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The second Test at Old Trafford was meant to be the moment that England started to land some heavy punches, but although they have made New Zealand stagger the knock-out blow is still missing
May 23, 2008
Before the game Michael Vaughan spoke about looking forward to the "chin music" that Old Trafford can produce. England have a history of causing opposition batsmen to duck for cover on this ground. Their most emphatic performance was against Pakistan in 2006 during a three-day victory, but the Australians weren't comfortable in 2005 either.
So what chance the New Zealanders, brought up on the low, slow pitches which characterised the recent tour? During March, the one surface that had some pace and bounce was Wellington and most of the home batsmen couldn't cope. Even taking into account their impressive performance at Lord's, expectations remained low. When Daniel Vettori decided to bat, there was an expectant buzz that England would make short work of the innings. Not for the first time, their ambitions have been thwarted by a team that refuses to buckle.
Even when James Anderson managed to fell Daniel Flynn, removing a tooth with a rapid bouncer - cricket's equivalent of the clean right hook - then struck Jacob Oram flush on the helmet in the same over, New Zealand weren't out for count and climbed back off the ropes. Flynn's tooth could be seen flying from his mouth and he was quickly whisked away for some emergency dental work. Yet he wanted to come back out and bat again on the first evening if a chance arrived.
As with Brendon McCullum's decision to return to the crease at Lord's following the blow to his arm from Stuart Broad, that mindset from Flynn speaks volumes of New Zealand's desire not to take a backward step. They know that England want to prey on any sign of a weakness and are determined not to allow them any easy pickings.
"He's okay and having a little bit of dentist work at the moment, but he's a tough little fella and he'll be right come tomorrow," said Jamie How, who made a battling 64 before falling at the start of Anderson's rapid eight-over burst. "He's missing a bit of tooth, but it'll take more than that to stop him. He's from good stocks, so he'll be back. It's never nice seeing a team-mate like that, any hit in the helmet causes concern, but it probably looks worse than what it was."
It was almost as though How was trying to sound blasé about the situation, so that England couldn't cling to the thought that they'd inflicted a permanent scar on one of New Zealand's rising talents. Vaughan has been quite happy to talk up the nature of the Old Trafford surface and England clearly don't hold New Zealand's ability against the short ball in very high regard.
"It is something we talk about, using the bouncer if the pitch is conducive. Lord's probably wasn't ideal, but this pitch has a little bit more," said Anderson. "When you hit someone on the head it generally encourages a bowler to do it again. Especially with Oram, we thought it was a bit of a weakness and you are just going to keep doing it when they play it like that."
However, for the first hour England's bowlers did little to frighten the batsmen. It was more featherweight than heavyweight. Anderson's first spell was a wayward four overs costing 23 runs, and there is a certain irony that it was him, previously the quiet quick among England's attack, who turned into a menacing fast bowler and pounded the centre of the pitch. One reading from the speed gun clocked him at 91mph, and it also showed he averaged 4mph quicker in his second spell.
"I'm trying to get them out and I thought [the bouncer] was the best way," he said. "There was blood everywhere as soon as it hit him so you could see he needed a bit of help, but it's part of the game. I went up to him as soon as it hit him and asked if he was all right and didn't get a reply. It's just one of those things, I'm trying to get him out and make it as uncomfortable as possible, but it does happen and people do get hit."
England need their attack to show controlled aggression, they are missing the obvious enforcers they had in the past such as a fit Andrew Flintoff or an in-form Steve Harmison. It has taken a while for Anderson to develop into the role, but slowly there are signs that the true fast bowler is emerging. Yet, you never quite know which Anderson will turn up. His opening burst, from his favoured Stretford End, suggested the off-colour variety that leaves Vaughan scratching his head.
Here he was, on his home ground with plenty of Lancashire faithful in the crowd to cheer him on. If this didn't get the juices flowing then nothing would. Vaughan didn't even recall him before lunch, but after the break Anderson was transformed. He had How caught behind off a perfect outswinger, before sending Flynn to the dentist's chair and striking Oram on both helmet and gloves. His second spell ended with 8-0-43-1 and as much as his early figures told the truth, these second set numbers don't do him justice.
"The Stretford End is my preferred end when I bowl here, but the wind was a bit tricky today," he said. "It's usually at my back, but it was a bit different today and it felt just as good from the other. The wind was behind me as well so I could just run in. When you are trying to be aggressive you can use that to your advantage as well. I thought we came out really strong and aggressively after lunch and I thought we were unlucky not to get a couple more wickets."
New Zealand were unsteady, in every sense of the word, when Flynn retired hurt and with Oram looking troubled by the short ball. A shudder of uncertainly could have gone through the dressing room, but instead Ross Taylor showed that he has gained a touch more selectivity after his poor match at Lord's. It was an impressive counterpunch from the visitors who live to fight another day, a touch battered and bruised, but again unbowed.
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