England expecting Butler pace barrage

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The Independent Online

Raw speed is likely to be a significant component of the one-day series which starts in Christchurch tomorrow. It is probably some little time since that forecast has been made with any conviction about a contest between New Zealand and England and never might be closer to the mark. Raw speed, New Zealand and England? More like medium-pace trundler dullsville.

Sir Richard Hadlee, however, was quietly insistent. He is worth listening to on the subject since he was one of the greatest of all new ball bowlers and took 431 Test wickets. Hadlee was quick enough but his main strength lay in being the meanest of bowlers, wearing down batsmen with attrition, giving them no quarter and less room to play attacking shots.

These days, as chairman of the New Zealand selectors, he is willing to take risks. Having lost one fast bowler who was destined to have an influence on this series in Shane Bond, he announced as his replacement a young man called Ian Butler. The elevation is only to be part of the Kiwis' squad but this Butler is not being employed to carry the drinks.

That decision has given a frisson of excitement and tension to a series that was already attracting record crowds and likely to be a close affair between two similar teams. But you can have all the dibbly-dobbly, take the pace off the ball, bit of late inswing merchants in the universe. You can have intelligent twirly stuff with wrists or finger. But nothing raises the tempo like pace.

It was as if Hadlee had mislaid one gauntlet but was still intent on throwing down the other one in front of England. The main commodity possessed by both men, the one he lost and the one he found, is sheer pace. Neither could trade without it.

"Fast bowling is going to play a greater part in one-day cricket, particularly in the first 15 overs of an innings," Hadlee said. "Batsmen are looking more and more to score and finding different ways to do so. This creates more cross-bat shots and speed can get them on the back foot and create opportunities to get them out."

Bond was the find of the New Zealand season, a genuine prospect who took Australia by storm in the recent Test and one-day series there. He burst on to the scene with such suddenness – although he is 26 – that Australia's vaunted top and middle order were cowed. In the old jargon, he gave them the hurry-up.

There was no doubt that he was about to do something similar to England in this series which begins tomorrow with a day-night match at Lancaster Park (01:30 GMT). But on the eve of propelling his first ball he was forced to withdraw with a probable stress fracture of his left ankle, which could detain him for six weeks.

Hadlee did not panic. Instead he ran the rule over the multitude of medium-pace possibles who tend to be prevalent in New Zealand cricket as they are in England. He rejected them all and alighted on Butler, who was 20 last November.

Butler has played only three first-class games and four one-dayers for his state, Northern Districts. He was the sort of character of whom it might have been said: nothing known. Except that England knew about him.

He has just played for Northern Districts in the tourists' two warm-up games. Boy, he was quick. Greased lightning, muck off a shovel, Billy Whizz – all the old labels sprang to mind and seeing him from side on, operating on his home town pitch which encourages pace and bounce, was to have the epithets confirmed.

In both matches he took the wicket of Michael Vaughan, a batsman who can cope with quick stuff. In both matches Vaughan edged sharply lifting balls to the wicketkeeper. In both matches the thought flooded through your mind that he might have left the ball but then the small matter occurred that there might have been a lack of time to get the instinctively prodding bat out of the way.

Hadlee is nobody's fool. He knows that promoting Butler over the heads of some other time-servers is a risk. But it is one he is prepared to take for sound reasons. One R J Hadlee himself played for New Zealand after only three district matches.

"There are other players with different skills. But to have pace is always something different. The selectors were unanimous about this. In 12 or 18 months' time I think we can see Butler and Bond opening the bowling for New Zealand together."

In the England camp, they were disappointed about not having the opportunity to face Bond, the type of bowler, said their captain, Nasser Hussain, who brought vibrancy to the game. "But not too disappointed," he said.

"We were slightly below par in Hamilton after all the euphoria of India and playing in front of 80,000 people and so on," Hussain said. "I've spoken to the boys about that but I've got full confidence that when they come up against a strong New Zealand side with a vocal crowd in a very nice stadium they'll be up for it again. We're playing some good cricket which I don't want to be a flash in the pan."

Hussain's influence, as usual, will be the most prized asset in England's game. The team are unlikely to change much from the XI who drew so thrillingly with India, though they have to find a way to give Owais Shah a game if they are truly preparing for the World Cup next year. It will be close, but, as Hussain said, the first two games are crucial.

England have the self-belief to win it 3-2.

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