Cricket: Third Test - Stewart holds key to England's fate

England 199 & 118-2 New Zealand 496-9 dec; McMillan gives Kiwis a formidable lead as home side look to invoke spirit of last year's battling draw
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A LITTLE over a year ago, England saved a Test match at Old Trafford against South Africa that turned a seemingly lost series their way. The similarities with this match are uncanny, and with a third Test century from Craig McMillan giving New Zealand a firstinnings lead of 297, England were once again left needing to bat five sessions in order to save the match. So far, they have survived two of them to finish the fourth day on 118 for 2, a good 179 runs from making their opponents bat again.

Twelve months ago, it was Stewart (164) and Atherton (89) who dominated the fightback, the pair adding 226 for the third wicket. Atherton is out this time, unfortunately adjudged caught off his forearm for 48, the ball before rain stopped play. At Trent Bridge last year, Atherton gloved Allan Donald behind and survived, a break that enabled England to level the series. Win some lose some, might be the mantra of a reasonable man, though Atherton's sombre head shaking as he departed, suggested he saw only injustice.

Stewart, largely due to better feet movement and some benevolent weather, is still there and much rests upon him England will need him to bat for at least two more sessions, though with spin likely from one end for most of the day, it is not a task for which he is ideally equipped.

A draw, though, even a glorious one, will not disguise England's repeated shortcomings: with bat in the first innings, and with ball on flat unresponsive pitches. Add to those a collective lack of confidence and you can see why last night's dinner involving English cricket's big six - Lord MacLaurin, Nasser Hussain, David Graveney, Brian Bolus, Simon Pack and coach-to-be Duncan Fletcher - took on enhanced meaning from the convivial get-together planned a month ago.

Significantly two of the selectors, Graham Gooch and Mike Gatting, were not invited, though this had probably more to do with their hearty troughing capacities than the delicate nature of the conversation. Much has been made of streamlining the selection process and getting rid of the pair, though as they are both going soon - Gooch in September, Gatting next February - it would hardly be earth shattering news if they did.

MacLaurin, when asked to comment yesterday, had nothing to say. Providing the private face was a great deal more aggressive last night, that is fair enough. Yet it is worth remembering that "Raising the Standard" was MacLaurin's brainchild, and one that so far has been woefully flaunted by Team England or as he refers to it, "the shop window".

So far the biggest mistake has been to delay the appointment of Fletcher until 1 October. It is a decision that even his current employers, Glamorgan, having braced themselves for a request from the England and Wales Cricket Board to release him, have found perplexing. While England tend to lurch from new dawn to disaster whatever the circumstance, the lack of a coach has given the impression of not taking New Zealand too seriously, a monstrous arrogance given the circumstances in which they now find themselves.

Since their victory in the first Test at Edgbaston, England have been outplayed in all departments, a feat that defies belief considering the mental superiority that should have been gained from that win. If the unexpected behaviour of the pitch has made a mockery of England's decision to bat first - unquestionably the right decision for a match unravelling over five days - their cricket has been sloppy and uninspired.

Typically, the last roll of the dice often brings an improvement and when they batted again, some 297 behind, there were positive signs in both stroke and attitude. With Stephen Fleming setting an attacking field, boundaries, so scarce in the first innings, came at a healthy lick and it was against the run of play that Mark Butcher capped an unhappy match as captain, by falling lbw.

It was a poor decision by the umpire David Shepherd, who also gave Atherton out later. The ball from Dion Nash pitched outside leg stump, and Butcher may now find himself under pressure to be dropped for the final Test at The Oval.

Stewart, much as he did a year ago, played his strokes form the off. Some wayward bowling from Chris Cairns helped, but there was a purpose to his batting that has not been seen since last season. Atherton too was far less inert than the first innings and was playing well when Daniel Vettori, bowling into the rough, persuaded Shepherd to give him out. To rub misfortune deep, it was the last ball bowled as rain claimed the remaining 90 minutes of play.

New Zealand, resuming the day on 399 for 6, began briskly with McMillan taking a six and a four from the morning's second over, bowled by Phil Tufnell. Cairns added another, also off Tufnell, before getting under a sweep shot which was well judged by Caddick on the square-leg boundary.

Having added a brisk fifty with Nash, McMillan finally delivered on that promise by reaching three figures. A chunky looking player, he strikes a ball with unexpected power. He is not overcautious either and his ton was reached by successive reverse sweeps for four off Such.

The visitors' had struck eight sixes the previous day, a fact that emphasised they are not the shrinking violets of recent history.

OLD TRAFFORD SCOREBOARD

Fourth day; England won toss

ENGLAND - First Innings 199 (M R Ramprakash 69no).

NEW ZEALAND - First innings

(Friday: 128 for 2)

M D Bell c Atherton b Headley 83

343 min, 224 balls, 7 fours

N J Astle c Such b Caddick 101

225 min, 175 balls, 8 fours, 3 sixes

R G Twose lbw b Such 20

83 min, 57 balls, 2 fours, 1 six

C D McMillan not out 107

292 min, 210 balls, 9 fours, 3 sixes

A C Parore c Butcher b Such 10

10 min, 10 balls, 2 fours

C L Cairns c Caddick b Tufnell 41

123 min, 90 balls, 2 fours, 3 sixes

D J Nash c Caddick b Such 26

68 min, 54 balls, 2 fours

C Z Harris b Tufnell 3

12 min, 9 balls

D L Vettori not out 2

16 min, 10 balls

Extras (b6, lb17, nb3) 26

Total (for 9 dec, 160 overs) 496

Fall (cont): 3-263 (Bell), 4-280 (Astle), 5-321 (Twose), 6-331 (Parore), 7-425 (Cairns), 8-476 (Nash), 9-487 (Harris).

Bowling: Caddick 39-11-112-2 (nb2) (11-4-29-1, 3-0-17-0, 6-0-28-1, 11- 5-23-0, 8-2-15-0); Headley 31-4-115-1 (nb1) (4-1-21-0, 6-1-27-0, 7-0-27- 0, 7-1-18-1, 7-1-22-0); Tufnell 46-12-111-2 (9-3-22-0, 1-0-4-0, 8-2-11- 0, 5-1-14-0, 1-0-1-0, 1-0-3-0, 7-2-12-0, 14-4-44-2); Such 41-11-114-4 (19-6-42-1, 1-1-0-0, 2-1-1-0, 9-1-37-2, 3-2-1-0, 7-0-33-1); Hick 1-0-8- 0; Butcher 2-0-13-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Third day: Start delayed until 11.46am. 150: 203 min, 49.4 overs. Lunch: 186-2 (Bell 54, Astle 43) 61 overs. 200: 261 min, 65.2 overs. New ball: Taken after 80 overs at 247-2. 250: 333 min, 81.1 overs. 300: 388 min, 92.3 overs. Tea: 302-4 (Twose 10, McMillan 12) 94 overs. 350: 454 min, 108.3 overs. Close: 399-6 (McMillan 58, Cairns 29) 131 overs. Fourth day: 400: 544 min, 131.5 overs. 450: in 609 min, 147.2 overs.

Bell 50: 240 min, 158 balls, 5 fours.

Astle 50: 115 min, 92 balls, 4 fours, 2 sixes. 100: 224 min, 174 balls, 8 fours, 3 sixes.

McMillan 50: 144 min, 96 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes. 100: 274 min, 197 balls, 9 fours, 3 sixes.

ENGLAND - Second innings

*M A Butcher lbw b Nash 9

26 min, 16 balls, 2 fours

M A Atherton c Astle b Vettori 48

154 min, 122 balls, 7 fours

A J Stewart not out 47

128 min, 122 balls, 7 fours

G P Thorpe not out 0

1 min, 0 balls

Extras (b9, lb5) 14

Total (for 2, 43.2 overs) 118

Fall: 1-19 (Butcher), 2-118 (Atherton).

Bowling: Cairns 8-1-39-0 (one spell); Nash 10-3-26-1 (5-3-9-1, 5-0-17- 0); Astle 3-1-7-0; Vettori 13.2-6-17-1; Harris 9-2-15-0 (one spell each).

Progress: 50: 58 min, 13.4 overs. Tea: 98-1 (Atherton 35, Stewart 43) 31 overs. 100: 122 min, 31.4 overs. Rain stopped play: 4.37pm.

Umpires: D R Shepherd (Eng) and R B Tiffin (Zim).

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