New Zealanders give little away

New Zealand 297-2 v Kent
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The Independent Online

As an exercise in intelligence gathering in the run-up to the opening Test between England and New Zealand, this was decidedly unproductive. There was not a lot of useful information either side could glean about the form of various players.

Kent's wicketkeeper, Geraint Jones, who had been given special dispensation to play by the England management, had a generally OK day with the gloves, with the odd ball slipping past him for a total of half a dozen byes. It was no better for the tourists. While it could not be denied they needed time at the crease, there were moments when it looked as if the openers, Mark Richardson and Michael Papps, would be the only Kiwis seen with a bat in their hands.

They crawled through two and a half sessions, occupying almost five hours in compiling the New Zealanders' highest first-wicket partnership against a First Class county.

In the continued absence of their captain, Stephen Fleming, with a hip flexor problem that is affecting his abdomen, there may well be a batting place up for grabs at Lord's. Papps had amassed just eight runs in three innings before this, so some circumspection was called for.

But the sparse crowd would have derived more excitement from watching iron rust. If the New Zealanders were like a car engine that needs warming up on a cold morning, then their progress once they got going was rather like American suspension - soft and with a tendency to drift around the curves.

And they were scoring runs against a Kent attack shorn of its premier strikeforce, Martin Saggers, Mohammad Sami and Andrew Symonds, this last taking a couple more days of honeymoon, having married just a few days before turning up in Canterbury. In addition, the off-spinner James Tredwell was taking some time out.

The match represented a chance for their stand-ins to stake a first team place. Which, in the main, they did, although the promising pace bowler David Stiff had a mixed day. While he did eventually claim the wickets of both openers, he also contributed 20 no balls to the tourists' total.

When Papps, who was first to go, fell lbw on 126 looking to work the ball to square leg, he was still some way short of the New Zealand individual best against Kent, Matthew Horne's 172 in 1999.

It was Papps' seventh hundred of his first-class career. He had his share of luck, being dropped, at 23 and 34, both times in the slips, but he rode out that particular sticky passage and went on to thump 18 boundaries off the 248 balls he faced.

If Fleming is fit, though, Papps' innings will have been for naught, since he is unlikely to find a place in the Test team ahead of Craig McMillan. Richardson looked a cert to reach a hundred but appeared to lose sight of a slower ball and consequently lost his off stump eight runs short. There was just time for Nathan Astle and Scott Styris to realise an unbroken half-century stand for the third wicket.