Astle assault proof of changing game

England 228 and 468 for 6 dec New Zealand 147 and 451 England win by 98 runs
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The Independent Online

Like global warming, Nathan Astle's devastating double century against England at Lancaster Park, the fastest in the modern game, is yet further evidence of an overall pattern of change – in this case the quickening tempo of Test cricket.

Picking a once-in-a-hundred-years event like Astle's to prove the point is probably overstating the case, but Test cricket is becoming exciting to watch – even to thrill-seekers – on a daily basis.

Whether it be Christchurch or Cape Town, where Australia and South Africa have completed all but the coup de grâce inside three days, the pace of play, at least outside the slow surfaces of the sub-continent, is becoming increasingly frenetic.

Well-worn cricketing phrases such as maiden over, creating pressure, stonewalling and building an innings will all be lost to the lexicography – no bad thing perhaps, given the competition for attention from other sports.

Australia probably started the trend of "getting on with it" at Test level under Mark Taylor, but the all-out attack philosophy had its roots in 1970s county cricket, when teams received the same number of points, lose or draw.

Except against teams close to them in the table, enterprising county captains, such as Essex's Keith Fletcher, would go all out for the win however unpromising the situation his team found themselves in. It has not quite reached that level of risk-taking for most teams at Test level, but the Aussies have continued to carry the torch under Steve Waugh.

The limitation of above shoulder-high bouncers, to two per over (one per batsman), has given batsmen more balls to hit and prevented fast bowlers from defending as the West Indies used to do in the 1980s, when two men back on the leg-side boundary and five bumpers an over were impossible to counter unless you kept hitting the ball for six.

Also, a dearth of great bowlers in world cricket compared to good batsmen means that runs now come at a faster lick, though the chicken and egg of whether the lack of one has contributed to a glut of the other might also be applied.

Other factors have contributed, most obviously the all-pervading influence of one-day cricket, especially among batsmen, whose mindset, rather than strokeplay, has come to regard dot balls as something unutterably evil.

Astle certainly does and onlookers who had seen his one-day blitz against England at Dunedin, when he scored 122 from 150 balls, felt it was a tamer version of the caning – 222 from 168 balls – he meted out on Saturday.

If it made sensational viewing, and for once the live act comfortably outshone television's probing eye, the match still ended a day early, costing the TV networks, sponsors, and, had there been much of a crowd, the New Zealand Cricket Board, a substantial amount of money.

Indeed, some accountant somewhere is probably doing a cost benefit analysis on early finishes and pining for the old days when draws were the most common result. But money cannot buy the buzz created by Astle's pyrotechnics and, in spite of being beaten, this rugby-obsessed country can talk of nothing else.

Andrew Caddick and Matthew Hoggard are probably still talking about it in their sleep. They were given the biggest maulings of their careers and neither will forget it quickly, despite soothing words to the contrary from Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher.

England won the match and deserved to, after Caddick and Hoggard dovetailed magnificently to consign the home side to defeat. But sport is not always about results or win bonuses, and the hearts and minds of the people now lie with Astle.

To be there was to have reality suspended by disbelief. The sheer cleanness of Astle's striking – not slogging, you understand – belonged to professional golf and high-tech metal clubs, not a bit of crudely-planed willow.

To witness Hoggard's first two overs with the second new ball disappear for 41 runs and Caddick treated like a joke bowler – he came within one run of equalling the world record runs off one over (26) – was to see history, not just made, but embedded into folklore.

One observer, in a Sunday newspaper, claimed that most of Astle's sixes would not have cleared the boundary at Lord's or The Oval. What rot. Apart from the odd hook that just carried the ropes, most of the sixes that were struck in front of the wicket cleared them by some distance. In the case of the two he deposited off Caddick on to the stadium roof, the well-dressed ladies of St John's Wood High Street would not have been out of range.

After an event like that, salient facts, such as this being New Zealand's first Test defeat for seven matches, are forgotten. Buried too is the realisation that this is the first time England have gone 1-0 up in an overseas series for 10 years, when they beat New Zealand on the same ground in 1992.

If that series ended in victory, the recent past has seen 1-0 leads squandered, most notably when the Kiwis came back after losing the opening Test at Edgbaston in 1999, to win 2-1. England will have to be careful to guard against such complacency this time, though; should Astle repeat his fireworks, there is really nothing much a mortal can do.

Christchurch Scoreboard

Fourth day; New Zealand won toss

ENGLAND ­ First innings 228 (N Hussain 106).

NEW ZEALAND ­ First innings 147 (M J Hoggard 7-63).

ENGLAND ­ Second innings 468 for 6 dec (G P Thorpe 200no, A Flintoff 137).

NEW ZEALAND ­ Second innings

(Friday: 28 for 0)

M H Richardson c Foster b Caddick 76

178 min, 136 balls, 13 fours

M J Horne c Foster b Caddick 4

75 min, 53 balls

L Vincent c Butcher b Caddick 0

8 min, 3 balls

*S P Fleming c Foster b Flintoff 48

149 min, 109 balls, 7 fours

N J Astle c Foster b Hoggard 222

232 min, 168 balls, 28 fours, 11 sixes

C D McMillan c and b Caddick 24

52 min, 31 balls, 3 fours

ÝA C Parore b Caddick 1

9 min, 4 balls

D L Vettori c Flintoff b Giles 12

33 min, 22 balls, 3 fours

C J Drum lbw b Flintoff 0

5 min, 7 balls

I G Butler c Foster b Caddick 4

17 min, 15 balls, 1 four

C L Cairns not out 23

55 min, 29 balls, 3 fours, 1 six

Extras (b9 lb11 w1 nb16) 37

Total (411 min, 93.3 overs) 451

Fall: 1-42 (Horne); 2-53 (Vincent); 3-119 (Richardson); 4-189 (Fleming); 5-242 (McMillan); 6-252 (Parore); 7-300 (Vettori); 8-301 (Drum); 9-333 (Butler).

Bowling: Caddick 25-8-122-6 (nb9, w1) (13-7-27-2, 6-0-33-1, 3-0-17-2, 3-1-45-1); Hoggard 24.3-5-142-1 (nb5) (4-2-5-0, 3-1-11-0, 6-0-23-0, 2-0-13-0, 6-2-28-0, 2-0-41-0, 1.3-0-21-1); Giles 28-6-73-1 (1-0-1-0, 13-3-38-0, 3-0-10-0, 8-2-21-1, 3-1-3-0); Flintoff 16-1-94-2 (nb2) (2-1-6-0, 6-0-30-1, 5-0-34-1, 3-0-24-0).

Progress: Fourth day: 50: 81 min, 18.1 overs. 100: 147 min, 34.4 overs. Lunch: 140-3 (Fleming 30, Astle 13) 46 overs. 150: 209 min, 48.4 overs. 200: 252 min, 58.2 overs. 250: 295 min, 67.3 overs. Tea: 270-6 (Astle 83, Vettori 4) 72 overs. 300: 329 min, 76.5 overs. New ball taken after 81 overs at 315-8. 350: 362 min, 83.4 overs. 400: 382 min, 86.4 overs. 450: 410 min, 93.1 overs. Innings closed 5.07pm.

Richardson's 50: 118 min, 90 balls, 10 fours.

Astle's 50: 74 min, 54 balls, 10 fours.

100: 149 min, 114 balls, 16 fours, 2 sixes.

150: 186 min, 136 balls, 25 fours, 3 sixes.

200: 218 min, 153 balls, 27 fours, 9 sixes.


Man of the match: G P Thorpe.

Umpires: B F Bowden and E A R de Silva (Sri Lanka).