February 23, 2000

Mercy for England women as tour ends

Twelve games in 28 days in two countries for one win and eleven losses. One of the most unsuccessful overseas tours by an England cricket team came to a merciful end in suitably gloomy conditions last night as New Zealand defeated their English counterparts in the fifth womens one-day international at McLean Park, Napier. England finished on the receiving end of a 5-0 whitewash by the Kiwis, to follow Australia's 4-0 clean-sweep of the series at the start of the month.

It was always going to be an awkward tour, coming as it did in the middle of the northern winter with indoor facilities the only hope for practice since the England season ended last September. But no one could have predicted just how poorly this team performed at times against the world's number one and two women's international sides.

They finished their tour yesterday with a sub-hundred total, just as they ended their Australian leg with a sub-hundred total. At least this time it was nothing approaching a 220-run loss, with runs hard to come by for both sides in conditions affected by intermittent rain.

It was a tour which saw long-standing captain Karen Smithies, who led England to World Cup victory in 1993, step down at the end of the Australian leg in favour of her deputy Clare Connor. This, however, was a move rather akin to taking a chair off the deck of the Titanic and shifting it to a downstairs cabin. The boat still sank.

The fifth and final one-day international against New Zealand was staged yesterday after a bizarre episode. Scheduled to be the first day-night women's international in New Zealand, it was bumped into second place last week when game two in Wellington was pushed back three hours because of morning rain.

Then, its status as a day-night game was thrown into doubt when one of the five banks of lighting at the ground mysteriously vanished overnight last week. The decision was eventually made to proceed with the game in day/night hours, the reduced lighting considered acceptable for play.

When it came to the day itself, rain prevented the match from starting until 5.30pm, each innings reduced to 40 overs a side. Emily Drumm won the toss for new Zealand and put England into bat. Connor, whose highest ODI score on this Antipodean tour has been 26, was out in the first over having scored just a single. Though she has found it tough, being handed the poison chalice of England captaincy mid-tour, it is hard to imagine that she won't retain the job going into the World Cup.

Only while Charlotte Edwards (25) was at the crease did England look like getting so much as three-figure total, although it did take her 38 balls to make it into double figures. Then again, batting partner Jane Cassar (6) took 22 balls to get off the mark. England lasted for 37.2 overs before being dismissed for 86 - incredibly, the only time in either Australia or New Zealand that they have failed to bat for at least 40 overs in an ODI on this tour.

Rachel Pullar claimed 4/11 from her four overs, with Haidee Tiffen 2/10 from seven. Munokoa Tunupopo, the youngest player in the history of women's oneday international cricket, took 0/24 from her eight overs. Turning sixteen today Wednesday, remember that name come World Cup time, and hopefully well beyond.

The only woman to appear in more than 100 ODI's, Debbie Hockley returned to her customary opening role as New Zealand set off to chase 87. She fell to a questionable lbw decision when on 10, stretching well forward to a ball from Lucy Pearson that appeared to be drifting down leg side. Her opening partner Paula Flannery outdid Jane Cassar in the England innings by taking 23 deliveries to get off the mark.

With the score at 29 for 1, players were forced from the field after 11.4 overs. On resumption, the target was revised to 63 from 29 overs, a simple run-rate calculation being used for revised targets in women's cricket in Australia and New Zealand instead of the Duckworth-Lewis system now universally applied in the men's game.

Things didn't go all the New Zealanders way as they completed their chase, with the loss of Emily Drumm (20), Haidee Tiffen (4), and a stoic Paula Flannery (10 from 46 balls), before Nicola Payne and Kathryn Ramel brought the game to its conclusion with 20 balls to spare. The fact that it too so long was due in no small part to Melissa Reynard (6-4-4-2) producing her best spell of the tour.

Before this tour, England would have been considered certainties for a semifinal berth in the World Cup at the end of this year, but now even that must come into question. June's home series against South Africa will probably decide the number four and number five rankings in world women's cricket - presuming that India are number three. Australia would occupy number one spot following their 3-0 victory in the Rose Bowl series over New Zealand a fortnight ago.