Fascinating series left New Zealand with the greater positives

Lynn McConnell

April 4, 2002

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Taken overall at the end of the National Bank Test Series, you would probably want to be in New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming's shoes more than you would want to be in his opposite Nasser Hussain's.

Unfair comment, unrealistic assessment or pure fancy?

Not really.

While New Zealand took until the third Test to get their playing act together, they deserved to win the match, and by not yielding in the second Test under the sort of pressure England succumbed to in the third Test, the home side deserved to tie the series.

England did play the series without Darren Gough, and what a difference he might have made.

But New Zealand went into the series without Shane Bond, Dion Nash and Shayne O'Connor and then lost Chris Cairns halfway through the first Test.

Who suffered more? Who showed the greater resilience?

While England viewed the series as an opportunity to assess players' capabilities for future Test duty, specifically next summer's Ashes series and the World Cup, New Zealand were forced by circumstance to call up players to perform immediately.

And generally they did.

New Zealand does not have the playing base to take the longer term attitude that Hussain was so often at pains to point out to supporters and critics from England.

It has to be much more pragmatic, and the innovation attached to the New Zealand game has allowed it to stand up throughout the summer. The drawn Test series in Australia was an outstanding example of the high quality cricket the side can play.

Circumstance didn't allow the same players from Australia to perform at home, but despite that, the quality of player thrown into the mix was good enough to allow New Zealand to be competitive and come back to tie the series.

England, by comparison, has the advantage of a much more ingrained sense of professionalism. This is an admirable characteristic and one New Zealand would do well to try and emulate.

When the going gets tough for the English, there is an almost instinctive understanding of what is required for the good of the side. This inherent quality means the seizing of opportunity, or the pulling back from the brink, is achieved much quicker than by New Zealanders.

That was why England won the first Test after their disastrous start. They maximised their opportunities and shut New Zealand out.

But they could never afford to under-estimate the innovation of the home side, whether from the outstanding principles which are now part of the whole development structure of the game here, through to portable pitches which have resulted in a much more confident batting strategy from top players.

Nathan Astle personified that. Such a prolonged assault as that unleashed during his world record 222 at Jade Stadium in the first Test could never have been contemplated by Test players of the past. They never had the pitch quality that the modern players enjoy.

Equally, the notion of playing under lights, which despite much criticism from English supporters is now backed by ICC laws, saw New Zealand adapt quicker. Call it the No 8 wire complex, or the America's Cup strategy, but New Zealand's capacity to adapt to positive influences was greater. For all that, England did take six wickets while the lights were on.

However, both sides could feel that umpiring standards throughout the series were regrettable. Doug Cowie's call in the first innings in Auckland against Andrew Flintoff was the worst, but there were far too many others, involving both sides, and umpires from overseas as well as New Zealand for anyone to take any comfort.

For all that, it was an entertaining series, one of the best of recent vintage in New Zealand.

CricInfo New Zealand's summation of the Test series participants follows:

ENGLAND

Nasser Hussain: Of all the players in the side, Hussain had probably the most consistent series. While he is not the complete answer near the top of England's one-day batting order, he is a superb Test match competitor. His first Test century was the crucial element of the game, and the win. It gave his side an advantage which proved too substantial for New Zealand. He almost threatened to steal the last Test and the memory of his thumping straight drives, powerfully hit and all along the ground, will linger long. A consummate professional, he made the most of what his side had to offer and led by example, as witness his stunning slip catch of Astle in the first innings of the second Test.

Marcus Trescothick: Hardly the greatest of tours for Trescothick, who struggled in the one-day series and scored the bulk of his Test runs in Wellington in the second Test as England set their target before trying to bowl New Zealand out. He should have had a century but in a fashion that seemed to mark his tour he got himself out when the world seemed to be his oyster.

Michael Vaughan: If there was one player who looked set to have a dominant hand in the series it was Vaughan. He showed in his one-day half century in Auckland, his only match of that series, and with his big century against Canterbury, that he had all the potential. But the decision to have him open the innings instead of batting in the middle order effectively denied England another big scorer in the middle-order. Why do England sides make these sorts of decisions?

Mark Butcher: Is there a player in Test cricket with the skills that Butcher has but who wantonly wastes them so much? The feeling persists at the end of this tour that Butcher could have given much more to the side and when he gains a measure of control over his own impetuosity he will be a much more assured performer. He's too easy to get out at the moment.

Graham Thorpe: The same can't be said of Thorpe. He is the most complete batsman England have in One-Day Internationals and Tests and his is the wicket that is valued most. A fine double century in Christchurch and if Hussain, Thorpe and Vaughan ever bat in that order in a Test for England when on top of their form, there should be fireworks. Also capable of taking some stunning slips catches, and none better than the third Test effort to get Astle.

Mark Ramprakash: When Ramprakash limped from the field at Eden Park having had to use a runner, did he limp out of international cricket? A great talent he didn't fire a shot all tour and looked completely out of sorts. A shame because the ability is clearly there but how long can England afford to wait? He should have been required to open to allow Vaughan a middle-order place.

Andrew Flintoff: A maiden Test century in Christchurch, Flintoff is on target for a key role as an all-rounder of influence in England's side but consistency will be the requirement for him in both batting and bowling. Few players hit the ball harder when on song. His bowling was useful without being earth-shattering, and has plenty of area to develop this part of his game.

James Foster: Quite obviously a player for the future. Still learning the wicket-keeping craft but a willing apprentice who, if persevered with, could be around for a long time. And as his confidence grows look for a correct and hard-to-move batsman to emerge. A big summer lies ahead for him and if he comes through it then the position should be his.

Ashley Giles: Portable wickets, and careful use of a fragile Daniel Vettori, meant no real comparison between the two was achieved in the series. Giles is an undoubted asset for England, and he likes to smite the ball when he can, but whether he has the guile to take apart an Australian batting line-up has to be doubted, at this stage at least. A lengthy career beckons.

Andy Caddick: Fired up with whatever motivation took his fancy at various stages of the tour, Caddick was the key man in the England attack as seen from his 19 wickets. His use of height on the bouncier New Zealand pitches was ideal and he was the king pin for Hussain. When he couldn't get among the wickets, England's effectiveness was drastically reduced. Now has a secure place in history with his 200 wickets, with more still to come. May not have much of a future in ODIs however.

Matthew Hoggard: Probably the biggest find for England on tour. While his potential was known, he produced results, and his bowling in Christchurch in the first Test to take seven for 63 was his high point of the tour. A typical English fast-medium journeyman, he will have benefited significantly from the tour.

NEW ZEALAND

Stephen Fleming: Had a series to forget with the bat. Has developed a bad habit of falling away to the off in making his shots and it is exposing him to even more ways of getting out as seen by his second innings dismissal in Auckland. To score only 76 runs in a series he wanted to win must be especially frustrating to the New Zealand captain. The dropped catch off Hussain at Christchurch really summed up his series, from all aspects. It is safe to assume he would have much preferred that wicket, than his 100th Test catch achieved during the series.

Mark Richardson: With an average of just under 29 for the series, Richardson would not have been happy. He expects more of himself and worked very hard in the nets to get into the right batting groove. Did a fine job in Auckland in getting the second innings off to a good start, just as he did with his second innings 76 in Christchurch which set up the Astle run fest which followed.

Matt Horne: Had good reason to feel hard done by with his non-selection for the last Test. His grinding second innings in the second Test helped New Zealand save the match and offered him the chance to get back into the scoring groove that had eluded him. His call-up for the Test and one-day tours to Sharjah and Pakistan makes it even harder to understand why he wasn't persevered with for the last Test.

Lou Vincent: The medical industry did well out of Vincent this series. Heart surgery days before the first Test and a blow to his chest which ruptured an airway in the third. In between there was more of the inconsistency that is part of Vincent's game. However, half centuries in each innings in Wellington were invaluable and demonstrations of his worth in the No 3 position. He should not become New Zealand's stop-gap opener, he deserves to carve his own niche.

Nathan Astle: It has been Astle's summer in more ways than one. His 222 at Christchurch will live long in Kiwi cricket folklore and thanks to the availability of videotape be with us forever. But there were also his innings in the first and fifth ODIs, the latter a superb century to win the series, and his batting on the fourth evening in Auckland to set up a chance for a series-saving draw. To cap it, there was his superb 19 over bowling spell that produced the dismissal of Butcher that provided the breakthrough in England's innings which the rest of the attack poured through. Quite clearly the player of the series.

Craig McMillan: McMillan didn't seem to play a particularly leading part in the series, but he ended with an average of 53.25. His highest score was the 50 not out he scored in the gloom of Eden Park on the fourth night of the third Test. But it was consistency that marked his batting, even if it was below the dominating level he is capable of.

Chris Cairns: A dynamic first over to open the series with the wickets of Trescothick and Butcher, and a cameo innings while Astle was blasting on the last afternoon at the same time as suffering another knee injury meant New Zealand had to make do without Cairns again. Played some key hands in the one-day series, but a minimal influence compared with what had been expected of him.

Adam Parore: This wasn't one of Parore's great series. Clearly, as he said after the last Test, he had been pre-occupied with his decision to retire and also achieving his goal of 200 wicket-keeping dismissals. His wicket-keeping did drop below his usual standard, but in opening New Zealand's second innings in the win over England at Eden Park, he provided an example of just what a dedicated batting technician he could be when required. Parore will be missed.

Daniel Vettori: It wasn't the most arduous of Test series for Vettori with only 82 overs bowled, especially the last Test in which he bowled only two overs. But the hope has to be that his back allows him to play a full part in New Zealand's Test and one-day future. He has so much to offer. Only five wickets is a low return by his standards but representative of how few overs he bowled. Portable wickets have done nothing to help spin bowlers.

Chris Drum: New Zealand's top wicket-taker in the series, Drum stunned by announcing his retirement during the final Test at a stage when he could have expected a lengthy involvement with the national side. He was starting to shape as considerable influence over the next five years but has departed when only starting the upward climb rather than the downward spiral. His ultimate worth will never be known, but it is fair to suspect it could have been significant.

Ian Butler: Pulled in from nowhere, Butler responded well under pressure and while still very much an apprentice, has nine relatively cheap wickets to his record with a hint of many more to come. With good pace which will only increase with experience and strength, and the prospect of a lot of work in tandem with Bond and Daryl Tuffey, New Zealand has the potential to develop a much more formidable pace attack.

Chris Martin: It has to be wondered if Martin was really ready for a Test recall. He looked to be well short of a bowler in the peak of condition when playing in the second Test. Still has a role to play in the side but much more consistency will be required of him to get in front of other claimants for Test positions.

Andre Adams: It surprised no-one that Adams took to Test cricket so emphatically. He fits the New Zealand scheme of things and looks to be an ideal source of batting histrionics, when the occasion suits in the future. He is also a belligerent bowler and he is entitled to long feel proud of his dismissal of Hussain, caught and bowled, in the last Test of the summer.

Daryl Tuffey: When Sir Richard Hadlee says he likes to have rejected players come back and kick the selectors in the pants, there is no better exponent of the drop-kick than Tuffey. Nine wickets at 12.88 in the third Test was a match-winning effort. Big-hearted bowling during the one-day series, and this effort, should see Tuffey elbowing his way through the ruck to more prominence in the future.

Chris Harris: No-one with New Zealand cricket's interests at heart would have denied Harris his place in the third Test side. He had done everything required of him and he produced the goods with the bat in both innings. Now the selectors have a quandary, although runs aplenty in the games ahead would greatly help Harris' cause for selection as a batsman who happens to also be a handy bowler.

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