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Michael Vaughan rated England's six-wicket win at Old Trafford as one of his best as captain, but the celebrations on the balcony could have been as much out of relief as ecstasy
May 26, 2008
"You always put it up there when you've just won the game, but it's certainly very close to being as good a win as we have had because of where we were yesterday afternoon," Vaughan said. "We had to show a lot of mental strength and that pleases me more than anything, that a young side developing showed a lot of character. We didn't just lie down, we put New Zealand on the back foot and we swayed the game in an hour's cricket to England's favour."
The resurgence was sparked by Monty Panesar's career-best 6 for 37 on the third afternoon and completed by Andrew Strauss's 106, the sweetest innings he has played since his return to the team. The pitch, which yielded 16 wickets on the third day, was far less threatening after England's use of the heavy roller and Vaughan was convinced his side could get the runs.
"We knew we were chasing the game," he said. "We had to come out and get early wickets. They got off to a decent start in the second innings, then in Monty's first three or four overs he was a little nervous and didn't get the pace right. Then we got [Aaron] Redmond and [Jamie] How out and got on a little bit of a roll. You just sensed that New Zealand would try to attack Monty, and I knew on that wicket we would create opportunities.
"It's amazing how a game can shift in terms of momentum when that happens. Chasing 294 was always going to be difficult, but for some reason, maybe the roller last night or today, we felt very comfortable getting the runs. The ball didn't seem to be doing it as fast as the first innings so we felt very comfortable."
This was indeed an impressive fightback, any time a team turns around a difference of 179 between innings has shown some real fight. Now for the reality check. This certainly doesn't mean all is right with England. A better team than New Zealand - and in the second half of the match they lived up to their lowly billing - would not have allowed England back into the match.
Having wrestled the match away from New Zealand in such a short space of time, England should now go on and wrap up the series at Trent Bridge. But they should have played far more convincing cricket than they have managed so far. The victory will earn the under-pressure middle-order a reprieve; selectors find it very hard to alter a winning side. Although even another collective failure may not have resulted in any changes given the sheltered existence they appear to live.
England's victory in Napier provided all and sundry with some breathing space, not least the batting line-up. The real danger now is that the warning signs, which flashed red in the first innings at Old Trafford after blinking orange at Lord's, are ignored again as everyone pats themselves on the back for a win.
"The wicket in the first innings was very tricky, I spent 133 balls out there for 30," Vaughan said in defence of England's 202 all out. "It was very hard to score. I think we've shown in the second innings that, under pressure, this batting unit can be successful. To have Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood hitting the winning runs should give them a massive confidence boost, because they were under a lot of pressure and know that. We don't panic, everyone talks about scoring rates, but we have won three out of the last four Tests against New Zealand and that's not a bad return."
"We are starting to show some fine traits," he added. "Napier was a fine victory because we were struggling at one stage, and here we were dead and buried yesterday afternoon. To be sat here talking about winning the game is a great achievement. But there is a lot of stuff we need to work on as well. We still need to bat a little better, bowl better and field better."
Makhaya Ntini, Dale Steyn and Morne Morkel are a formidable pace attack, the best in the world on current form. England can't afford to be carrying any passengers when the South Africa series starts in July. The selectors were bold in dropping Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard, the latter after one poor match, following Hamilton where the batsmen were ultimately to blame for the defeat. They have still to show that the same rules apply to the middle order. The pressure remains on Collingwood and Bell to score big runs, when it matters, at Trent Bridge.
Strauss, though, can be exonerated from any criticism. His fine match double continues an impressive run of form. His last four innings have been 177, 63, 60 and 106. "He's a class act and at this level you need character and mental strength," Vaughan said. "The players who last longest are the ones that have those. Andrew Strauss has those two attributes in abundance and it's no surprise at all that he has come back and played the way he has."
The back-from-brink victory reinforces Old Trafford as a stronghold for England. Panesar said after his six-wicket haul that he will be sorry not to bowl here in a Test over the next three years. Vaughan will surely be having a few regrets about not walking out against the Australians here next year. Any ground where England are able to lift themselves from the depths they sank to on the third morning, and emerge with some degree of respectability, clearly must hold some inspirational qualities.
What's wrong with their cricket? Well, what isn't?