First Test Match

NEW ZEALAND v ENGLAND

Toss: England.

Cricket's ability to find new scripts and confound all logic was proved yet again as New Zealand's last pair, Astle and Morrison, remained undefeated for nearly three hours, thereby denying England a victory that seemed to be a certainty by lunch on the final day. Astle's reward was a third Test century, richly deserved. Morrison had to make do with 14 not out, the gratitude of his team-mates end, within the week, a few words of consolation from selectors who considered his bowling unworthy of retention for the next match.

England did themselves much credit by accepting a huge disappointment with stoicism and good grace. They played some dominating cricket which, with hindsight, could be seen as part of their rehabilitation process. But they had started the match as disastrously as they finished it. Atherton won what could have been a decisive toss but, not for the first time, saw his bowlers surrender the advantage by bowling hopelessly wide. Asked whether the green and slightly damp pitch had provided the assistance he expected, Atherton replied: "We'll never know."

With Cork recovered from a back strain, Croft was dropped and England fielded a four-pronged pace attack. Not one of them was up to standard before lunch, however, and the introduction of Tufnell's spin in the 11th over testified to Atherton's loss of faith in their accuracy. Wicket-keeper Stewart, diving right and left to intercept wayward deliveries, was in more danger than the batsmen and had a dislocated finger put back in place after one scrambling take. Mullally began to turn things round early in the afternoon, when he trapped Young, then Cork had Parore caught behind, flicking down the leg side. But the decision to field still looked like backfiring as New Zealand advanced to 193 for two.

It was just about level pegging by the close, though, with five men out. Indeed, if Gough had held a low chance at mid-off to remove Cairns, England might have been ahead on points. Cairns made them pay for that error, supplying 67 in a sixth-wicket stand of 118, and the second day belonged to his partner, Fleming. A tall, elegant left-hander, whose temperament appeared as solid as his technique, he finally reached a maiden Test century after hitting ten fifties in 22 Tests. Fleming had hit 18 fours and a six when he was last out, after six hours. His dismissal followed three quick wickets from Gough, but even so New Zealand finished on 390.

England moved rapidly to overhaul that, Knight went early, to Doull's in-swinger, but Atherton - finding form at last - and Stewart, maintaining his wonderful touch, added 105 in 28 overs before bad light ended play. Their partnership grew to 182 next day, with Stewart compiling a second consecutive Test century before Atherton drove Patel to Vaughan at short mid-on, who parried it for the bowler to complete a complex return catch. Hussain contributed only minimally, before Thorpe continued the fightback. England were past 300 by the time Stewart's splendid 173, spanning 364 minutes and including 23 fours and a six, was ended by Doull. Any lingering doubts about Stewart's ability to fill two key jobs had disappeared, along with Les Ames's name as holder of the highest Test score by an England wicket-keeper (149 at Kingston in 1929-30). Thorpe carelessly ran out Crawley before close of play and saw White removed, first ball, by Vaughan, but he kept going to reach his third Test century on the fourth morning in a stand of 114 with Cork which took England into the lead. Progress was slow but, after Thorpe went for 119, with 17 fours in 341 minutes, Cork's Test-best 59 plus a bonus last-wicket partnership of 43 between Mullally and Tufnell increased their total to 521, an advantage of 131.

Even so, a draw should have been within New Zealand's reach, they lost three wickets in 29 overs that evening and another five next morning: Parore induced panic by running out Germon and then offering a simple stumping. Doull helped Astle to avoid an innings defeat, but the afternoon session was only 37 minutes old and the home lead just 11 when he was ninth out, with his stumps uprooted by Gough's in-swinger. Enter Morrison, holder of a world record of 24 Test ducks. He was to negotiate 133 balls, exactly the same number as Astle during a remarkable stand of 106, and seldom looked like being dismissed. Atherton rotated his bowlers with increasing desperation on a pitch that suddenly seemed entirely bland, but nothing could shift the pair. After 165 minutes in tandem, Astle reached his hundred, and New Zealand's heroes left together, the draw secured.

Men of the Match: N. J. Astle and A. J. Stewart.

Close of play: First day, New Zealand 233-5 (S. P. Fleming 58*, C. L. Cairns 15*); Second day, England 123-1 (M. A. Atherton 48*, A. J. Stewart 67*); Third day, England 366-6 (G. P. Thorpe 57*, D. G. Cork 16*); Fourth day, New Zealand 56-3 (A. C. Parore 16*, L. K. Germon 4*).

© John Wisden & Co