Cooley on mission to check out Kiwi threat

Worcestershire 163-3 v New Zealand
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The Independent Online

England's one-day internationals in the Caribbean and the recent inclement weather has allowed the New Zealand cricketers to slip into the country relatively unnoticed. This should come as no surprise because the arrival of the Black Caps here has never created the same interest as that of the All Blacks.

But England would be wrong to underestimate Stephen Fleming's competitive and highly rated side. New Zealand, who currently lie one place ahead of England in the official Test rankings, will provide Michael Vaughan with his toughest challenge this summer.

And this was acknowledged when the England bowling coach, Troy Cooley, made an appearance here yesterday to have a closer look at the Kiwis during the first meaningful match of their 11-week tour.

The tourists' bowlers are still acclimatising to English conditions but Cooley would have been given a good idea of their expected game-plan during his visit. New Zealand's strength lies in their pace attack and their tactics appear to be to wear teams down with tight, disciplined bowling.

Play, which had been delayed for three hours by heavy overnight rain, failed to be dominated by any of the bowlers or by a budding young talent pushing for an England Test place. Instead it was the Worcestershire captain Ben Smith, who at 32 is now one of the stalwarts of county cricket, who impressed with an entertaining, unbeaten 72.

Smith's batting, along with that of Kadeer Ali and Graeme Hick, who played a few glorious strokes during his breezy 36, allowed Worcestershire to progress to 163 for 3 before bad light brought a premature end to proceedings.

Rain in Cambridge restricted the tourists to just 35 overs of play during their three-day game against the British Universities and initially it was feared their preparations would receive a further set-back here.

But sharp thinking from the two captains ensured that play was possible. Heavy overnight rain had made the bowlers run-ups on the original pitch sodden and this threatened to cause further delays. However Smith and Fleming agreed to switch pitches and play the game on a surface which had been prepared for Worcestershire's Championship match against Sussex last weekend.

Despite its lack of preparation the pitch played well, but Fleming would have been slightly concerned with the form of a couple of his bowlers. Daryl Tuffey was as accurate as ever and picked up his first two wickets of the tour but Shane Bond and Chris Martin were expensive. Bond, who was one of the stars of the 2003 World Cup, has spent most of the last 12 months recovering from a stress fracture in his back and looked out of sorts yesterday.

With Chris Cairns being rested Martin was given a chance to push for a place in the first Test, which starts in 12 days' time. The seamer took 18 wickets in two Tests against South Africa in March but, like Bond, struggled for rhythm.