March 29, 2001

Kiwi odd couple cash in as opportunity knocks

New Zealand cricket's odd couple, youthful Matthew Bell and born-again, and again, Mark Richardson scored maiden Test centuries and helped their side to a 156-run lead over Pakistan with two days of the third Test remaining.

With rain eliminating the second day of the National Bank Test, and all but 43.1 overs today, the New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming faces a tricky choice for his declaration some time today.

Richardson is still at the crease, unbeaten on 106 while there with him is Craig McMillan on seven not out elevated above Fleming in the order, presumably to give the scoring rate a nudge tomorrow morning.

New Zealand are 260/2 after the century makers, Bell and Richardson, struggled through several false starts to the day, and then had the prospect of their milestones in the backs of their minds as they worked their way through some accurate Pakistan bowling.

Bell, 24, was first to reach his mark and his achievement represented reward for hard work after an earlier taste of Test cricket went all wrong as he failed to translate his potential into runs.

But hard work in the off season brought its reward with an outstanding domestic season the prelude to his inclusion in the New Zealand side.

Richardson, 29, has come from a completely different situation, starting out in first-class cricket as a left-arm spinner. He suffered the yips and was unable to bowl with any consistency. His career was re-developed as a middle-order batsman, and then the competitiveness that had always been a hallmark of his game was manifested in his transition to an opening position.

A player who relishes the opportunity he has been provided with, he is the most dangerous of players, a batsman at home with his game, who knows no fear and sees it all as a contest between himself and the bowler.

The combination, as unlikely as it is successful, has achieved surprising harmony in an area that has been almost catastrophic since the early 1990s.

Their 181 runs today represented the fifth-highest opening partnership by a New Zealand pair. They followed: 387 by Glenn Turner and Terry Jarvis in 1971/72, 276 by Stewie Dempster and Jack Mills in 1929/30, 214 by Craig Spearman and Roger Twose in 1995/96 and 185 by John Wright and Trevor Franklin in 1990.

Apart from the maiden Test century observances, there were other significant statistics for the pair.

Bell, the captain of the Shell Trophy winning Wellington team, elevated himself to fourth highest position on the list for most runs scored in a New Zealand season when his innings ended. He has scored 1092 runs, with another potential innings should New Zealand get to bat again in the match.

But he would need a sensational innings to move higher on the list. Those above him are: Martin Crowe 1676 runs, Glenn Turner 1244 and Graeme Hick 1228 while below him are: Jeff Crowe 1063, Robert Vance 1037, Mark Richardson 1035, John Wright 1019, and Mathew Sinclair 1004.

Richardson joined the club when scoring his 71st run.

Sinclair was out after never looking entirely as convincing in the manner shown in his two innings in the previous Test in Christchurch. He had shared a 58-run stand with Richardson and had to play out some tight bowling by Pakistan.

Waqar Younis picked up Bell's wicket when getting an inswinging yorker through his defence while Fazl-e-Akbar had Sinclair out when he attempted to pull a rising ball and succeeded only in offering a mishit to mid on fieldsman Waqar.

And again Saqlain Mushtaq was most demanding constantly probing, teasing and tempting the batsmen and Richardson expressed his admiration afterwards for the threat Saqlain poses. That respect was reciprocated as Saqlain acknowledged Richardson's innings as he walked from the field.