Cricket: Young at heart of tourists' effort

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New Zealand 314-3 v Essex

CENTURIES by Bryan Young and Ken Rutherford against Essex here yesterday may mark the turn of New Zealand's run of rotten luck and miserable play. They doubled the number of hundreds scored by New Zealand's batsmen this summer and saved the team's morale from disappearing into a big black hole. With the first Test starting on Thursday, it was just in time.

Before play began, New Zealand's fortunes had already been extravagantly mixed. Chris Pringle managed to strain his back in the nets and join three other bowlers on the casualty list. On the other hand, Rutherford won the toss and New Zealand were able to bat on a wicket that was so benign they insisted on carrying on when there were five lights on the scoreboard.

The New Zealanders had been forewarned about the wicket: 'They massacre sub-standard bowling, don't they?' Mike Sandlant, the team manager, said. This was no idle query. When all the bowlers are fit, the New Zealand attack is adequate. Here, it is substandard.

As it was, Young and Rutherford made Essex look barely adequate, and their attack includes Mark Ilott and Peter Such, both of whom would expect to be on Ray Illingworth's little list. Such lasted exactly two overs against Rutherford, who helped himself to 22 runs off them. Ilott proved to be Essex's most effective bowler. He almost caught and bowled Young quite brilliantly when he was 78, and finally got him out with a good-length ball that took out the off-stump. By then, Young had scored 122 off 222 balls with 17 fours.

Although he scored 65 in the Texaco Trophy match, Young had scored only 69 runs in four first-class innings before yesterday. Yet such is the poverty of the New Zealand batting this summer that his Test place was already safe. After timing his square cut so sweetly and driving as powerfully as he did yesterday, Young looks capable of embarrassing an England attack.

Rutherford was faster to his 100 (211 minutes), but - apart from his demolition of Such - less spectacular (10 fours). Martin Crowe must have been disappointed to score only 10. If Graham Gooch and Nasser Hussain do not score heavily, they will be entitled to spasms of self-doubt, for New Zealand's bowling is still in intensive care.

Sandlant lists the patients: Danny Morrison, the only bowler with more than 23 Test wickets, has a strained hamstring. Michael Owen, who was flown in as a replacement for Simon Doull, has a hip problem. Although Dion Nash has a backstrain, he was named for the team yesterday; there was no one else.

The manager hopes they will all be fit enough to be considered for Trent Bridge on Thursday. Whether they will be match fit is another matter.

Known as the 'Young Guns', this team have fired mostly blanks so far. Yesterday, they were bailed out by a 29-year-old opener, and the 28-year-old captain. Fortunately, their performance has not been extensively scrutinised in New Zealand. The big story there is that New Zealand have beaten Australia - at netball.