March 15, 2002

Thorpe and Flintoff cash in against weakened attack

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New Zealand's weary bowlers, on the receiving end of an English rewriting of the record books, could be excused if they asked Christchurch ground authorities to rename their stadium Jaded Stadium.

England set New Zealand a massive target of 550 to win the first National Bank Test after declaring their second innings closed at 468/6 with a maximum 206 overs in which to score them. The available overs now are 195.

New Zealand were 28 without loss when shadows from the new grandstand on the western side of the ground saw an early end to play. Mark Richardson was 20 not out and Matt Horne three not out.

Graham Thorpe punished New Zealand severely for dropping him off the second ball he faced, by scoring the third fastest double century in Tests, off 231 balls while Andrew Flintoff scored his maiden Test century, a magnificent effort off 114 balls, after his previous highest score had been 42.

Thorpe and Flintoff added 281 for the sixth wicket, the best by all nations against New Zealand, and did it in 215 minutes off 312 balls.

The New Zealand bowlers must have felt, when they picked up Nasser Hussain and Mark Butcher in the first half hour of the morning session, that they were in with a chance.

Had Nathan Astle held Thorpe's chance off Chris Drum's bowling, they might well have been.

Instead, they were left to toil in bowling purgatory without the experience of Chris Cairns who did not take the field having suffered a patella tendon strain yesterday.

It was a tough job for debut bowler Ian Butler who was welcomed to Test cricket by having three for 137 from 23 overs. Drum in his third Test had two for 130 off 32 overs.

Even left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori could eke nothing out of the bland portable pitch as he strove for any assistance in the air, or off the track, in taking none for 97 from his 22 overs.

Thorpe said after the game that it might take longer than a day to bowl New Zealand out because the pitch was so good now.

"There's a lot of depth in their batting, it could be hard for us.

"New Zealand are a competitive side, they will come back. The game's not over yet," Thorpe said.

His fellow century maker Flintoff said: "The wicket has got better, it is not the wicket it was on the first day."

Thorpe, who had twice been out for 138 in Tests, said it had been great to be able to get a big score.

"That's 100 each for both my children but it was very much towards the team as well because I have had bags of support.

"It was a challenging situation for us as we were 110/5 and only leading by 180.

"But the pitch has got better and it was great to have a partnership with Fred (Flintoff) and great to be involved in a big partnership," he said.

There were many good players who had never scored a double hundred and that was also a source of satisfaction, Thorpe said.

Flintoff said when he went to the wicket originally trying to avoid a pair and never dreamed that he would have 130-odd by the end of the day.

"I just went out to play with a positive attitude and to get in the right position to hit the ball in the middle of the bat," he said.

Flintoff said that he hadn't really had the chance to play a big innings earlier in the summer because he tended to be getting out in the first 10 minutes of innings'.

Batting with Thorpe was also enjoyable because Flintoff said Thorpe knew his game and kept him going.

"I'm not going to get carried away. What I want to strive for now is consistency and start scoring runs on a more regular basis.

"I was more nervous in the 40s than in the 90s and 50 was quite a landmark for me," he said.

Thorpe said the pitch demanded positive play because if batsmen nudged around on it they would get themselves out.

The pair of them had been in one-day mode at one stage and while that can go on for an hour sometimes, today it went on for three or four hours.

The pitch also helped because the ball came on well and once the moisture dried out the ball came on well. That was why the early start tomorrow at 10am was a vital period for England in their quest to win the game.

New Zealand's high fielding standards have slipped in this match with both Stephen Fleming and Astle dropping vital catches, while a missed run out chance when Richardson was unable to hit the wickets from point blank range when Mark Ramprakash was short of his ground.

However, that proved not so costly as Ramprakash was bowled soon after.

It was surprising also that Astle, having bowled so well in the first innings was used so sparingly and late in the innings.