On the Front Foot: First Test hopes sacrificed on the altar of crowded schedules


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The Independent Online

England keep making a mess of their first Test overseas. It is 13 series since they won the opening match away from England, excluding the win in Chittagong against Bangladesh in 2010 when Geoff Boycott's mum could probably have single-handedly engineered an innings victory.

The main reason for this is the lack of preparation, though it is true that on the last Ashes tour, when they came to the First Test fit, honed and ready, they needed to break records in their second innings to save the match.

Andy Flower, their coach, is resigned to it, reiterating the other day that preparation will only be as good as the schedules allow and the schedules do not allow. He is right, but that still makes it an utter nonsense. No England team, indeed no England coach have worked so hard on fitness, on developing strengths and eradicating weaknesses, on knowing every trick the opposition might be capable of pulling. But all this can founder on the lack of match practice.

It was embarrassing to watch England perform on the first two days of the opening Test in Dunedin. Part of it might have stemmed from hubris – no matter how much they deny it – but they must have known that, in reality, they had not practised enough in the middle to be properly ready for a Test rubber.

Nothing will happen, of course. But in these days of such minute attention to detail that most of us would not notice, the most important element of all is being sacrificed on the altar of a crowded schedule. On the other hand, maybe it helps them to do badly in the first match to ensure they are ready for what follows.

Grandpa started young

Denis Compton was 20 years and 19 days old when he scored his maiden hundred for England, against Australia at Trent Bridge. He is still the youngest man to have scored a hundred for England.

When he was out for 102 his captain, Wally Hammond, remonstrated with him for giving away his wicket. England were 487 for 5 at the time.

Compton's grandson Nick was 29 years and 256 days yesterday when he scored his maiden Test hundred, a long time in the coming and the richer for that. Forty-seven players have been older. The only player over 30 in the past 33 years to have made a maiden hundred is Craig White in India in 2001.

Compo Snr was 37 years, 45 days when he scored his 17th and last century, at Old Trafford against South Africa.

Kiwis like a party, too

There is plenty of buzz about New Zealand cricket at present. Every week seems to bring something to gossip about. The Ross Taylor captaincy issue might have dominated the headlines but there have been plenty of supporting acts.

Last week fast bowler Doug Bracewell had to withdraw from the Test after treading on broken glass at home. There were reports of a noisy party preceding the incident. Then Jeetan Patel had to miss a day's cricket for the New Zealand XI against England after going out drinking with the all-rounder Daniel Vettori, who is currently injured.

Coach Mike Hesson continues to insist that all is hunky- dory and that players spend a long time away from the squad. It sounds suspiciously like he expects them to take responsibility for themselves.

Openers' ton doubles rare

Before yesterday, the last time that both openers made a hundred for England was when they needed to save the Brisbane Test in 2010. Andrew Strauss (110) and Alastair Cook (235 not out) dug them out of a hole.

In total there have been only 13 occasions when both opening batsmen made a century, seven times in the first innings. Jack Hobbs and Herbert Sutcliffe did it three times