England focus on fortitude and series win

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The Independent Online

On the eve of Ben Hollioake's funeral in Perth, his Surrey team-mate and close friend, Mark Butcher, vowed yesterday that the tragedy would not deflect England from their goal of winning the series against New Zealand.

Butcher, who was due to sing a song at a special service held by the team here today, admitted he was still finding it difficult to cope with the sudden loss following Hollioake's death in a car crash last weekend, but felt the team had shown great fortitude.

"I don't think there is any danger of our minds not being right," said Butcher. "To play the way we did in the last match with all the things going on, showed the guys had a lot of mental strength. The players here understand how important the job is."

England lead the series 1-0, having dominated New Zealand for all bar the opening over, and the last hour of the first Test. Over seven-and-a-half days' cricket, that amounts to near annihilation of a side immediately behind them in the World Championship table, something not adequately reflected in the scoreline of a series that could still be shared.

"It would have been great to come to Auckland 2-0, with the series won," agreed Butcher. "But we've outplayed New Zealand pretty much since the start, so there's no reason why we can't do it again.

"If we do win, it won't be a bad winter cricket-wise. We played pretty well in India, apart from the first day of the first Test. There's a lot of progress being made with individual performances as well as the team's, and that was shown in the Wellington Test."

Butcher's own role in that match might have been different had his cracked thumb not recovered enough to play, a fact helped by the extra 24 hours healing time he got after rain obliterated the opening day. "I had to keep out of the way in the field. Mind you, the boys bowled so well it didn't come to me at third man."

The cracked bone, which proved fine for batting, did not affect his guitar strumming or picking when he played the song for Hollioake, which had been narrowed down to the Beatles' "In My Life", and Eric Clapton's "Tears in Heaven". "I wasn't sure whether the song should be one that was appropriate for the occasion, or a particular favourite of Ben's," he later admitted.

Either way, his involvement will surely have gone some way to assuaging the anger and frustration at not being able to join his Surrey team-mates for the memorial service in Perth yesterday. England's management committee decided the best and fairest way to deal with the many requests from players to attend, was just to send the captain, Nasser Hussain.

"I would have loved to have gone to Perth. I spoke to my brother Gary, who was there for the service. Nearly all the Surrey boys went and I suppose holding our own service here and doing my song was the next best thing."

For a cricketer, Butcher is a sensitive soul and, it is hoped, the team's special gathering will have helped both him and his Surrey colleagues in the squad, Graham Thorpe and Mark Ramprakash – all extremely hard hit by the tragedy – to begin to put things behind them.

If it does not, their roles as three senior members of the side, will weaken England's prospects of winning the final Test which starts on Saturday. New Zealand, however, might not be able to take advantage after their wicketkeeper Adam Parore announced he is to retire at the end of the match.

When he signs off in front of his home crowd in his 78th Test, Parore will have played one more match than Martin Crowe, one of the finest Test batsmen of the modern era. Parore's gifts have been less obvious than Crowe's, but in the 12 years since his debut, he has managed to break the New Zealand record for catches at both Test and one-day level. Unless he has the kind of shocker witnessed in Wellington, then he is bound to take the four catches needed to reach 200 dismissals.

But if Parore's retirement has created a problem, another was resolved when Andre Adams was given a $NZ250 fine (£77) instead of the ban many predicted, following his dissent in a recent State match. Adams is thought to have said something unacceptable to the umpire after having an lbw appeal turned down. Just as well he did not play in the last Test where the standard of umpiring was so poor, he would have ended up seeking a loan from his bank manager.

* The Zimbabwe Cricket Union said yesterday it would try to persuade Australia to reconsider cancelling its tour of the country over safety concerns. The ACB announced earlier yesterday that it would not tour the country after the Australian government advised citizens not to travel to Zimbabwe because of fears of violence following the re-election of Robert Mugabe as President.

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