Women make most of slow but steady progress

Sound displays from England and New Zealand have left the third Test in the balance. John Collis reports from Guildford
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N Zealand 362-5 v England

Women's cricket is flourishing and is now a Sky sport, but the New Zealand tour that ends with this third Test here could have done with kinder weather. When well-coached straight bats compete against friendly medium pace on county-standard wickets, every hour is valuable in the search for a natural result. The boundary may not be crossed as often as in the men's game, but the bat still dominates.

In terms of overs, the first Test at Scarborough lost half a day to rain, and the second at Worcester three times as much. No player padded up for a second innings. After England had compiled 414 at Scarborough, with centuries for Barbara Daniels and Kathryn Leng, the visitors replied with 517 for 8, Kirsty Flavell making 204. Worcester showed more potential for a result (England 276, New Zealand 296 for 6 declared), but not when showers kept sending the players scurrying for shelter. And so, although the visitors enjoyed a clean sweep in the three-day matches in mid-June, there is still much to prove in terms of relative strength at four-day level.

England, current World Cup and European Cup holders, have a regional structure of 13 areas, with Derbyshire and Hampshire as recent recruits and more soon to join. The Women's Cricket Association supports a full- time director, Scarborough's Centurion Daniels, and after 70 years has a network of 60 clubs. It runs a national league and knockout cup, together with competitions at Under-21 and Under-17 levels. In the winter, England beat India 1-0 in the Test series, but again lost the one-dayers.

Internationally, Japan, Canada, Pakistan and Sri Lanka have been added to the 1993 World Cup's eight nations, and Guildford is staging the 100th women's Test match world-wide (the first, between England and Australia, took place in 1934).

Guildford, nursery ground of the brothers Bicknell, is an attractive stage for the climax of the tour and for once the sun shone. Not always convincingly, not continuously, but welcome none the less. Surrey play here next week, making this something of a mid-season festival for the local cricket-lovers, who turned out in gratifying numbers.

Yesterday's stately progress, however, gave no positive hint that the teams might be identified as winners and losers come Monday evening. New Zealand chose to bat on a friendly wicket and in Debbie Hockley (63 and 115 in the previous Tests) and Shelley Fruin (63 and 6), they have two experienced and in-form openers. In passing 128, they set a first-wicket record for their country and when they were parted at 150, their record was for all wickets. The end, half-way through the afternoon, was the result of a rare rush of blood. Fruin pushed at the England captain, Karen Smithies, and scampered off, but the experienced Smithies, following through, collected the ball for a neat run-out. Hockley, scoring at barely one an over, followed when she nicked the second ball after tea.

England's sharpest bowler looked to be the tall left- hander Lucy Pearson, an East Anglian player winning her first Test cap. Much of the boundary conversation, however, was about her fellow debutante, also from East Anglia, whose chance to shine will come later. At 16, Charlotte Edwards is the youngest player to represent England. She joined the boys in Huntingdon's county youth team at 13 and now captains them at Under- 16 level. With enthusiastic family support, she clearly has a future in the game.

Whether this particular game has a future remains open to question. New Zealand's progress was solid but unenterprising yesterday, while England plugged away, waiting for something to happen without the penetrative power to insist that it did.