England's resilience crushes tourists

<preform>New Zealand 409 & 161; <br/>England 526 &amp; 45-1; <br/><i>England win by nine wickets</i></preform>
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The Independent Online

Followers of England have been in this position before. Jubilant scenes and confident forecasts were made when Alec Stewart's side clinched a series victory over South Africa at this ground in 1998. Many felt England were on the verge of something special. These feelings returned in 2001 after England, captained by Nasser Hussain, pulled off consecutive series victories against the West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

Followers of England have been in this position before. Jubilant scenes and confident forecasts were made when Alec Stewart's side clinched a series victory over South Africa at this ground in 1998. Many felt England were on the verge of something special. These feelings returned in 2001 after England, captained by Nasser Hussain, pulled off consecutive series victories against the West Indies, Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

These periods of success encouraged supporters to believe that England could reclaim the biggest prize in cricket - the Ashes. On both occasions the Australians were waiting but England's fiercest foe quickly killed the hopes of Stewart, Hussain and every other English fan.

The Australians visit these shores next summer intent on another crushing victory no doubt. However, this England side has a different feel to it when compared to those that entered Ashes contests so full of expectation in the past. They made progress during Hussain's four years in charge but there appears to be greater vibrancy, belief, determination and ruthlessness about the team led by Michael Vaughan.

Yesterday's nine-wicket victory over New Zealand looked comfortable enough in the end but this was the eighth time in nine Tests that England have failed to wilt against opponents who have placed them under severe pressure. Five of the last seven matches have been won and their only defeat during this period came against Sri Lanka in Colombo. By then they had been worn into the ground by the relentless bowling of Muttiah Muralitharan.

On paper England's 3-0 series win in the Caribbean looks pretty straightforward but there were times in each of these Tests when England were second favourites. Yet on each occasion they showed the mental toughness to come through difficult sessions before finally breaking the opposition and strolling to comfortable wins.

Yesterday's success allowed Vaughan's eventful week to reach a perfect conclusion. On Friday the 29-year-old became a father for the first time, and when Marcus Trescothick hit the winning runs it ensured a second consecutive series victory for the captain. "We will celebrate a fantastic series victory in good style," said a delighted Vaughan. "New Zealand are a very good team but after a few glasses of bubbly tonight we will focus on Thursday morning."

This summer will offer England little respite. The third Test against New Zealand starts at Trent Bridge in two days' time and James Anderson - provided he proves his fitness today - is the only addition to this victorious XI.

Anderson, 21, is the youngest member of a squad which contains eight players aged between 25 and 29 and three over 30. Even though the number of Tests played by each individual ranges from two to 89, the fact that so many are at an age when they should be at their peak must help.

However, it is not just the performance of the side which will be aided. Having players that will have played a lot of cricket with or against each other during their younger years will also help the spirit of the team.

Several of England's previous captains did not go out of their way to cultivate a good team spirit. Michael Atherton felt that it only came through winning. But Vaughan's approach appears to be the opposite. Under his leadership players no longer appear to be afraid of expressing themselves. This will have helped the likes of Stephen Harmison, Andrew Strauss and Geraint Jones to feel at home in the Test side. They trust their team-mates and are playing for each other rather than themselves, which, sadly, was not the case during most of the Nineties.

"Team spirit plays a massive part in any sport," Vaughan acknowledged. "It has helped us to form a fighting spirit. But the mental side of our game has been crucial and it is this which has been the most important part of our game in the last six months.

"If a team gets 400, like New Zealand did, it does not mean that you cannot go out there and score more, even on a difficult pitch. We now have the belief that we can go past the opposition.

"We are maturing as a side. The players are learning more about their game and are becoming more comfortable about their game. [Andrew] Flintoff is becoming a big influence. He bats, bowls, fields and he is only going to get better. Where he could end up is frightening. I am very lucky to be his captain."

Flintoff had little to do on the fifth morning except stand at second slip and watch Matthew Hoggard and Harmison knock off New Zealand's remaining wickets. Hoggard struck first when he lured Scott Styris into edging a catch towards the slips. The chance flew to Trescothick but Jones dived full length to his right and took a superb one-handed catch.

Chris Cairns then crashed Hoggard for a huge six but, three balls later, the Yorkshire seamer trapped him lbw - his 99th wicket for England. Harmison made short work of the injured Michael Papps and New Zealand's innings ended with the farcical run-out of Chris Martin, who tried to take a quick single - to stay off strike - when the ball had gone straight to the wicketkeeper.

Daniel Vettori's torn hamstring prevented him from batting and England were left needing 45 runs for victory, which they knocked off in eight overs for the loss of Strauss.

Jones's catch and run-out yesterday, to add to his first-innings century, earned him the Man of the Match award ahead of Trescothick, whose own hundred was so important.

"This team is progressing quicker than I expected," Vaughan said. "The real positive is that new players are coming in and performing instantly and this is something that probably hasn't happened in the past."

Stephen Fleming, the New Zealand captain, will have to introduce new faces on Thursday after five of his 14-man squad left here injured. Who they are will depend on the quality of players featuring in club cricket in England. Mathew Sinclair and James Franklin have already been drafted in but others look set to follow.

"We have a lot of concerns," Fleming said. "One of them is getting 11 fit men on the park."

ENGLAND SQUAD (Third Test v New Zealand, Thursday, Trent Bridge): M P Vaughan (capt), M E Trescothick, A J Strauss, M A Butcher, G P Thorpe, A Flintoff, G O Jones (wkt), M J Saggers, A F Giles, S J Harmison, M J Hoggard, J M Anderson.

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