Cricket: When sweet nothing stands for something big

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SOME RUNS at last. Not enough to change the world or break records, not whirlwind runs but perhaps sufficient to help the side a bit in a tight spot. The 69 I eventually managed in England's first innings turned out to be my highest Test score in this country. Most of them were made in company with the late order, particularly Peter Such.

His contribution to the ninth- wicket stand of 31, the second highest of the innings, was precisely nought. But it was a splendidly gritty nought, which was something of a record - the longest registered duck in a Test in this country, lasting 72 minutes and 51 balls. When he was eventually out the members in front of the Old Trafford pavilion rose to him. They appreciated his efforts.

There is something compelling about watching batsmen like Such and Phil Tufnell. What they lack in technical proficiency they compensate for in determined improvisation which is inevitably singular in style. When Such came in on Friday it was vital that somehow, anyhow, we stayed around for a while.

We had, as a team, agreed a game plan that occupying the crease was important. That is what we had not done at Lord's, and the surface at Old Trafford did not make it easy either. Such never wavered from the plan. That is why he was steadfast in his refusal to take a few singles off his bat even when they were on offer. That, he would tell me between overs, was not part of the team plan. He was as disciplined as could be, unorthodoxy personified perhaps, but aware, as he has shown for Essex, that he can do his bit.

So he stayed and stayed, scoreless but impassable. He was a pleasure to bat with. England have been short of partnerships in this series and while 31 did not scale the heights it was pretty crucial. The runs were useful but so was the time it used up.

I was pleased with my innings. There had been some talk in the build- up to the match that I might not make the starting line-up. I have been receiving advice, both direct and indirect, from various places, that I should play my natural game, go for my shots more, come out with freedom. Two points might be worth making on this. First, I never come out with pure defence in mind. But occupation of the crease, building an innings, is important in a Test match. That said, I'm always looking for the half- volley to put away.

Second, the New Zealanders have bowled exceptionally well to their strengths in this series. They have bowled straight, given little away and set defensive fields which have been difficult to pierce. But, yes, it felt good as my innings went on. I felt comfortable most of the time actually. The pitch on the first day was pretty unexceptional.

This column has talked about pitches before and I do not wish to labour the point. But I doubt if there would be any dissenters from the proposition that it would be jolly good to turn up at a Test ground where there was a real chance of getting 500. I think the public want to see it. England might not have batted well as a unit in this series but the scoring of runs has been hard on pitches not designed for that purpose.

The ideal Test pitch, of course, is one with a bit of bounce and pace to encourage the faster bowlers which will then deteriorate on the fourth or fifth day to grant a bit of turn. We knew we were not going to get that at Old Trafford so we knew that we would have to dig in. We were delighted to win the toss and bat.

Perversely, of course, the pitch got better. When I reached the wicket it was low and slow, sure, but a lot of the uneven up and down bounce had disappeared. The sun had been on it and seemed to change its nature. But still we struggled to build partnerships.

At number six it was almost like being in the old routine for me. Shepherding the tail is a job I find hard to do because sometimes you don't know what to do for the best: score, rotate, keep the partner away, make sure he doesn't face too many balls. The first innings here was pretty reminiscent of one at Trent Bridge last year where I had to be cautious and Angus Fraser and I ended up putting on a few.

But it was good to play a couple of attacking shots which came off the sweet part of the bat. There were two fours in a row off Chris Cairns, one pulled to leg, the next a four driven through extra cover. Yes, then it felt good to be batting.

But England are aware that this has not been a Test match for the crowds. Sections have been very generous. They love any little England success but elsewhere they have been pretty sarcastic at times. You can sense their frustration and irritation. They want runs. Who can blame them? We want runs.