England need Hussain to move down batting order

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The Independent Online

Nasser Hussain returns tomorrow to the ground where he was first captain of England. The most pertinent aspect of recalling this is not the arena, since Eden Park is an unprepossessing place where rugby has always held sway. Nor is it the result, although England won in as thrilling a run-chase as they can have mounted. And neither is it the fact that Hussain was batting at the end.

What stands out is his position in the order precisely five years ago today. Hussain went into bat at No 6. It was his ninth one-day international, he was merely a stand-in captain for one match in place of Michael Atherton and he was told what to do in those days. He has played many more one-dayers since, variously at No 4, as opener, and now, it seems to be set in concrete, at No 3. These days Hussain is a captain supreme, rightly fêted. He calls the shots.

It is not only the anniversary of the last match between these sides here which has prompted further discussion on Hussain's role in the side. It was the poor fellow's working method in his side's excellent victory in the third of this five-match series two nights ago.

This was easily obscured by the result. England won by 43 runs and kept themselves in the series. Having been obliterated in the second match to the tune of 155 runs, it was some comeback even by the capricious lights of the limited-overs game.

The home side now lead 2-1. Hussain will continue to bat at No 3. The team's coach, Duncan Fletcher, was not about to enter into discussion on the subject yesterday. "We won't be changing our order," he said.

That will not persuade the debate to disappear. Hussain made 24 in 48 balls on Wednesday night, and while he would give as a reason for that the need to make sure England did not fritter away another good start it did not make it any less painful to watch. The simple fact remains that Hussain is far from a natural one-day No 3.

The longer he stays there, the longer it becomes clear that it is a trial for him. Certainly, he has improved and he will work hard to justify his place there. But in adapting he is failing. In nine matches on this one-day tour he has yet to score a half-century. By any standards that is too long. True, he has mostly scored his runs at a decent pace, essaying shots which are alien to his technique, but it has not been a pretty sight.

Hussain has to play for this team, simply because it is his team. But he should not let that pride with which he is fit to burst impede their progress. There is a case for him batting at No 6 as he did on this ground all that long one-day time ago. As low as No 7 should not be excluded from the argument. Batting No 7s can be crucial in times of crisis.

The man who was batting with Hussain when England won here in 1997 also deserves mention. The tourists, set 26 overs to make 134 after New Zealand scored 253 for 8 in 50, won with 39 balls to spare. Nick Knight's unbeaten 84 was thunderous.

Knight does not fire from the hip with quite such alacrity these days, but he remains a formidable one-day opener. He is acquisitive now as well as explosive; his four half-centuries in his last six innings show his continued value.

There was another feature of their impressive work on Wednesday, apart from Paul Collingwood, whose performance Fletcher understandably enthused about yesterday.

But what spells, three of them in all, Darren Gough bowled. There was a temptation, not for the first time, to write him off earlier on this trip when he was out of condition and blowing like an old trumpet. But the old Dazzler has grown stronger and fitter and put up the metaphorical two fingers at his doubters – he might have shown the real ones, too, behind closed doors.

Gough, who should not be considered for the Test series here whatever spurious campaigns are being mounted in England, will make sure he is ready for the 2003 World Cup. And he is determined to keep England alive here tomorrow in front of a full house of 35,000, the biggest attendance for a cricket match in New Zealand since the 1992 World Cup

* Adam Parore, New Zealand's long-serving and highly individualistic wicketkeeper, has made himself unavailable for domestic cricket in Auckland after being dropped from the one-day squad for the series against England. The chairman of selectors, Sir Richard Hadlee, said it would make it difficult to select Parore for the Test series against England.