June 29, 2002

Mark Richardson - the perfect servant for the cause

Mark Richardson's remarkable entrée into Test cricket continued on new terrain in the West Indies today with Grenada's new ground the latest to witness his ability to get out in the 90s.

Gut-wrenching as that would have been for Richardson, it is likely that he would have been more upset getting out in the immediate pre-stumps period.

That's the way Richardson operates. The runs are an adjunct to his main job of occupying the crease for as long as his fine qualities of concentration allow. If a high score results then that is the bonus.

Certainly he would have been even more upset if a couple of balls after his departure, caught on the boundary from a pull shot off left-arm pace man Pedro Collins, an edge from Nathan Astle's bat had been held by either wicket-keeper Ridley Jacobs or first slip Brian Lara, who both had chances to clasp the opportunity.

But Richardson did his job on what could have been a difficult first day for New Zealand.

He and Lou Vincent scored 61 for the first wicket, but then lost skipper Stephen Fleming for six and Chris Harris for a duck. In partnership with Astle, he added 123 for the fourth wicket.

It wasn't an easy day for scoring but after an attacking start Richardson settled into a much more defensive mode, perfect tactics under the situation. Astle too, was more defiant that attacking, until he opened up with some typical boundary pounding to race to his half century, including two lovely lofted straight sixes off leg-spinner Mahendra Nagamootoo.

Given the spin, albeit slow, that Nagamootoo gained, New Zealand will be relishing the prospect of not having to face him in the fourth innings of the match, while also appreciating that their own left-arm spinner Daniel Vettori could have a significant role to play in New Zealand ensuring a series victory.

After winning the toss the West Indies opted to try and blast their way through New Zealand in a bid to tie the series. But on today's evidence, their faith in their own attack appeared mis-guided. Either that or they still don't rate the New Zealand batting.

Certainly Vettori will be looking for a more profitable return with the ball than was the case when he was out for a duck after coming in as nightwatchman following Richardson's demise.

It was his loss which has slightly inflated the West Indian return from the day as New Zealand have Astle on 69, Craig McMillan just in, and Robbie Hart and Scott Styris especially, still to come with whatever Shane Bond and Ian Butler might also throw into the mix.

Back to Richardson. He can take much comfort from his role in providing such continuing outstanding service in what for so long had been the area of vulnerability for New Zealand.

Things are not easy for an opening batsman in the modern scheme of things. Richardson has not had the advantage of preparation in adapting to conditions that the players who have been selected for one-day series' both in Pakistan and now the West Indies have enjoyed.

In New Zealand, it is the openers who have borne the brunt of the new, and still developing, phenomenon of playing on fiery portable pitches.

Yet he soldiers on, sporting a Test average of 46.32 from his 1436 runs in 20 Tests. It says much for his own competitiveness that the challenge of taming opposing attacks is still his modus operandi.

Long may that continue and the prospect of more three-figured results would seem assured.

For New Zealand to really put the pressure on the home team, Astle and McMillan need to really set the base with a big stand on day two. Could it be that Test century No 9, and the third in the West Indies, is on the cards for Astle?

That would surely ensure the series win for the TelstraClear Black Caps.