One advantage of back-to-back Tests is that there is no time for the tourists to play against a weakened county team in front of a small, indifferent crowd, although yesterday's play at Leicester was not entirely meaningless. New Zealand are worrying about their bowling and were anxious see to see if they have any options. So the day was important to Kyle Mills, a 25-year-old reserve seamer waiting to make his Test debut.
The problem starts with Shane Bond, the one genuinely fast bowler in their line-up. Bond arrived in May in the late stage of a recovery from stress fractures that had kept him out of Test cricket for a year. Two county games were intended to complete the recovery and he bowled with promise one grey morning in Worcester. Although he felt discomfort in his back, Bond was also selected for the next game in Canterbury.
Kent proved to be a match too far. His bowling and his back deteriorated, and he was ruled out of the First Test. When Bond had a scan last week the good news was that there was no recurrence of the fracture; the bad news was soft tissue at the base of the spine. He was put on anti-inflammatory pills and ruled out of the Second Test at Leeds. His chances of a comeback in the Third Test are negligible.
The problem lurched towards a crisis at Lord's, where the New Zealanders judged their bowling attack to have been a disappointment. One conceivable change was Mills for Daryl Tuffey, but on the basis of an afternoon in the pale sun at Grace Road Tuffey can sleep soundly. His place looks safe.
Mills is tall, with a shock of long, unruly hair, and he was preceded by a reputation for outswing. Maybe, but it was not in evidence yesterday. He gave Leicestershire's moderate batting line-up a minimum of trouble, bowling too short. In two spells before tea he bowled nine overs for 35, and his despairing gestures suggested that Mills was his own most severe critic.
His colleagues took the wickets: Daniel Vettori, 4 for 64 in 20 overs; Chris Cairns, 4 for 48 in 13.4; and Martin 2 for 46 in 13 overs. The only batsman to cling on was John Maunders, who had nine fours in 85. New Zealand did not enforce the follow on.
Leicestershire's second-string bowlers had dismissed New Zealand for 413 in the morning. The attack was minus Mark Cleary, their acquisition from South Australia, Brad Hodge, another Australian, Claude Henderson, a South African sneaked in under the Kolpak clause, Ottis Gibson, originally from the West Indies, and two Englishmen, Phillip DeFreitas and Paul Nixon.
James Whitaker, the county's former skipper and new director of cricket, insisted that four of them were injured. Only Hodge and DeFreitas were being rested, and both were very tired after the last county game, he said. Poor things.
Leicestershire's new board of directors had a long debate about putting up a weakened team, and convinced themselves that this ragged crew would do. The justification was that New Zealand's virtual Test batsmen had been bowled out, and that Leicestershire's batsmen were competing for places in an uncertain batting order. "We're not in the guilty box," said the new chairman, Neil Davidson.
Since Leicestershire are bottom of the Second Division, it is hard to argue that they don't need to experiment. The first-wicket stand of 39 between Darren Robinson and Maunders was their best of the season.
Leicestershire's new management is keen to put more bums on seats. They will have to look for better ways of doing it than this.Reuse content