England hope for wind of change

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The Independent Online

Wellington, as the England players who attended yesterday's optional training session at the Basin Reserve now realise, is called the "Windy City" for a reason. And Michael Vaughan, the England captain, will be hoping the ridiculously blustery southerlies that whistle through Cook Strait, the waterway separating the North and South Island, will bring about a change for his demoralised Test side.

It is not beyond England to turn matters round here over the next five days. For quite some time they have been that sort of a team; hopeless one week, pretty good the next, although the pretty goods have been a little scarce in the last eight months.

England were awful in the first Test in Hamilton but the team do possess players who can win games. However, if they are to regain the initiative, win the match and level the three-Test series, there will need to be a change in personnel, confidence and attitude.

Ironically, Stephen Harmison produced his best spell of bowling on tour in the nets yesterday, but he should still be dropped, not just for his sake but also for the team's. Vaughan's players cannot go through the frustration of watching their spearhead struggle again. At his best there is not a more inspiring sight for a team than Harmison, but in his current state he sucks energy and hope from the side.

Stuart Broad should replace Harmison, but the selectors may be tempted to go for the more experienced James Anderson. There may be a belief that Anderson can use the wind to his advantage.

But how is Broad ever going to get the experience he needs if he never plays? Broad bowled pretty well in the one-day series and continues to impress in the nets. There is, however, a difference between his bowling at practice and in a match, and it is probably caused by him trying to bowl too fast.

In the nets Broad has been bowling an immaculate line on or just outside off-stump and moving the ball away from England's right-handed batsmen. The trajectory of the ball is perfect, as is Broad's action, which is high, a factor that enables him to keep his hand behind the ball. England's batsmen have looked uncomfortable when facing him.

Yet in matches he tends to fall away to the off-side, which is a common problem in bowlers who are trying to bowl too fast. The front arm takes the head and the bowling arm, and it is extremely difficult for a bowler then to keep his hand behind the ball at the moment of release. The change in action causes a bowler to angle the ball in to a batsman, producing a delivery he is far happier to face. Staying upright would reduce the chances of Broad running on the pitch in his follow-through too, a problem that led to him being warned twice on his Test debut in Colombo, Sri Lanka.

This is a huge Test for Vaughan, who will be watched live by the two people who decide his future, Giles Clarke, the chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, and Hugh Morris, the managing director of the England team. "Considering everything, this is the biggest challenge I have faced as captain," Vaughan admitted yesterday. "Unlike some people I never felt we would win easily here because this New Zealand side are a bit better than a lot of people gave them credit for. On home soil they are very streetwise and, with a coach like John Bracewell, they were going to make it tough for us."

In Wellington club cricket there are two types of bowlers – with the wind and into the wind, and the result of the game could depend on which team's bowlers deal with the conditions better. Fifty per cent of the overs bowled have to be delivered into the wind and New Zealand's attack has greater experience of working with it. Daniel Vettori, the home captain, believes that the wind could influence the Test. "This is the only ground in world cricket where you can be seriously knocked around by the wind," Vettori said. "England have not experienced it before."

New Zealand would love the Basin Reserve pitch to possess the same qualities as that in Hamilton but it is unlikely; this surface is far grassier. The pitch used for a Test match against Bangladesh in January offered the faster bowlers pace and bounce, and England will be hoping that proves to be the case again.

Not only would such a pitch help their bowlers; it would increase the scoring options for the batsmen too. England's batsmen enjoy the ball coming on to the bat and such conditions would encourage them to be more adventurous in their strokeplay. But they should not build their hopes up too high – the last Test here before January's was dominated by spin, with Vettori and Muttiah Muralitharan each taking a 10-wicket haul.

"We have to be prepared to play on another pitch like that in Hamilton," said Vaughan. "I hope we have learnt from playing there, as bowlers and batsmen, and have worked out where we can improve.

"In the first Test New Zealand did not allow our players to express themselves as we would have liked but we still could have done a lot better than we did. A lot of our batsmen like to dominate but are not able at the moment. Whether that is through good bowling or mindset, only the individuals will know.

"It is a difficult situation because you don't want players going out and being reckless on Thursday, but you have to make sure you have positive intent and are trying to score. Sometimes you can try too hard. At times you just have to let your talent take over. You have to trust your ability, technique, decision-making and your body to react. If it is a half-volley, hit it; a good ball, leave it alone."

New Zealand's aim is to add to England's confusion and they intend to keep playing positive cricket rather than consolidate, and they will monitor the pitch before deciding on their starting XI. The off-spinner Jeetan Patel had a good game in Hamilton, but he may make way for a seamer if the pitch remains as it is and the weather stays overcast. Grant Elliott, an all-rounder with experience of bowling into the Wellington wind, or even Matthew Sinclair, could replace Patel .

Possible teams for Wellington


M P Vaughan (capt), A N Cook, A J Strauss, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, P Collingwood,T R Ambrose (wkt), S Broad, R J Sidebottom, M J Hoggard, M S Panesar.

New Zealand

D L Vettori (capt), J M How, M D Bell, S P Fleming, M S Sinclair, L R P L Taylor, J D P Oram, B B McCullum (wkt), K D Mills, J S Patel, C S Martin.


Second Test: Today, Wellington (starts 9.30pm GMT).

Third Test: 22 March, Napier (9.30pm GMT).