Knight's starring role in theatre of absurd

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Cricket

New Zealand 253-8 England 134-4 England win on faster scoring rate

Injustices are many in cricket, but few could have matched the one meted upon New Zealand during the rain-affected second one-day international in Auckland yesterday. After scoring 253 off their 50 overs, the home side were beaten by six wickets as Nick Knight blazed an unbeaten 84 to reach the revised target of 134 off just 19.3 overs of the 26 allotted.

It was an emphatic victory, and one that was secured without their captain, Michael Atherton, who withdrew on the morning of the match with sciatica. But although the captain's back has been causing him pain for most of his career, this is only the second international match he has missed - the other being in Melbourne two winters ago - since becoming captain in 1993.

Rain-interrupted games are always unsatisfactory, but having used the fairer but more complicated Duckworth-Lewis method of setting revised targets in Zimbabwe, the match here was back to the old average run rate used in domestic cricket.

But if that provides a clear disadvantage to the side fielding second, the ludicrous rule that the fielding restrictions also remain in place for the whole 15 overs - rather than be reduced in proportion - turned the game into little more than theatre of the absurd.

"It was an uneven playing field out there," Lee Germon, the Kiwi captain, said. "So I don't think you can read too much into the result. I was pretty confident of defending 253, but the weather ruined it for us and the crowd."

Germon is a man under pressure and, while there should be some sympathy for him and his team, it must be remembered that, even with persistent rain forecast, he won the toss and batted.

It was, apparently, not a path England would have followed and Nasser Hussain, deputising for Atherton, would always have bowled first. "That's what we do back home whenever there's rain around," he said after overseeing, and winning, his first game as England captain.

One-day cricket has often been seen as farce masquerading as something more meaningful, and one has only to recall England's rain-interrupted semi-final with South Africa in the 1992 World Cup, when South Africa's target of 23 from seven balls was reduced to 21 from one, to realise the format is far from perfect.

That has been multiplied here by the almost forced nature of the razzmatazz, and the marketing department's obsession of taking cricket from its pastoral backwaters and on to the sweaty freneticism of the disco floor. If it does catch on, it will simply further reduce the number of public places not inundated with loud music.

Before controversy and rain struck in mid-afternoon, the match had been shaped by a hard-hit 79 from Chris Cairns, which included three sixes, and some wasteful pace bowling by England, especially in the first 15 overs, when 11 wides and two no-balls were conceded. Only Robert Croft and Ronnie Irani bowled with the control demanded.

In contrast, the fielding was never less than sharp and England were the beneficiaries of the third umpire's TV replay on three hairline run- outs, that in the days of good old fashioned human judgement, could probably not have been given.

With Atherton not having to be accommodated, England opened with Knight and Alec Stewart - probably England's best combination at securing a flying start - who came out with bats whirring like helicopter rotors.

Only six overs were managed before rain stopped play, by which time England had scored 47. When play resumed 100 minutes later, the visitors needed a further 85 to win from 20 overs.

With 10 wickets in hand, that is a formality at any level. Nevertheless, with rain in the air, Hussain decided to take advantage of the opposition's indisposition of being allowed just two fielders outside the circle as well as keeping two close catchers.

In a way, it backfired and England, having lost Stewart for 30, threw away three wickets in the space of three overs trying to club their way to a rapid victory.

Fortunately, Knight, casting off the doubt that has made him so fretful during the recent Test matches, kept control with a blistering innings that took just 69 balls, and mixed clever placement with nerveless hitting. A combination that earned him his third man of the match award in six matches.

EDEN PARK SCOREBOARD

(New Zealand won toss)

NEW ZEALAND

B A Young c Stewart b Irani 46

(91 min, 59 balls, 6 fours)

N J Astle c Stewart b Mullally 4

(18 min, 14 balls)

A C Parore run out (Irani ) 2

(17 min, 7 balls)

S P Fleming c Caddick b Gough 42

(90 min, 74 balls, 4 fours)

C L Cairns run out (Cork) 79

(106 min, 74 balls, 5 fours, 3 sixes)

C Z Harris c sub (C White) b Caddick 14

(52 min, 39 balls, 1 four)

*L K Germon b Caddick 1

(7 min, 6 balls)

D N Patel run out (Caddick-Stewart ) 24

(24 min, 21 balls, 1 four, 1 six)

G R Larsen not out 12

(13 min, 9 balls, 1 four)

Extras (lb9 w16, b4) 29

Total (for 8, 212 min, 50 overs) 253

Fall: 1-24 (Astle) 2-44 (Parore) 3-96 (Young) 4-138 (Fleming) 5-189 (Harris) 6-202 (Germon) 7-219 (Cairns) 8-253 (Patel).

Did not bat: S B Doull, H T Davis.

Bowling: Cork 10-0-51-0 (nb2,w1) (4-0-18-0, 6-0-33-0); Mullally 7-0-36- 1 (w6) (2-0-18-1, 5-0-18-0); Caddick 6-0-33-2 (w5) (4-0-17-0, 2-0-16-2); Gough 10-0-65-1 (nb2 w3) (3-0-17-0, 4-0-22-1, 3-0-26-0); Irani 7-0-26- 1 (5-0-13-1, 2-0-13-0); Croft 10-1-33-0 (w1) ( one spell).

Progress: 50: 43 min, 56 balls. 100: 101 min, 136 balls. 150: 146 min, 204 balls. 200: 185 min, 263 balls. 250: 210 min, 302 balls.

Cairns' 50: 83 min, 58 balls, 2 fours, 2 sixes.

ENGLAND

N V Knight not out 84

(93 mins, 69 balls, 12 fours)

A J Stewart lbw b Davis 30

(48 min, 26 balls, 4 fours)

D G Cork c Young b Larsen 4

(6 min, 4 balls, 1 four)

R C Irani c Astle b Doull 0

(5 min, 3 balls)

G P Thorpe c and b Doull 4

(7 min, 3 balls, 1 four)

*N Hussain not out 9

(23 min, 11 balls)

Extras (w3) 3

Total (for 4, 93 min, 19.3 overs) 134

Fall: 1-86 (Stewart) 2-91 (Cork) 3-92 (Irani) 4-100 (Thorpe).

Did not bat: J P Crawley, R D B Croft, A R Caddick, D Gough, A D Mullally.

Bowling: Davis 6-1-39-1 (w2) (one spell); Doull 5-0-39-2 (w1) (3-0-29- 0, 2-0-10-2); Larsen 5-0-31-1; Harris 2-0-8-0; Astle 1.3-0-17-0 (one spell each).

Progress: Rain stopped play 3.07-4.50pm at 47-0 (Knight 29, Stewart 15) in 6 overs. 50: 28 min, 36 balls. 100: 68 min, 84 balls.

Knight's 50: 35 min, 31 balls, 8 fours.

ENGLAND WON BY SIX WICKETS

Revised target of 132 from 26 overs

Umpires: B F Bowden and D B Cowie.

TV replay umpire: C E King.

Match referee: P J P Burge.

Man of the match: N V Knight.

Adjudicator: J R Reid.

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