Match Report by Neil Robinson 15/06/04
Those who believe a dead series means a dead Test Match were given a healthy correction at Trent Birdge in the final match of this three Test series. A determined New Zealand, two-nil down and having to send out emergency signals to find eleven fit players, gave a powerful England side its sternest Test yet, forcing the hosts to dig deep into their reserves to come out with a narrow four wicket victory and claim their first series whitewash in 25 years.
Despite losing another two front-line bowlers to injury during the course of this match, the New Zealanders took advantage of a rather complacent batting performance by England to come out with a deserved first innings lead and set a testing target of 284 for victory. Some inspired bowling by Chris Cairns, claiming a nine-wicket match haul in his final Test and on his old county home ground, with fine support from late replacement James Franklin, took the Kiwis to within four wickets of victory. But a brilliant match-winning hundred from England’s elder statesman Graham Thorpe and some positive strokeplay under pressure from Ashley Giles broke the tourists’ hearts and saw England home on the fourth evening.
The common theme at the start of each match in this hard fought series was again followed to the letter on day one. New Zealand batted first, this time of their own volition, and got off to a healthy start. Richardson had a couple of early escapes, jabbing Harmison to short-leg where Strauss juggled and dropped a moderately difficult chance, then half an hour later he got a big edge to the keeper off Hoggard but umpire Taufel, who did not have the best of games, was fooled by the noise made by bat striking pad simultaneously. Richardson again looked uncomfortable with Harmison making the ball rear up at his ribs and shoulder, but there was little else to trouble him or Fleming on a slow, flat pitch with little movement there for the bowlers.
As the runs were piled on, the Englishmen were forced back on their memories of the last two Tests, when fine starts by the tourists were not capitalised upon by the middle order. So it would prove again, but by the time the first wicket fell, at 163, this looked a remote prospect. It was an uncharacteristic error by Richardson which caused the breakthrough. Advancing down the pitch at Giles, he misjudged the length and clipped a soft chance to mid-on after making 73. It was the first of six wickets in the match for the persevering Giles, though he again showed his limitations by greeting the new batsman Styris with an easy full toss first ball.
Styris had struggled all through this series with the pace and bounce offered by England’s attack. They used the same method against him here, bowling short of a length just outside off-stump. But on a slower pitch, he was able to weather his initial discomfort. Before too long his relief at the return of form and confidence was expressing itself in the form of some well struck off-drives. Textbook and handsome though they were, as befits a man whose nickname is ‘piggo’ they were not strokes of great elegance.
Fleming too, was playing an innings more notable for determination than beauty. Having missed out on a deserved century at Lord’s, he was not going to fall at the last fence here. The tone of his celebration at reaching three figures, head down, lips pursed, left arm raised up straight with clenched fist, said it all about the mental effort it had cost to get him there. He progressed to 117 before a cross-batted drive at Flintoff saw him get a thick edge which flew to Thorpe at slip. New Zealand were 225-2 and in the box seats. But what followed was not to live up to such high examples.
Nathan Astle looked out of touch, pinned on the back foot where he is least comfortable, but with Styris now motoring nicely, it was not until the new ball was taken that England gained the next breakthrough. A very fast ball from Harmison was dragged on to his stumps by Astle, McMillan following him lbw next ball, trapped on the back foot as the ball seamed back at him. Somehow Oram and Styris hung on to the close, but it was not easy. Harmison is frequently more dangerous with the second new ball than the first, and this was a particularly savage example of his art and his stamina. After a long hot day in the field, with little joy, he came racing in at his highest pace, the last ball of the day searing through at 94 mph. As well as his improvement as a bowler over the last twelve months, the development of his fitness and stamina derserves equal praise.
Although Styris cruised on unstoppably to a fine hundred on day 2, at the other end wickets fell continuously. Oram, after seeing off a hostile opening spell from Harmison, relaxed too much in Saggers’ first over and chipped to mid-on off the leading edge. Cairns entered determined to bow out with a memorable feast of hitting, but after crashing three boundaries he tried to hit Saggers halfway to Derby and skied a high, swirling catch to Thorpe. Styris, unruffled by several wincing blows to the body, eventually got out to Giles for 108, getting a leading edge trying to work against the spin. Although McCullum hit a bright 22 before uppercutting Harmison once too often, there was little left from the tail. The hard working Hoggard took the catch, then grabbed the last two wickets himself, the first of which was his 100th in Tests, in a 15 minute spell after lunch.
Having been 163-0 and 225-1, a total of 384 was more than a little disappointing for the Kiwis, especially on such a featherbed pitch. Fine English batting had taken them past decent New Zealand scores in the first two Tests, and fans of the new ruthless England were looking forward to seeing their side keep their foot on the gas again. That they did. Sadly they took their hands off the wheel in the process.
It was a skittish batting performance, riddled with complacency and the inevitable sense of a burden eased by a series already secured. Minds once concentrated and determined seemed fixated on style and glory. Against an opposition less weakened by injury, such flaws would have been fatal. New Zealand, already missing Bond and Vettori from their first choice attack, had at last rested the half-fit Tuffey and called up left-arm seamer James Franklin from club cricket in Lancashire. But you could hardly have blamed them for throwing in the towel when Chris Martin pulled up with a hamstring injury in his second over, then debutant Kyle Mills strained his side after six.
England, then, were left facing the wily Cairns, the rookie Franklin, the part-timer Styris and the barely half-fit Oram. Hardly surprising, perhaps, that their errors were born of over-confidence. The start was straightforward enough. Strauss completed his Test initiation by edging Cairns to the keeper for a third ball duck. (Curiously, following his stunning start at Lord’s, each successive Test innings by Strauss was now lower than the last.) Butcher, batting with a broken finger suffered in the field, drove wildly at Franklin and edged to slip. 18 for 2, not the best of starts.
At this point the old England might have dug in and tried to bat out three days for a draw. Trescothick and Vaughan thought it was time to give a little lesson in cover driving. Quite a lesson it was too, Vaughan supremely elegant, Trescothick leaning on the ball and finding unbelievable gaps in a packed off-side field. A partnership of 110 took only 21.2 overs of thrilling batting, until a moment of genius and a little luck ended it. Cairns’ slower ball, rolled out of his hand like an off-break, fooled Vaughan into staying back, leaving him unable to deal with the spin back into him and the very low bounce. Struck on the pad, it was as clear an lbw as you’ll ever see.
Despite the run-fest, young Franklin had bowled well from the start. Swinging the ball both ways at a lively pace, delivering from very close to the stumps (sometimes kicking them over with his front leg) with a smooth action, he looked every inch the part and his second wicket was as deserved as it was identical to his first. Trescothick, refusing to rein in his shots after losing Vaughan, edging a lovely outswinger and leaving two new batsmen at the crease. Fortunately, Thorpe showed more nous in this match than most of his colleagues and played watchfully as the powerful Flintoff settled in to an impressive innings.
The real breakthrough in Flintoff’s batting seemed to come in his rearguard action following Lara’s 400 in Antigua. A new sense of judgement and maturity seemed apparent, a growing knowledge of how to play sensibly without being reduced to strokelessness, of how he didn’t need to give the ball a real spanking to demonstrate his awesome power of stroke. This he showed again here, even displaying some unheralded delicacy in a couple of sweet late cuts. While clearly playing for stumps and the hope of a lead tomorrow, he still managed to rattle up 54 in 79 balls while Thorpe leaned on his bat at the other end, before Cairns produced a sublime quicker ball to trap him lbw.
Two partnerships had now promised but not delivered for England. Day three was to bring further disappointments. Nightwatchman Hoggard stonewalled effectively for 37 balls before Franklin found his edge. Soon afterwards Thorpe, on the verge of one of the slowest fifties of his career, was given out to a leg side strangle although the ball seemed to clip thigh-pad not bat. Jones and Giles played beautifully to add 40 and edge England closer until Jones had a brainstorm, heaving across the line at Styris and plumb lbw. Saggers and Harmison quickly fell to Cairns, the superb yorker which spreadeagled Harmison’s stumps giving the great all-rounder a valedictory five-wicket haul. Giles was left high and dry on 45, England 319 all out, 65 adrift.
Worse was to come for the hosts as yet another solid opening partnership took the Kiwis further ahead. With no swing for Hoggard or Saggers and no pace in the pitch for Harmison or Flintoff, again it was left to Giles to make the breakthrough, Richardson stepping too far across and struck on the pad after an untypically free, entertaining 45. A second for Giles soon followed, McCullum edging to Flintoff for 4. Big Freddie seemed revitalised by this, for now he charged in with real fire, matching Harmison for pace and hostility. The Kiwis dug in and tried to see it out, leaving or padding the ball away wherever possible. But Flintoff, roaring in around the wicket, hit Fleming on the back leg once too often, Taufel upholding the appeal. The ball may well have been high, but Fleming had several times padded away riskily and umpires are wont to take a dim view of such tactics.
In Flintoff’s next over Astle was trapped in front by a fast, straight ball, but the big man then gave Craig McMillan an early let off by failing to get down to a sharp edge off Giles. McMillan, after a tour ravaged by injury and poor form, did well to weather the early storm, and with Styris continuing his first innings revival the pair added a crucial fifty to take the lead to 250. Shortly before the close however, Styris made an ugly waft at a short, wide ball from Harmison, there was a faint noise, a loud appeal and the umpire’s finger went up. It was not the first time Taufel had gone by his ears rather than his eyes in this game, and here they seemed to let him down as replays showed Styris was too late on the shot to make contact.
Just five more runs were added before the close, but they left New Zealand 255 ahead with five second innings wickets in hand. Not for the first time this year, England went into the fourth day of a Test Match either level with or behind their opponents. But day four is becoming their day for shifting up a gear and making the game theirs. It was a much closer run thing this time, but the increase in English pressure was palpable nonetheless.
No surprise that the man who started it all off was Harmison. Eighteen minutes in he claimed McMillan lbw for the second time in the match with one that nipped back and kept low. A peach of an over at Oram then followed, pitching full and swinging it away until the batsman had one fatal nibble and Flintoff grabbed the catch at slip. Now Giles was in on the act again, spoiling Chris Cairns’ farewell innings with a well directed ball from over the wicket that pitched leg, spun just enough to beat Cairns’ forward push and hit the top of off. Then it was Flintoff replacing Harmison and doing to the determined nightwatchman Franklin exactly what Harmison had done to Oram. That left New Zealand with just their two tail-end crocks, Mills and Martin to try and extend the lead. Martin was batting with a runner, Mills alone but able to do no more than trot up the pitch. The quick singles needed to protect Martin from the fire of Harmison were never on. An audacious paddle-sweep from Mills off Giles lobbed gently to short fine leg and that was it. England had claimed five wickets in 80 minutes for just 28 runs and needed 284 to win.
It was less of a target than it might have been, but a stiff challenge nonetheless. 284 to win would surpass the 282 made at Lord’s and mean that in this series England would have made two of the five largest successful Test run chases ever in England. Against a full strength New Zealand side they would surely have had no chance, but with only two front line bowlers left to face it was just possible.
The early signs were not good though. Three wickets fell for just 46 runs. Strauss and Vaughan cleverly trapped lbw by Cairns, Trescothick caught and bowled trying to work Franklin to leg. Butcher and Thorpe came together to steady the ship. It was an important innings for Butcher, who had had a quiet series. The injection he had been given to ease the pain in his finger in the first innings had, he said, left him with little feeling in his hand. The poor shot which accounted for his wicket though was more attributable to the faulty judgement which has bedevilled him so far this summer. He rejected the injection this time, and the extra pain seemed to concentrate his mind, for his 59 was a classic Butcher display of exquisite driving and one brilliant, uncharacteristic hook. With the redoubtable Thorpe, he had taken the score on to 134-3 when, on the stroke of tea, another excellent ball from Cairns left him the third lbw victim of the innings.
With 150 needed, England were just in sight, but their hopes took a dive when Flintoff miscued driving on the up for just 5. Geraint Jones, however, was determined to make amends for his rash dismissal in the first innings. His was a less dashing performance than we have become used to, characterised by determined forward lunges and a ramrod staight bat. But when the ball was there to hit, it was sent to the boundary with style. Thorpe, meanwhile, was giving one of his steeliest displays. There was a glint in his eye, something unflinching in his demeanour, which made it plain that as long as he was at the crease, New Zealand would have their work cut out to win. He played very low in defence, deliberately to counter the increasing threat of low bounce, punching the ball through the covers with a minimal follow through, rolling it off his hip to pinch singles.
The partnership grew to dangerous proportions, Jones driving with ever greater fluency, Thorpe exploiting the minutest variations in line to find new gaps in the field. But with 70 still needed, a flashing square drive from Jones flew at speed to Oram at backward point, who held the catch comfortably. New Zealand now knew that one more wicket would have them through to the tail. Giles and Thorpe stood between them and the scent of victory. Cairns, seeking a glorious ten-wicket haul to finish the match and his career, stepped up to the crease once more, defying his 34 years and his appalling workload. It was not to be.
With runs now at a premium, Fleming could no longer afford to keep an all-out attacking field. The best chance came when Giles fended a ball off his ribs to where short-leg might have been. It was a painfully slow, looping chance, hanging in the air as if mocking the absent space beneath it. Cairns was by now desperately tired. The back up bowlers could restrict the runs, but did not have the firepower to bowl England out. Giles, playing with wonderful bravado, almost gave another chance when he drove on the up, perhaps fooled by a change of pace and through the shot early, and the ball flew airily through the despairing hands of Cairns in his follow through.
Another drive through the covers from Giles and it was 40 to win. A few more singles, a boundary for Thorpe and it was 30. Giles miscued another drive, just grazing the fingers of cover. With the game now accelerating toward a conclusion, the message went out that England had claimed the extra half-hour to force a result. For New Zealand’s exhausted bowlers it was the final straw. An overnight rest might just have refreshed them for a swift breakthrough in the morning, but with all their efforts spent that day they were finished. In desperation they tried bowling short at Giles, he ducked a few, then hooked a tired long-hop for four. Scarpered singles ensued, then another Giles hook brought two more.
The 50 partnership came up in 65 balls. Then it was 16 to win, 15, 14 and suddenly the concern was all about whether Thorpe, outscored by his rampant partner, would reach his century before the winning runs were hit. With 13 to win an airy square drive flew between two gullies to take him there and the celebrations had almost begun. A clip to leg made it 8 to win and the England balcony was all smiles, players and backroom staff lined up, arms around each others’ shoulders. Fittingly, it was Thorpe who hit the winning run, a thick edge to square leg, before walking off the field with Giles, on their faces a mixture of joy and mild disbelief at what they, and their team, had achieved. New Zealand, it was impossible not to feel sorry for them, barely had the strength left to make it back to the pavilion.
A 3-0 whitewash, 6 wins in 7 Tests are a fine return for some excellent cricket by England. The inevitable questions about an Ashes challenge next year are already arising. It is possible, so long as key players remain fit, so long as the team continues to improve. The benefit of introducing exciting new talents to the side has already been seen, and England must continue to look for ways of improving. Having seen Hussain retire and Strauss make his mark, the selectors will probably want a period of stability for the batting, although a strong showing by the recalled Rob Key in the forthcoming one-day series will enhance his claims for a call-up. The wicket-keeping issue too has been settled for the moment.
But there remains scope for improvement in the bowling. In this series, Steve Harmison took more than half the wickets and bowled far more overs than anyone else. It was to him that the captain turned when in need of a wicket, and understandably so. But the firepower of Simon Jones was greatly missed in the last two Tests, Flintoff still does not take the wickets he deserves, while the lack of penetration offered by Hoggard and Saggers when the ball is not swinging remains a concern. England will be hoping for rapid progress from James Anderson over the rest of the season, and will view the introduction of Sajid Mahmood into the one-day side with great interest.
Greatest of all the problems, though, is spin. Ashley Giles had a good game at Trent Bridge. He batted extremely well in both innings, bowled with good control in general and overall showed what a wholehearted, thoroughly professional cricketer he is. He has never let England down and he has taken a lot of stick for being what he is, a limited cricketer who has worked damned hard to make the most of his abilities. But the fact that he is a decent chap who played a good game here should not blind anyone to the fact that Giles is not the attacking, destructive spinner England need if they are to progress as a side. The papers are full of praise for his bowling in this match, with descriptions of the ‘magic’ ball which accounted for Cairns in the second innings containing far more spin themselves than the ball itself did. In truth, if you’re bowling left arm over, and not from terribly close to the stumps either, it doesn’t take much in the way of turn to get the ball to pitch leg and hit off. It was a crafty ball, well flighted and well directed, but not the sort of ball to give a batsman nightmares, more the sort to leaving him lying awake wondering how he missed it.
Giles very rarely, if ever, bowls badly for England. Sometimes his length is a little too full and he can be worked away for singles too easily, but he rarely gets taken to the cleaners, and so he has developed a deserved reputation as a man who can lock down an end for his team. But when Giles is at his best, as here, the best that can honestly be said is that he bowled pretty well. Writing in ‘The Sunday Telegraph’ this weekend, Michael Atherton penned an impassioned defence of his former team-mate, going through his rivals for the spin slot one by one and noting that not one of them is clearly a better spinner than Giles. I have my doubts about this, but even if true, it overlooks the fact that Giles has a wealth of experience at this level, which his rivals do not.
Two years ago, you could have made a very clear case for preferring Andrew Caddick over Steve Harmison since, at the time, Caddick was clearly the better bowler. Had Harmison not been given his chance, that would very probably still be true. But he did, and two years of Test experience later he has matured into a bowler far more dangerous and wily than Caddick ever was. Giles is a bowler whose limitations are known both to himself and to the selectors. No-one knows the limitations of Richard Dawson, Gareth Batty or Graeme Swann, and no-one ever will do unless they are given a chance. It would be terribly hard on Giles, who has served his country as solidly as Atherton or Hussain ever did, but the axeing of Chris Read to make way for Geraint Jones (now in the one-day squad too) was terribly hard on Read. Nevertheless, it was the right thing to do.
So much for England. For New Zealand, a horrible leg of a tough tour has come to an end. They can look forward to gaining some redemption in the one-day series, where fitness issues should be less exposed, but I suspect they will be glad to put this tour behind them. No doubt they will regret their curious policy of bringing just 14 players on tour, they were lucky that young Franklin had positioned himself here in league cricket for precisely the eventuality which led to his call-up, but other than that they can reflect that things might have gone very differently had their luck with injuries not been so appalling. Even with a team hamstrung, side-strained and broken-fingered, they made England work hard for their wins. It was a series in which the hosts’ exciting cricket probably deserved a 3-0 win, but the unlucky tourists did not deserve a 3-0 defeat.
New Zealand 384 (Fleming 117, Styris 108, Richardson 73) & 218 (Richardson 49, Fleming 45, Giles 4-46)
England 319 (Trescothick 63, Vaughan 61, Flintoff 54, Cairns 5-79) & 284-6 (Thorpe 104*, Butcher 59, Cairns 4-108)
England won by 4 wickets.
England win series 3-0.
Man of the Match
Men of the Series
New Zealand: Mark Richardson - England: Steve Harmison