First Cornhill Test

England v New Zealand 1999

Jim Holden

Toss: New Zealand. Test debuts: A. Habib, C. M. W. Read.

England's new captain, Nasser Hussain, said before the start of play that he expected to encounter ups and downs in the job. By the end of an extraordinary match, he had been through so many that he felt as if he had aged 20 years in the two and a half days it took to claim victory. His emotions were sent spinning every which way, but he never lost control of his thoughts or his strategies. It was an encouraging debut as leader.

Hussain's team had six changes from the final Test of the winter in Australia. With Gough injured, only Tudor survived among the bowlers, though he proved the ultimate match-winner with the bat, scoring a remarkable 99 not out, the highest innings by an England night-watchman, surpassing 98 by Harold Larwood at Sydney in 1932-33. There were debuts for Aftab Habib, the Leicestershire batsman, and for Nottinghamshire's Chris Read, aged 20 years 325 days, England's youngest wicket-keeper of the century. ( Gregory MacGregor was a day younger at the start of his first Test in 1890). Maverick bowlers Caddick and Tufnell were recalled after missing all 11 Tests of Alec Stewart's reign, and both excelled. Thorpe returned after injury, Mullally was reinstated. Of those dropped, Headley could feel most aggrieved, having taken 14 wickets in the previous two Tests.

Fleming chose to bat first on what everyone feared would be an unpredictable Edgbaston pitch. In fact, it was generous swing which troubled batsmen most, along with their own recklessness and poor shot selection. Twose, the former Warwickshire batsman who emigrated to New Zealand for the chance to play Test cricket, had a miserable return to Birmingham. He was out for a third-ball duck in the first innings and then first ball in the second. His failure set the tone as New Zealand were restricted to 226 on the opening day, Tufnell flighting the ball beautifully to take three for just 22 from 17 overs. Even that total was a bonus. Parore's 73 came after he was badly missed by Stewart in the slips on seven; Stewart completely misjudged the ball and moved the wrong way. Having been deprived of both the captaincy and the wicket-keeping gloves, it seemed he had lost his marbles as well.

Next morning, he was out third ball after one streaky single, and England collapsed to 45 for seven before lunch. Stewart's successor, Hussain, ran out Butcher and was then comprehensively bowled by Doull for ten. Introduced at the deep end, Read and Habib could be forgiven for floundering; they managed one apiece. But Caddick and Tudor struck out positively after lunch and England sneaked to 126. It was still their lowest total at home to New Zealand, and the first-innings deficit was 100.

Hussain gave a stirring speech during the interval, and the bowlers responded with fire. Caddick took five wickets to reduce New Zealand to 52 for eight after tea. Foolish batting was again a contributory factor: Astle's exit, caught behind chasing a wide ball, was inexcusable. England were back in the match, although Stewart dropped another catch at second slip to reprieve Fleming, who nursed the tail to 107. Doull flayed a defiant 46 before he was lured down the pitch by Tufnell, the stumping gratefully accepted by Read. He made six dismissals in the second innings and eight in the match; only Jack Russell and Bob Taylor had done better for England. The youngster looked a natural in his work standing back, but inexperienced standing up to Tufnell. His relish of the occasion was a good sign.

Still the second day was not finished. Stewart contrived to be the 21st victim of Frightening Friday, when the ball swung violently in the sultry atmosphere. He was out third ball again, this time for a duck, ending an unhappy game for him. But it did mean England sent out Tudor as night-watchman.

As dawn broke on the third day, England needed 205 runs with nine wickets in hand. A bright, breezy morning altered conditions, the ball hardly swung, and the target proved easy. Hussain demanded his batsmen be positive, and Tudor, who had not bowled particularly well, batted brilliantly. Anything wide he smacked fiercely through the covers, while he proved equally adept at sweetly timed leg-side boundaries off his feet, cruising past his career-best 56 for Surrey. The moment was spoiled only by Thorpe, who failed to pick up the mood of an estatic crowd willing Tudor to a century, and was jeered.With the scores level, Tudor needed five to reach his hundred; a six was asking too much and he could only manage a top-edged four, his 21st, to finish one short.

Nevertheless, his inspirational effort was the pick-me-up English cricket required after their failure in the World Cup a few weeks earlier. It was not a great match, but the excitement and entertainment value were genuine enough. Never mind the quality, feel the pleasure of victory: Hussain had ended the curse of the captain. Since Bob Willis beat India in 1982, his eight successors had all lost their first match in charge. However, few saw it. Crowds were poor and, under the new TV contract, this match was shown live only on Sky, which is in less than a sixth of Britain's homes.

© John Wisden & Co