 since they have claimed a victory at Old Trafford. As the strains of 'It's a long way to Tipperary' wafted up from the ragtime band circling the ground, England knew they were almost home.

(Photograph omitted)