New Zealand 381 & 114 England 202 & 294-4: Strauss calls tune with century but England win lacks rhythm

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The Independent Online

In 2004, England successfully chased down record fourth innings scores against New Zealand at Lord's and Trent Bridge to win keenly fought Tests. The confidence the victories gave Michael Vaughan's vibrant side acted as a springboard for the Ashes triumph that came 15 months later.

England completed a similar achievement in the second Test at a windy Old Trafford yesterday, defeating a dispirited New Zealand team by six wickets to claim the highest successful run chase seen at this famous old ground and their fifth highest of all time. Once more, Australia are a year from arriving in England, but this is where the comparisons end.

England, and in particular Andrew Strauss, who scored a wonderful hundred, showed character to fight back from the perilous position they were in on Sunday but this team does not have the same feel to it as that which overcame the Black Caps four years ago. It is not playing the same quality of cricket either.

The win here will have been hugely satisfying for Vaughan and his side but deep down he must know that the victory had as much to do with New Zealand's inability to finish off an opponent as the quality of his side's cricket.

At the halfway stage of the Test, New Zealand were 265 runs ahead with eight second-innings wickets in hand, a position from which a good, confident side should never lose. Yet that is just what the Back Caps managed to do, and quite comfortably in the end.

Monty Panesar's bowling on Sunday was inspirational, as was Strauss' century, but it is hard to believe that South Africa, the team the pair will pit their wits against during the second half of the summer, will allow England to recover from such a predicament. If England do not raise their game against Graeme Smith's well-drilled and capable team they will lose.

Ironically, and encouragingly, it was Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell, England's two underfire batsmen, who saw the hosts home with a nervy 46-run partnership. Collingwood scored the winning run, to take his side to their target of 294, when he leg-glanced Jacob Oram to fine leg for four on the stroke of tea.

The run was greeted with glee by both batsmen, each of whom had plenty to play for. Both will eagerly await the outcome of the deliberations of the selectors when they announce their squad for the third Test on Sunday.

Neither looked particularly convincing following Kevin Pietersen's needless run out, and each could have been dismissed before reaching double figures.

Collingwood, on two, was fortunate to survive a close lbw appeal from Daniel Vettori and Bell, on nine, was missed by Iain O'Brien, who dropped the easiest caught and bowled chance imaginable. Had the opportunities gone New Zealand's way, so could the result of the game.

England began the fourth day on 76 for 1 and requiring 218 runs for victory. Momentum is a much talked about property but the home side had it when play started having bowled New Zealand out for 114 in their second innings. If the Black Caps were to regain the initiative they needed to strike early but Strauss and Vaughan never allowed the tourists to settle.

The pair were busy right from the first over, sneaking quick singles, turning ones into twos and generally putting the fielding side under pressure.

Little went the way of New Zealand. The occasional edge or mishit landed out of reach of fielders and Vettori failed to get the same spin from the pitch as he had in England's first innings. Vaughan was the more commanding of the two driving Vettori imperiously through extra cover as he closed in on a 19th Test fifty.

Billy Cooper, the Barmy Army's trumpeter, played a rendition of Bon Jovi's "Living on a Prayer", not for the name of the song but because England, according to a line in it, were "halfway there". England were in control.

But Tests can change quickly, particularly in the fourth innings and when Vaughan, on 48, edged a loose drive at Chris Martin through to the 'keeper New Zealand's hopes rose.

Vettori nearly had Pietersen lbw and had a sharp piece of fielding by James Marshall at short-leg hit the stumps England's best batsman would have been run out for six. A direct hit would have had England twitching.

The near misses failed to worry Pietersen who continued to be positive, driving Martin through the covers and smashing Vettori back over his head for six. Pietersen's batting kicked an untroubled Strauss in to a new gear. The opener's half-century was faultless but conservative with runs being collected via an array of nudges and deflections behind the wicket.

But suddenly Strauss began striking the ball down the ground. Martin was driven through extra-cover for four to reduce England's target to fewer than 100 and Vettori was hacked over mid-wicket.

Strauss' 12th Test hundred was brought up with a glance to fine-leg and it completed a wonderful return to the Engand side for him. When he walked out to bat in England's second innings in Napier his Test career was on the line but consecutive scores of 177, 63, 60 and 106 have underlined what an invaluable member of the side he is.

Strauss' input ended when he edged O'Brien and was well caught at first slip. He received a warm ovation from a moderate and hardy crowd. Pietersen soon followed when he rashly ran himself out to leave Collingwood and Bell to finish things off. Seeing England home would have given the pair confidence but more is required to convince the doubters they are up for the Ashes.

Strauss's Test centuries

177 v New Zealand (Napier, 22 Mar 2008)
147 v South Africa (Jo'burg, 13 Jan 2005)
137 v West Indies (Lord's, 22 Jul 2004)
136 v South Africa (Durban, 26 Dec 2004)
129 v Australia (The Oval, 8 Sep 2005)
128 v India (Mumbai, 18 Mar 2006)
128 v Pakistan (Lord's, 13 Jul 2006)
126 v South Africa (Port Elizabeth, 17 Dec 2004)
116 v Pakistan (Leeds, 4 Aug 2006)
112 v New Zealand (Lord's, 20 May 2004)
106 v Australia (Manchester, 11 Aug 2005)
106 v New Zealand (Manchester, 23 May 2008)

Shot of the Day

When Michael Vaughan is on top form his driving is exquisite and one such stroke through extra-cover highlighted the control he had over Daniel Vettori, New Zealand's supposed dangerman. It is hard to believe pundits were questioning his team place a fortnight ago.

Ball of the Day

Chris Martin kept trying, as he always does, but very little went his way. One delivery to Michael Vaughan popped off a length, hit the shoulder of his bat and lobbed over gully for four. New Zealand must have realised then it was not going to be their day.

Moment of the Day

Vettori was the bowler England's batsmen feared most and before play every left-hander in the hosts' entourage was in the nets bowling at their line-up. Monty Panesar was bowling his spinners, as was Ryan Sidebottom and a couple more dragged in off the street.

Scoreboard from Old Trafford

Fourth day (New Zealand won toss)

New Zealand – First innings 381 (Taylor 154*, Mills 57; Anderson 4-118).

England – First innings 202 (Vettori 5-66).

New Zealand – Second innings 114 (Panesar 6-37)

England – Second innings

(overnight: 76 for 1)

A J Strauss c Taylor b O'Brien......... 106

280 mins, 186 balls, 12 fours, 1 five

*M P Vaughan c McCullum b Martin......... 48

117 mins, 103 balls, 5 fours

K P Pietersen run out (O'Brien-McCullum TV replay)......... 42

92 mins, 78 balls, 5 fours, 1 six

I R Bell......... not out 21

69 mins, 42 balls, 4 fours

P D Collingwood......... not out 24

56 mins, 56 balls, 2 fours

Extras (b 9, lb 10, w 0, nb 6, pens 0)......... 25

Total (4 wkts, 350 mins, 88 overs)......... 294

Fall: 1-60 (Cook), 2-150 (Vaughan), 3-235 (Strauss), 4-248 (Pietersen).

Did not bat: +T R Ambrose, S C J Broad, R J Sidebottom, M S Panesar, J M Anderson.

Bowling: Martin 13-1-45-1, Mills 6-0-17-0, Vettori 35-7-111-1, O'Brien 20-2-62-1, How 1-0-4-0, Oram 13-1-36-0.

Result: England won by 6 wkts

Umpires: D B Hair (Aus) and S J A Taufel (Aus).

TV replay umpire: I J Gould

Match referee: R S Madugalle

Man of the match: M S Panesar