New Zealand 470 England 87-2: Harmison on the brink as England fail to impress

Click to follow
The Independent Online

Stephen Harmison should privately be hoping that England get bowled out in their first innings over the course of the next two days. Not for 250, so that New Zealand can enforce the follow-on and make England bat again, but for 420-plus.

The attitude may not be the most team orientated ever seen by an England cricketer, but such a scenario would give Harmison one final chance to show the selectors and the cricketing world that he still has the ability to win a game of Test cricket with a devastating display of fast bowling.

Harmison desperately needs a huge performance, a five-, six- or seven-wicket haul obtained by high-quality straight fast bowling. If the display does not come along his Test career could be over.

But does he privately want another chance to prove his worth to the team, or is he quite content to allow events to take their natural course? Plenty of people will have a view on Harmison's devotion to the cause but only he knows.

Harmison was not the sole reason why New Zealand pushed on to score 470 in their first innings, before reducing England to 87 for 2, still 184 runs short of the follow-on, in their reply. Matthew Hoggard was disappointing too, and his place will come under increasing pressure should he continue to lack a cutting edge and leak almost five runs an over.

Every bowler is allowed a bad day – even Glenn McGrath had them occasionally – but two bowlers who have taken 460 Test wickets between them should not be continually out-bowled by someone playing in their 11th Test. Ryan Sidebottom was once again the pick of England's fast men and he fully deserved the four wickets that came his way.

All three bowled indifferently when England needed them to be at their best in the opening session of the second day. The match was delicately poised after day one, but two hours of fine batting from Ross Taylor, who scored a maiden Test hundred in his third match, and Daniel Vettori, who scored an exquisite 88, ended England's chances of dismissing the Black Caps cheaply.

Taylor was magnificent, especially through the off side. The 23-year-old is a naturally aggressive batsman but he curbed those tendencies to play a vital innings for his side.

Vettori gave Taylor a huge hug when he pulled Harmison for four to reach three figures. The New Zealand captain knew that his innings and the pair's record seventh-wicket partnership of 148 gave his side the control he wanted. If Taylor continues to show such application he could become one of leading batsmen in the world.

If only Alastair Cook had shown such restraint. England looked set to end the day in a comfortable position before the left-hander, on 38, attempted to pull Chris Martin for four and top-edged a catch to deep square leg. England sent out Hoggard as their nightwatchman and he perished in Martin's next over, edging a lifter to first slip.

Hoggard is an ordinary batsman and sending him out was hardly the most positive notice of intent, but the reaction of the ball when it hit the pitch showed what could happen when a bowler really bends his back. And that is why the performance of Harmison is so disappointing. Martin works hard but, compared to Harmison, he is limited as a fast bowler. But in the 12 overs Martin bowled he consistently hit the high eighties, eight to 10mph faster than Harmison.

Speed does not always reflect effort but it was alarming to see Sidebottom, a bowler omitted by Duncan Fletcher, England's previous coach, because he was not fast enough, bowling quicker than Harmison, the team's spearhead.

It would be unfair to question Harmison's effort; he has always given 100 per cent for England. The pace at which he is bowling is disconcerting because it highlights a complete lack of confidence or rhythm. Harmison should be judged on the quality of his bowling, which, sadly, has been poor for far too long. When Andrew Flintoff is in the team it is possibly worth picking him, but as part of a four-man attack – in this form, no.

Loyalty is an admirable trait but it can only stretch so far. In the last couple of years England's selectors have shown patience beyond belief towards Harmison and they have not got a great deal back. Everyone hopes that he will suddenly wake up one morning and click in to the form of 2004/05, but there is more chance of David Beckham going past a defender on the right flank and whipping a cross in from the by-line.

England's predicament is not helped by their itineraries and the lack of quality practice at the start of a tour. It is constantly mentioned and ignored by the administrators. Perhaps they are a bigger threat to Test cricket than the Twenty20 Leagues in India.

It is not a coincidence that Harmison and Hoggard are struggling and they are the only two bowlers that did not bowl in competitive cricket before the start of the tour. By agreeing to these schedules the administrators are short-changing everyone involved in the game.

Hamilton Scoreboard: Day Two

Second day of five; New Zealand won toss

New Zealand – First Innings

(Overnight: 282 for 6)

L R P L Taylor c and b Pietersen 120

322 min, 235 balls, 18 fours

J D P Oram c Cook b Hoggard 10

30 min, 29 balls, 1 five

†B B McCullum c Ambrose b Sidebottom 51

76 min, 55 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes

*D L Vettori c Strauss b Collingwood 88

198 min, 134 balls, 11 fours, 1 six

K D Mills not out 25

57 min, 44 balls, 5 fours

J S Patel c Strauss b Sidebottom 5

15 min, 9 balls, 1 four

C S Martin b Sidebottom 0

1 min, 1 ball

Extras (b1 lb6 w1 nb3) 11

Total (575 min, 138.3 overs) 470

Fall: 1-44, 2-108, 3-12, 4-176, 5-191 , 6-277, 7-425, 8-451 , 9-470, 10-470.

Bowling: Sidebottom 34.3-8-90-4; Hoggard 26-2-122-1; Harmison 23-3-97-1; Panesar 37-10-101-1l; Collingwood 15-2-42-2, Pietersen 3-1-11-1.

England – First Innings

A N Cook c sub (N K W Horsley) b Martin 38

143 min, 118 balls, 4 fours

*M P Vaughan not out 44

163 min, 114 balls, 5 fours

M J Hoggard c Fleming b Martin 2

9 min, 7 balls

A J Strauss not out 1

9 min, 9 balls

Extras (nb2) 2

Total (for 2, 163 min, 41 overs) 87

Fall: 1-84, 2-86.

To bat: K P Pietersen, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, †T R Ambrose, R J Sidebottom, S J Harmison, M S Panesar.

Bowling: Martin 12-4-27-2; Mills 6-2-17-0; Patel 9-2-23-0; Oram 4-0-9-0; Vettori 10-5-11-0.

Umpires: S J Davis and D J Harper (both Aus).

TV replay umpire: B F Bowden (NZ).

Match referee: J Srinath (Ind).