McCullum puts England in danger zone

First Test: New Zealand keeper leads a stirring fightback after Freddie's fireworks threaten to swing the game
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The Independent Online

For three days England have had a crash course in real Test cricket after spending five weeks involved in some hybrid variation. It might not be enough time to become acquainted with the necessary virtues, and New Zealand will take some beating, not only in the First Test but also in the rest of the npower series.

The tourists have played with hard-nosed professionalism, largely eliminating unnecessary risk and judging carefully the pace and state of the game and what it required. There have been some periods when they have played indifferently, but this has not unsettled them unduly.

They have invariably dusted themselves down and regrouped, as they did yesterday after conceding a first-innings lead which was just the wrong side of too many. When Andrew Flintoff and Geraint Jones were carving jauntily away, it threatened to be more than that.

England were always concerned about returning from the Caribbean after a scintillating 3-0 victory and being taken unawares by home conditions. But their lack of preparation goes further. It was a crazy rollercoaster ride in the West Indies for the first three matches: Test cricket, Michael, but not as we know it.

A change of routine was inevitable against a side who have never been short of patience and discipline. In New Zealand they have long been used to nothing happening. Perhaps England always knew this would be the case, but it still it must have come as a profound shock to be confronted with the reality.

The Kiwis have not exactly returned to the Sixties, when any batsmen trying to score at more than two runs an over would probably have been reported to the match referee for bringing the game into disrepute and banned for two Tests (had there been a match referee then). But they are aware there is a reason for playing them over five days.

So, this is an old-fashioned Test match in that it might actually use up its allotted span. For several million people, it will mean having to cope without old movies on Channel 4. By the close last night, New Zealand had built a lead of 79, which is bordering on the substantial with nine wickets in hand.

England had not only not taken another wicket after Stephen Fleming was caught at short leg but had not looked like doing so since the first ball faced by the stand-in No 3, Brendon McCullum, who was spared by Darrell Hair when many another umpire would have been prepared to swear an affidavit that the batsman had gloved Flintoff to the wicketkeeper.

McCullum went on to play his natural game, which seemed to be cutting anything loose and driving fairly merrily. Mark Richardson was his foil. Richardson would be anybody's foil. Having been denied a century in the first innings he had slept on it and decided that a place on the Lord's dressing-room honours board could still be his. England bowled adequately, no more, and poor Ashley Giles fell short of that. His Test future is in deep peril.

From the moment that Richardson planted himself on Thursday morning, the usual three-day finish was out of the question, since he clearly intended still to be batting until then. The pitch has worn more or less properly and when Fleming, New Zealand's captain and stand-in opener, won the toss, he might as well have raced to strap on his pads instead of stopping to explain his decision for the cameras.

The general consensus was that England had to gain a lead of at least 50 to compensate for having to bat fourth. In managing to extend this figure by five they might have even have tipped the psychological scales their way. Not for long.

Much of the morning was taken up in assessing the merits of nightwatchmen, as Matthew Hoggard seemed to have studied the Richardson Batting Method. Maybe the Kiwi could patent it. Hoggard anyway was not for going anywhere, which also meant that for well over an hour England were headed in a similar direction. Australia, it was pointed out, have eschewed nightwatchmen, which is not entirely true, but as a general rule of thumb they should either clock off early or get through their overtime quickly.

Had Mark Butcher stayed around, Hoggard and his firm front foot might have played things differently, but Butcher was out cutting at Daniel Vettori, pouting long enough to convey to Hair that he would not be buying the round the next time they meet at the bar.

Hoggard had faced 53 balls in the morning, 63 in all, for his 15, when he eventually gloved one behind the wicket and did not wait for the verdict. By lunch England had lost two more wickets. Graham Thorpe chopped on against Chris Cairns, and Nasser Hussain aimed a half-completed drive at Chris Martin and had his middle stump disturbed.

This is worrying for the former captain. Hussain has now been bowled 20 times in Test cricket, but five of those dismissals have been in his past six innings. This is less a pattern than prima facie evidence that something is awry either with his eyes or bat, or both.

The seventh-wicket partnership between Flintoff and Jones put a different gloss on matters. They took a mere 113 balls to gather their 105 runs and the effervescent Papua New Guinean-born, Australian-bred Welshman kept pace all the way.

It was exciting stuff, and Jones's dismissive six into the Nursery End bespoke a player who could be England's wicketkeeper-batsman of choice for years to come, as long as he keeps going to wicketkeeping school.

Jones deserved his maiden Test fifty, Flintoff was amassing his seventh (including two centuries) in his past 18 innings. What England then had to avoid was bowling as indifferently as they had early in the tourists' first innings.

Stephen Harmison and Flintoff shared the new ball for the first time to take advantage of their extra pace. Harmison gained early reward when Fleming failed to get on top of a length ball and was snaffled by Hussain diving forward at short leg. It was a smart catch by the oldest man in that position. Perhaps England could find a place for him there if nowhere else.

Whatever happens today and tomorrow, England can at least take some pleasure from the fact that they appear to have found a new batsman. A century at Lord's on debut is not the making of an enduring Test player, but it sure helps. It was the way in which Andrew Strauss played for his 112, not simply the runs he made, which caught the eye. Nobody will have noticed it more than Hussain.

npower Test scoreboard

New Zealand won toss

New Zealand - First Innings 386 (M H Richardson 93, C L Cairns 82; J D P Oram 67, N J Astle 64; S J Harmison 4-126)

England - First Innings (Overnight 246-2)
M A Butcher c McCullum b Vettori 26
M J Hoggard c McCullum b Oram 15
N Hussain b Martin 34
G P Thorpe b Cairns 3
A Flintoff c Richardson b Martin 63
G O Jones c Oram b Styris 46
A F Giles c Oram b Styris 11
S P Jones b Martin 4
S J Harmison not out 0
Extras (b4, lb17, nb19) 41
Total (124.3 overs) 441

Fall (contd): 3-254 (Butcher), 4-288 (Hoggard), 5-297 (Thorpe), 6-311 (Hussain), 7-416 (G Jones), 8-428 (Flintoff), 9-441 (S Jones), 10-441 (Giles)

Bowling: Tuffey 26-4-98-0 (nb7) (8-3-21-0 4-0-7-0 5-1-20-0 5-0-15-0 2-0-16-0 2-0-19-0), Martin 27-6-94-3 (nb1) (4-0-15-0 4-0-32-0 12-4-23-0 2-1-5-1 5-1-19-2), Oram 30-8-76-2 (nb3) (6-1-16-0 11-5-18-1 7-2-15-1 6-0-27-0), Cairns 16-2-71-1 (nb7) (6-1-27-0 6-1-27-0 4-0--17-1), Vettori 21-1-69-2 (nb1) (4-0-14-0 6-0-21-0 7-1-16-2 1-0-6-0 3-0-12-0), Styris 4.3-0-11-2 (one spell).

Flintoff 50: 84 min, 64 balls, 6 fours, 2 sixes

New Zealand - Second Innings
M H Richardson not out 46
S P Fleming c Hussain b Harmison 4
B B McCullum not out 72
Extras (b1, lb9, nb2) 12
Total (for 1, 39 overs) 134

Fall: 1-7 (Fleming).

Bowling: Harmison 12-6-29-1 (6-3-21-1 6-3-8-0), Flintoff 10-2-26-0 (7-2-19-0 3-0-7-0), Hoggard 8-1-23-0 (nb1), S Jones 5-1-23-0 (nb1), Giles 4-0-23-0 (one spell each).

To bat: N J Astle C D McMillan, S B Styris, J D P Oram, C L Cairns, D L Vettori, D R Tuffey, C S Martin.

McCullum: 50: 54 balls, 8 fours

Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and R E Koertzen (SA)

Second Test: 3-7 June, Headingley

Third Test: 10-14 June, Trent Bridge