Trescothick finds the high ground again

Opener tucks in to a wayward attack but his fall in the evening leaves New Zealand ahead on points
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The Independent Online

Much of the punditry before the Second Test was about England's opening batsmen and who they should be. A partnership of 174 between Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss yesterday was probably sufficient to put an end to the tittle-tattle for a week or two.

Much of the punditry before the Second Test was about England's opening batsmen and who they should be. A partnership of 174 between Marcus Trescothick and Andrew Strauss yesterday was probably sufficient to put an end to the tittle-tattle for a week or two.

The two left-handers, brought together in enforced circumstances for the first match against New Zealand, seem to be here to stay for a while. On their first liaison they shared 190. Whoever thought it was a reasonable idea for Michael Vaughan, captain and new father, to open? This time Trescothick went on to a hundred, the sixth of his Test career, all scored on different grounds. It was full of shots that have come to be associated with him, not least the straight drive, and was the more creditable for being on a pitch that still favoured bowlers. But England knew they had to get within touching distance of New Zealand's score: the surface, defying predictions so far, will not get better.

It is difficult to credit that two bowling attacks could be quite so impotent in the prevailing conditions. New Zealand were less proficient than England, which takes some believing. They strived for a full length, as their captain, Stephen Fleming, had promised. But they were wayward to the point of being abject and England's new opening pair quickly seized the initiative. Fleming stands at first slip, stroking his chin, or placing his hands languidly on his hips. He does not show his emotions but it is fair to assume that he was not thinking humane thoughts about his bowlers.

Trescothick stood tall and unleashed his booming drives. What a difference there is between the Trescothick at home and the Trescothick abroad (about 21 runs an innings, actually). If he was a poetic soul, he would doubtless spend the late part of his winters abroad quoting Browning: "Oh to be in England now that April's there." He was troubled just once when, on 52, he edged Vettori thickly past the hands of wicketkeeper Brendon McCullum. It was a tough chance that would have eluded many if not most, but the fact that McCullum did not get gloves to it was a reminder that if this match is remembered for anything it will not be for the distinction of its wicketkeeping on either side.

In this mood and against this sort of bowling, Trescothick can be impossible to contain. He is long in the tooth in Test terms now. Not so Strauss, which made the Kiwis' approach all the more remarkable. In the second innings of the First Test, before Hussain ran him out for posterity, Strauss was passed time after time as the New Zealand seamers came round the wicket. He never quite the got the edge, though it was not for the want of trying. There was clearly a potential weakness to exploit. Instead, the bowlers did not come round the wicket once. If it was not brainless, it was bizarre.

Thus, Strauss was allowed to proceed on his well-ordered way. When he was 13, there was a huge appeal to an edge off Scot Styris. Umpire Taufell was unmoved as was Strauss. It was perhaps too close to call, but the suspicion is that Strauss, like all other modern players, will not walk. He became only the third England player to make a half-century in each of his first three innings. The first was Herbert Sutcliffe (64, 122 and 83 in 1924), the second was Paul Gibb (93, 106 and 58 in 1938-39). One of them went on to have a brilliant career, the other's international career was done after eight matches. Back in 1975, David Steele had a wonderful beginning by making 50 in five of his first seven innings, but he too soon faded. Strauss looks as if he will be more like Sutcliffe than Gibb, if the comparison is not too outrageous.

He departed with the first-wicket partnership worth 174, 16 fewer than the pair's first outing together. Sweeping Vettori he top edged him to mid wicket. England lost Mark Butcher seven overs later, also to Vettori, leg before in the crease when he should have been forward. Vaughan, batting at four for the first time since late 2001, made 13 before edging to slip. It is much too early to tell if the move will work. Perhaps he had the day-old Tallulah Grace Vaughan on his mind.

The tourists added 58 runs for the loss of their last four wickets in sprightly enough fashion in the first 90 minutes of the day. The trouble was that they lost their last three without addition. Doubtless, they would have liked more than 409, but equally they would have settled for that and probably somewhat fewer when they were invited to bat on Thursday afternoon.

Chris Cairns was the first to depart when he was discomfited by Stephen Harmison's extra bounce - neither the first nor the last batsman to be so surprised - and drove to gully. McCullum played and missed almost jauntily and Daniel Vettori drove with freedom.

It was the unlikely figure of Matthew Hoggard who ended their partnership of 54 by bowling McCullum with a well-shaped inswinger. Hoggard had struggled to find the appropriate length throughout the innings and, splendid team man though he is, he must have been mortified to have seen Martin Saggers bowl ahead of him on both the second and third days.

Nor had Vaughan been distracted by the cares of fatherhood; it was simply the correct decision. Almost immediately, Hoggard took his second wicket by having Daryl Tuffey plumb in front, again with a ball of fuller length.

It was Harmison who finished off the innings, bowling Vettori as he made a one-day amount of room. The Harmison story keeps getting better. In nine months, in the middle of which he was in danger of being written off, he has become England's leading bowler, an almost talismanic figure and someone to whom the captain will gladly throw the ball. Harmison is number two in the world rankings, but only because Muttiah Muralitharan is number one.

It took Harmison a little longer than Strauss to emerge as a significant player: about three years longer. The general consensus is that he did so at The Oval last September when he swept through South Africa's middle order. He was not at his best because like the others he failed to find a decent length but he has an aura now around which something is always likely to happen.

In the last 13 innings in which he has bowled, Harmison has taken four wickets or more in eight of them and 38.4 per cent of England's wickets in all. This is the player, let us not forget, who came home from Bangladesh last winter followed by barely suppressed suspicions expressed by "senior players" that he was swinging the lead.

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