Match Report by Neil Robinson 08/06/04
With a 1-0 lead in the series and an opposition party increasingly ravaged by injuries and poor form, England went into the Headingley Test with high expectations. Winning the toss and putting the New Zealanders in to bat on an overcast first morning could only have improved their mood, but while the confident hosts eventually cruised to a convincing 9-wicket victory early on the fifth day, this was a match which rarely went according to the script.
The conditions which prompted England skipper Michael Vaughan to put the visitors in on the first morning would have produced the same decision from most captains. The sky was uniformly grey and the temperature chilly and the forecast of sunnier, warmer weather on the following four days promised better batting conditions later in the game. England were forced to make one change to their bowling attack, Simon Jones absent with a foot injury, and with James Anderson also suffering from a bruised heel, Kentís Martin Saggers received a call-up for his home debut. If anything, Saggersí pitch it up and swing it method made Englandís attack look even more ideally tailored to the conditions.
It is safe to say that a New Zealand total of 409 was not what Vaughan had in mind when opting to field first, however. He was unlucky in that rain and bad light restricted play on day one to just 19 overs, and that when day two turned out to be far cloudier than forecast, a strong wind swept across the ground to negate all efforts at swing. But the primary reasons for New Zealandís high first innings score was the visitors disciplined batting and the inability of Englandís bowlers to find the correct length.
Not until the introduction of Saggers into the attack after 15 overs was the ball pitched up consistently enough for swing to pose a threat. His first ball in a home Test drew Richardson forward into the drive, then swung back late through the gate and bowled him. At the other end Michael Papps was to get two lives on this curtailed day, the first a tough low chance to Butcher in the gully, the second a straightforward one to Thorpe at slip. He was to receive another early on day two when Giles fluffed another sitter at gully. Fleming too had an early reprieve when an insane call from Papps left his captain well short as substitute Collingwoodís throw missed the stumps by a whisker.
Although Englandís bowlers failed to make best use of the conditions, they did at least bowl with control, giving the tourists little to hit and keeping the run rate around 2.5 per over for most of the innings. It was disappointing that their accuracy was not backed up in the field however. In particular, the catching of Englandís 50% men, Thorpe and Butcher, at slip and gully, gave cause for concern. As England look to bring younger players in the reinforce this promising team, sound slip catching should be a priority in their search.
Papps and Fleming built their partnership by virtue of not trusting the pitch an inch, by leaving on length and width wherever possible and by employing the straightest of bats. Their judgement was, in the main, excellent, their courage admirable. Papps had come in to the side in place of Craig McMillan, who was suffering from a broken little finger. Halfway through his innings, he received a blow on the hand from Flintoff which inflicted a similar fracture. Not that he let on to press, public or opposition until after his dismissal for a gutsy 86.
As the score steadily advanced, it began to feel like a bad day for the English. And the feeling was worsened in the afternoon by the drunken behaviour of a legion of young Englishmen in the Western Terrace whose idea of contributing to the Test Match atmosphere was to get pissed, offer lewd jeers at any passing woman and tear newspapers into shreds which were thrown in the air during each ĎMexican Wave.í This being the Western Terrace, and the strong breeze that day coming from the west, the shreds of paper quickly drifted across the playing area, distracting the batsmen and causing play to be held up on several occasions. It was an act of pure idiocy which could only have been carried out by people with no understanding or appreciation of the game of cricket. But it has become a regular occurrence in recent years, without any corrective action on the part of the ECB or ground authorities who presumably care little what sort of moron attends their matches as long as they pay their gate money. But what a bitter and wearisome thing it was, on a weekend when the thoughts of the world were turned to the gallantry and sacrifice of a generation of young men on the beaches of Normandy, to have to watch the brainless antics of some of their descendants whose only conceivable service to society would be to go through a similar experience and not survive it.
The stand had taken New Zealand to 202-1 when Papps fell, struck full on the toe by a rapid Flintoff yorker in front of middle stump. England had started to feel that the game was running away from them, but another two quick wickets with the new ball brought them back into contention. Fleming, just three short of a much needed century (it would have been just his 7th in a long career), tried to turn Harmison to the leg-side and got a leading edge which looped up to Vaughan at mid-off. Then Nathan Astle cut a wide Saggers long-hop to gully, where Butcher took a fine diving catch.
Scott Styris survived a big lbw shout first ball, then played and missed at his second. It was a nervous period for the Kiwis, two natural strokeplayers in against the new ball and Harmison and Saggers bowling well. Over 20 minutes elapsed without a run from the bat. But New Zealand hung in, and the runs began to flow again once Flintoff and the disappointing Hoggard took the ball. But Styris has been in poor form all tour, and another blast from Harmison before the close accounted for him, caught behind for 21. The belligerent Cairns helped Oram add 30 in seven overs before Oram edged Flintoff to slip where Thorpe held on well.
The positive strokeplay of New Zealandís lower middle-order has long been one of the sideís greatest strengths. Oram, Cairns, McCullum and Vettori all added runs with characteristic verve and stubbornness. Although Cairns fell early on day three, deceived by extra bounce and slapping a Harmison ball to backward point, Vettori and McCullum added another 54 crucial runs to take New Zealand past the crucial 400 mark before the final three wickets fell in a flurry for no run.
Englandís batting was opened, as at Lordís, by Trescothick and Strauss, the returning Vaughan slotting in at the number four spot vacated by Nasser Hussainís retirement. The idea of Vaughan dropping down the order is one which met with approval from most pundits, although there are some questionable elements to the logic behind it. Vaughan averages 49 as an opener, just 26 at number 4, he scored 140 in his last innings as an opener, while past evidence would suggest that he, rather than the mercurial Trescothick, would be the natural choice to see off a top-class new ball attack such as McGrath and Gillespie.
But the first half of the equation worked well enough, Trescothick and Strauss assembling an excellent opening partnership of 153. Continuing his impressive start to his Test career, Strauss looked every inch the part, beginning cautiously before gradually rolling out his range of strokes against a toothless bowling attack, his use of his feet against Vettori especially impressive. Outscored at first by the typically dashing Trescothick, he had almost caught him up by the time, on 63, he tried an ambitious sweep at a ball slightly too close to him and lobbed a catch to mid-on.
Mark Butcher had a torrid time in his brief innings either side of tea, as uneven bounce began to have a major impact upon the game. Hit on glove and grille by Chris Martin and lucky to survive an lbw shout padding up to Vettori, the spinner eventually trapped him in front for 4. This brought in Vaughan who, perhaps tired after attending the birth of his first child overnight, edged Styris to slip for just 13. A nasty welcome also awaited Graham Thorpe, rapped on the glove first ball, before bad light was offered by the umpires and accepted.
All this while Marcus Trescothick had been powering his way to his first Test century since his 219 against South Africa at The Oval last September. After a winter of torment, it was a welcome sight of the dashing batsman who thrilled spectators on his introduction to Test cricket four years ago. The feet did not move much, they never do, but the weight distribution was good, his head position still and the shot selection immaculate. As he had done back in 2000, he left the ball particularly well, and when he drove, he did so straight or through extra cover rather than square as he does when out of touch. These facets in his play were visible from the first overs and, rigorous analyst of his own game that he is, Trescothick will have noted this and taken confidence from it.
Having taken a great deal of stick for his decision to come off for bad light here last year when he and Butcher were creaming the South African bowlers to all parts, he would have been gratified by the approval which greeted his decision to come off this time. With a new batsman at the crease, low cloud and a misbehaving pitch to help the bowlers and a large target still to chase down, it was the only choice. Sadly, it didnít pay off for him. In light barely any better, the umpires brought the players back out a few minutes later and Trescothick was soon bowled by the impressive Styris, the ball keeping so low it crept under his bat as he tried to drive a half-volley. It was practically the last act of the day.
The wicket gave New Zealand great heart going in to day four. With England 284-4 they were 125 ahead and England had the prospect of batting last on a pitch beginning to look increasingly dangerous. But by the close of play, New Zealand were 15 runs behind with only 5 second innings wickets in hand and looking dead in the water. Some brilliant English batting should take most of the credit for this, as should a warm sunny day which hindered lateral movement of the ball, but the fact is that the Kiwiís bowling was poor.
New Zealand had come into this match with a depleted bowling attack anyway. Shane Bond was still not up to full fitness after his back injury, Daniel Vettori had not recovered form after his own long lay-off, Daryl Tuffey was clearly still favouring his left knee and Jacob Oram was unable to bowl after picking up a side strain at Lordís. But fitness doubts aside, the bowlers just could not put the ball in the right place often enough to trouble the Englishmen, there were errors in length, line and a distinct lack of aggression which became more pronounced as the day wore on and England took a firmer hold on the game.
Styris started well. In his first two overs both Thorpe and Flintoff took blows to the hands and body. But at the other end Martin was wayward, and even Styris could not maintain his early consistency. Soon Flintoff was into his stride, driving straight along the ground with effortless power and hooking Martin for one huge six into the Western Terrace. Thorpe was quiet, playing a supporting role to his expansive colleague in a stand of 112 from 140 balls. It was the speed of Englandís run scoring which gave them the edge in this game. While New Zealand had gritted it out at 2.5 per over, England rattled along at over 4, allowing them to overhaul the opposition total and still have enough time to wrap up the game.
In this it was Flintoff and the increasingly exciting Geraint Jones who really took the breath away. Trescothickís 132 took 206 balls, but it was made to look pedestrian compared with Flintoffís 144 ball 94 and Jonesí 146 ball 100. After Martin finally slipped a full length ball through Thorpeís defences, the two tyros came together in a whirlwind partnership of 105 off 113 balls. The first hour after lunch was the highlight, Flintoff moving into third gear with an exceptional display of safe, orthodox hitting, Jones cutting over point with great style and using his feet well to the spinner. Jonesí maiden Test fifty was brought up with a splendid six over long on off Vettori , it had taken him 53 balls and included nine fours and that one six.
The partnership slowed down as Flintoff approached his hundred. But New Zealand had already gone from attack to defence to desperation and prayer. As the news came through from the dressing room that Shane Bond was to be sent home and not even risked in the one-dayers, Vettori suffered an agonising tear in his hamstring and limped from the field and out of the tour as well. Meagre resources were now stretched beyond toleration point, and even the toughest heads on the field were drooping in misery.
Flintoff, typically, fell going for the big one to reach his ton. It was sad for him to miss a deserved hundred, but his job was done. At 457-6 England already had a substantial lead, and Ashley Giles came together with Jones to extend it by another 34. Jones now brought up his own hundred, his 100th run more a hop, skip and jump as he punched the air with joy, before cutting Cairns straight to gully three balls later. The tail subsided quickly, but a lead of 117 was more than enough.
Under blue skies, but with uneven bounce now a regular hazard, the best rewards would come from a good, but not quite full length, and an off-stump line. As New Zealand attempted to claw their way back into the game, neither Harmison nor Hoggard could quite get the formula right at the beginning of the innings. Fleming, opening again in place of the injured Papps, and Richardson showed excellent judgement again in a partnership of 39 which looked as if it might make light of the deficit. But the breakthrough came in the 17th over when Flintoff, bowling round the wicket at Fleming, produced one that kept a little low which the Kiwi skipper could only prod to short leg via his pad. McCullum was in at three and played another bright little innings, taking the score on to 75-1 and all looked rosier for the tourists. But, with the close of play nearing, Vaughan turned to his new ball pair again for one last push.
It was the period of play that had been expected from the beginning of the match, where one bowler, or a pair, suddenly finds the right length and everything clicks, then the wickets tumble. It was Hoggard, so disappointing for much of this match, who clicked first, a brute of a ball rearing off a length on off-stump which Richardson could only glove on its way through to the keeper. Next over a fine, back of a length delivery from Harmison was fended to slip by McCullum, Trescothick sticking out his right hand to snatch a brilliant low catch. Then Hoggard again, sending one flying past Astleís nose then sliding the next one in at his pads to trap him lbw. And back to Harmison, the ugliest ball of the match, a real hospital ball which night-watchman Tuffey did well to get a glove on, the ball looping over his head into Jonesís gloves.
Four wickets in nineteen balls. And that was it. New Zealand were dead. They showed more fight on the final morning, a poor leg side first over from Harmison dispatched for three boundaries by Styris, but Hoggard got him next over thanks to a fine diving catch in front of slip by Jones. Cairns struck one massive six, but three balls later was trapped in front by Hoggard. The brave Papps emerged, his broken hand numbed by an injection; he was dropped first ball by Thorpe, but three balls later could only fend a Harmison lifter to silly point. With only the rabbit Martin left for company, Oram struck two massive blows over wide mid-on. It was the last flicker of life. Off the last ball of Hoggardís over, Oram needed a single to protect Martin from Harmison. Both batsmen set off for it almost before the ball was past the stumps, but Geraint Jones, showing brilliant awareness to go with a much improved keeping performance, threw down the wicket with Martin yards short. New Zealand 161 all out, England needing just 45 to win.
Trescothick virtually got them on his own. Strauss for once fell early, edging to third slip for 10, but a tired, demoralised New Zealand were never going to pull of that sort of miracle. It was all over before lunch, England bagging a second consecutive series victory and their fourth win in their last six Tests. With just two daysí rest before the Third Test at Trent Bridge, New Zealand are left with the formidable task of assembling a team from a squad which no longer even numbers 11 fit players. The choice to bring a squad of just 14 is beginning to look like a fatal error.
New Zealand 409 (Fleming 97, Papps 86, McCullum 54, Cairns 41, Harmison 4-74) & 161 (Richardson 40, Hoggard 4-75)
England 526 (Trescothick 132, Jones 100, Flintoff 94, Strauss 62) & 45-1
England won by 9 wickets and take Series 2-0
Man of the Match