Loss of Cairns will be major blow to Kiwis

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The Independent Online

It is going to be difficult to return to normal after this extraordinary first Test match. Both sides clearly know how to entertain, but it would be stretching belief to think that we could get anything like this again in the last two Tests – it would be stretching belief to think that one will ever again see an innings like Nathan Astle's.

This week the series will move to the Basin Reserve in Wellington, which is the best and most picturesque cricket ground in New Zealand. Although New Zealand may be inspired by Astle's incredible innings at Lancaster Park, the likelihood must be that the ruthless common sense of Nasser Hussain and Duncan Fletcher will prevail.

New Zealand have been most unluckily affected by injuries. Chris Cairns – why on earth did he come in last on Saturday? – is out for the rest of the series with a knee injury and he is New Zealand's most likely match-winner. Their highly skilful left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori is suffering from back problems and Stephen Fleming will have a tough job to pull his side back into the series now. But the embers of Astle's astonishing effort deserve to be raked over at least one more time – for anyone who was there they will glow forever. In almost 40 years of watching Test cricket I have never seen an innings like it.

With all too little support at the other end until Cairns belatedly arrived with a runner at the very end, Astle batted like a man obsessed with the idea that he could take his side to a miraculous victory. The statistics are mind-blowing. The first six overs with the second new ball produced 89 runs. Of Astle's 222, no fewer than 182 came in boundaries (11 sixes and 29 fours).

The last-wicket partnership reached 100 in 55 balls, Matthew Hoggard's first two overs with the second new ball went for 41, Andrew Caddick was driven for 38 in seven balls and twice over the stands and out of the ground. There was not a single slog on view. Astle played pure and glorious cricket strokes and it was staggering to see him repeatedly charge down the pitch to Hoggard, Caddick and Andrew Flintoff and drive them 20 or 30 yards into the stand over long-on or long-off with a compelling certainty.

Astle has done more for New Zealand cricket than he probably knows even now. His magnificent innings eclipsed the 53-year-old record of Martin Donnelly (206), and one can only wonder what Astle still has left in his locker.