March 30, 2002

England make early impact but New Zealand clawing way back

New Zealand's hopes of forcing a result in their favour in the third National Bank Series Test with England at Eden Park will depend on how many more first innings runs they can score.

With only 54 overs bowled on a rain and light-reduced first day, New Zealand are staring humiliation in the face at 151/5.

It will be up to the unlikely combination of Chris Harris, playing his first Test in three years, and as a batsman, and Adam Parore playing his last to pick up as many runs as possible whether in skirmishes while in retreat, or in glorious assault.

The former seems more likely considering the hold England's bowlers have had on the early stages of the game after being given first use of a spicy pitch and being aided by some technically poor New Zealand top-order batting.

But Harris, 55 not out out, and Parore, 19 not out, have added 65 runs for the sixth wicket and there is a hope that more will be on the way although rain around Auckland during the day, and overnight, will ensure that the spice has dropped only in quality from very hot to hot.

Captain Stephen Fleming has made an art form of toss winning in the series with three out of three and he said while today's was a difficult decision to make, it had been necessary to bat first to try and get runs on the board to put some pressure back on England.

"I don't think we are out of the game," Fleming said afterward.

His decision might have been questioned at 19/4, and he wasn't wrong, but he said if New Zealand could grind it out and get another 100 or more it would be in the game a lot longer than it had managed in the first two Tests.

"The pitch may also get a bit up and down and that would play into our favour as the game goes on," he said.

"The pitch is very similar to Christchurch and I can't see it stopping," he said.

While New Zealand had lost the early wickets, he felt they were back in the game by stumps.

What was plain however, was the top-order had their batting deficiencies exposed by the sheer professionalism of the England bowlers.

Andy Caddick was to the fore in this regard with his four wickets to break into the 200 Club, which has a membership of eight others in England. He moved the ball around off the pitch and found holes where they shouldn't exist for top-flight batsmen. He ended the day with four for 57.

Backing Caddick's efforts was the fielding, exemplified by third slip Graham Thorpe's superb take to dismiss Nathan Astle.

Much hand-wringing has accompanied the breakdown in New Zealand's bowling resources with an inordinate amount of attention being paid to the less experienced replacement bowlers being called into action.

Their lack of experience in bowling, and subsequent punishment, has camouflaged the batting problems which have hampered the side since their outstanding batting in Perth in December.

Even the 2-0 Test series win over Bangladesh was hardly the batting self-help that might normally have been expected against such lowly-rated opposition.

The single-most factor which has seen New Zealand out-played in the series has been the inability of its batsmen to score runs in their first innings.

Without those runs, the opportunity has not been there to create pressure on what has been a thoroughly professional England side.

It is significant that the first innings batting effort in Perth was the catalyst for the pressure that occurred on the Australians afterwards, just as it was the batting performance by New Zealand in Hamilton last year that put so much pressure on Pakistan.

And today's was symptomatic of batting issues surrounding the side.

Mark Richardson, bowled by a leg cutter from Caddick, for four.

Fleming, falling away to the off-side nicks the ball into his hip and it rebounds to Mark Ramprakash, for one.

Lou Vincent, played a shot too far from his body and the ball made its way through a barn door-sized gap to bowl, for 10.

Astle was probably the unluckiest of the batsmen when he had the ball take and edge and fly low to third slip where Thorpe dived to his lift and picked up a grass top catch to send Astle packing for two.

It was significant that Harris was still there at the end, on 55 after 202 minutes batting. His lunging forward defensive might be the most ungainly sight since Andrew Jones' leaping defence of the late-1980s, but at least it was effective. He played like a player who had the hunger and who wanted to be playing Test cricket.

Parore started with a hiss and a roar but soon knuckled down in support and the hope must be that they can help New Zealand gain a minimum of another 100 runs. And that's not forgetting the power of Andre Adams and ever-present promise of Daniel Vettori is in hand as well.

There is plenty of cricket left in the match but it is New Zealand who must make the running.