England excel hosts in art of the collapse

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The Independent Online

Amid the clatter of middle-order wickets at Lancaster Park yesterday it was barely possible to hear the popular music which is so important a feature of the modern one-day game. The organisers, however, must consider as a matter of urgency adding to the repertoire that catchy little show number: "Anything You Can Do I Can Do Better".

As the sides exchanged batting collapses in the first match of the National Bank Series it was eventually England who went out on the last "yes I can". Their loss of the last seven wickets for 26 runs in 12 overs narrowly outsmarted New Zealand's forfeiture of four for eight, all to an inspired Darren Gough, in three overs.

The difference was that when England started on the road to ruin there was no turning back. Once they began to collapse it was as if they were determined to see it through. The Kiwis, on the other hand, were ready for salvation. Having gone to the brink – and survived a couple of chances which proved crucial – they turned back at a gallop and ultimately won the match by four wickets with 3.3 overs to spare.

There was nothing novel in the framework of the contest. Both sides have previous in the matter of shedding wickets quicker than, say, Andrew Flintoff removes his shirt and the scenario was always possible. After the match both captains conceded that they must do something about it, and quickly. So they must, but it could still make for a entertaining series if they fail to reform.

England's Nasser Hussain said: "We have got to take responsibility as a batting unit and we're certainly not going to sit in that dressing-room and start pointing fingers at each other.

"It's there for everyone to see. We've done it two or three times from a very strong position. It was very poor. We can say it's down to inexperience for so long, but eventually someone's got to put their hands up and marshal the last 20 overs."

That was Hussain being as realistic as ever. In Bombay 10 days ago England lost six wickets for 45 runs in 15 overs, but the difference there was that they went on to win the match. They cannot keep doing it without having enough runs to defend. Hussain's side have now batted first in their last six one-dayers, which he would prefer at least nine times out of 10 and probably 99 times out of hundred, given his philosophy that runs on the board means pressure on the opposition. Unfortunately, England are applying the kind of pressure that a feather possesses when it is used to move a mountain. Although they have won two of the matches, a strong case could be made for suggesting that in all but one of them they did not make the runs that would qualify, in the coach's jargon, as "enough".

The match was reduced to 42 overs a side after overnight rain delayed the start. England, unusually, lost an early wicket, but then proceeded along rampantly. Nick Knight, who seems to get nought or 50 these days, was in the latter mode and blazed as handsome a trail as he has for two or three years.

True, he was badly dropped off consecutive balls by slip and wicketkeeper, but this did not confine him. His shots rasped their way to the boundary. There were 11 of them in his 73 in 70 balls.

Knight's departure was not the trigger of England's difficulties, though it did not help. It was when Graham Thorpe left in bizarre circumstances that England's spiral into decline became terminal. Thorpe was run out going for a third run. It then seemed as if the fielder might have inadvertently touched the boundary rope as he picked up the ball.

Thorpe, who presumably had not quite started showering, made his way back to the middle. A television replay then showed that the fieldsman' work had been swift and legal. Back Thorpe went again. Having seen him do it twice, the rest of the batsmen could not wait to follow him.

There was some smart catching by New Zealand, a side who recognise its significance, but the shot selection did not match that quality. When they should have consolidated, they panicked. Hussain was right. Many of these players are still inexperienced, but they will never have the chance to become veterans if they keep playing like this. Had they been Australian, they might already be out by now, as demonstrated yesterday by the unceremonious discarding of Steve Waugh after 325 games.

For England to have a chance they had to take early wickets, which the Kiwis have been prone to surrender. They muffed their chance. Hussain, of all people, shelled one at cover, not picking it up in time and then James Foster put down a skier behind the wicket. It was coming down from the clouds, it swirled in the wind, it was spinning as well after the leading edge which sent it there, but Foster should have had it. He is improving, said Hussain; he must do so more quickly.

Gough dragged England back into it with four wickets in 11 balls with New Zealand still 53 short. England have won from such positions, but Andre Adams slogged 28 in 25 balls – helped by Nathan Astle, who was unbeaten on 67. Astle was the man Foster dropped. Nobody burst into song.

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