July 20, 2002

New Zealand win tri-series in convincing style

Jeff Green

After the earlier games of this tri-nation series it appeared that New Zealand would cruise to an easy victory if only the weather gods would play fair.

And play fair they did - although the sun did not appear until a few brief spells in the afternoon it was a bright and, for Durham, an acceptably warm day. Clare Connor won the toss and asked the New Zealanders to bat, which immediately proved to be a wise decision.

Isa Guha, the 17-year-old schoolgirl whose selection attracted national attention started just about perfectly, having Nicola Payne caught from the fifth ball of the first over, bowled to perfect length and line and at a good pace.

In one respect Laura Spragg's start at the other end was even better, having the TelstraClear White Fern's 'keeper Rebecca Rolls caught by her opposite number. This was not the impressive dismissal the scorebook may imply. The ball was a dreadful loosener, a slow loopy full toss at which Rolls' eyes lit up and she essayed a tremendous slog, getting a top edge which went many a mile, straight up. Mandie Godliman was able to gently jog out onto the on-side to take the catch at around short mid-wicket.

Emily Drumm and Rolls had ample time to cross so it was the New Zealand captain who faced the rest of the over. Spragg was getting exaggerated in-swing from most deliveries and the inside edge was the most used part of Drumm's bat until Spragg sent a ball well wide of the off stump which Drumm cracked square for four.

Guha could consider herself very unlucky not to have another wicket in her second over when Kate Pulford was hit in front of middle stump by a ball that was probably missing leg stump, off stump and the bails. The appeal flustered the umpire (Elgar) into calling over though it was only the fifth ball.

Spragg continued to have problems with length and direction, Drumm being very severe when she strayed outside leg, but in between she beat both batters with late in-swing mixed with balls angled across. The English fielders appeared to be rather too deep for the pace of the pitch - singles were taken readily to the cover ring, all stationed on the edge of the circle.

Guha might well have had another wicket had gully been slightly closer, an edge from Drumm dropping inches short as the fielder came half forward.

Drumm was snared (sorry about that) by Guha when she top-edged to Claire Taylor at mid-wicket. This brought Haidee Tiffen to the crease, and scoring almost to a halt. Clare Taylor bowled an incredibly mean spell, her first four overs yielding one run.

Tiffen would have been run out without facing had an even moderately reasonable throw been made from mid-off. Tiffen and Pulford were not having an easy time either with the bowling or with the calling, singles were missed and several suicidal attempts started. At this point it looked likely that England would have an excellent chance to upset the world champions.

Guha at 17 is only allowed to bowl a maximum of six-over spells under ECB regulations so she was replaced by Newton and finally Pulford could get into her stride. Two very expensive overs undid much of the good work of Taylor and Guha.

Laura Harper's very slow off-spin re-established most of the control. Tiffen eventually decided she had to try to up the scoring rate and after some lusty blows skied a simple catch to Thompson at mid-wicket. The fielders were by now much more aggressively placed, new batsmen being greeted by three closish catchers (gully, short extra cover and short mid-wicket) and all the others within the circle.

After 30 overs, with the score on 90/4 steady drizzle brought play to a halt for just over half an hour.

Spragg returned and again started with a dreadful ball - this time it was a very wide ball almost missing the cut portion on the off-side with no chance of taking a wicket. With several scoring shots, another wide and an overthrow the over did not help England's cause. Pulford had a nervous few balls on 49 before taking what would have been a risky single had mid-off fielded cleanly.

Spragg had Fiona Fraser plumb leg-before first ball of the next over. Connor replaced Taylor, and had Pulford caught and bowled. Pulford seemed to play for non-existent turn and lobbed the easiest catch imaginable back to the bowler. A wicket maiden was the perfect start to a spell.

Spragg bowled out her tenth over and was replaced by Melissa Reynard. Aimee Mason removed her sweater and started scoring to keep her temperature up. However, when Guha returned, she picked the wrong ball to pull and hit a skier to Charlotte Edwards.

The batsmen had crossed so it was several minutes before Pullar was well stumped first ball. After Sara McGlashan was caught behind the innings ended with a rather tame run out.

A score of 161 looked to be a reasonable target for England if they could bat rather more positively than in the earlier games. If England had fielded better it would surely have been 40 or 50 fewer.

The England innings started well ahead of the run rate - the first ball was a wide and fourth ball of the innings was steered between second slip and gully for four.

Two maidens followed, with several chances for singles being missed. Connor allowed a ball from Pullar, which came in quite sharply, through a very inviting gap between bat and pads to hit the top of leg stump.

Edwards played very correctly, without ever really looking like scoring, until she was leg before wicket to Tiffen who had replaced Nicola Browne. The next few overs, and wickets, followed quite depressingly.

It seemed that the Englishwomen were not really intent on scoring, the New Zealand fielding was sharper than the English had been and there were fewer bad balls to be hit.

Only when Spragg came in and hit her first ball for four off the back foot through point did anyone seem to have any aggressive intent.

Sadly, for England hopes, it soon became clear this was the only shot she intended to play and it was never going to be the right one for every ball.

Harper and Guha played correctly enough but it was only the last wicket pair who seemed ready to score at all freely, and when Godliman was leg-before to Tiffen much the better side had won.

Early on England had made a good game of it but the TelstraClear White Ferns were too professional in all departments for England. It must be hoped that the English team can work hard on the fielding and on making the most of the opportunities they make for themselves while batting.

New Zealand too will not think that everything is well with their team after their poor start to their innings.