Second Test Match

England v New Zealand

Mike Dickson


At Leeds, June 3, 4, 5, 6, 7. England won by nine wickets. Toss: England.

At a time when cricket's fight for wider public attention had rarely been more intense, there was no shortage of national debate surrounding this Test. It must be said, however, that the lines to radio phone-ins were not abuzz about an enthralling series, or the rise of Harmison to the world's elite, but more personal matters. Michael Vaughan's wife Nichola was due to give birth to their first child over the weekend of the match, and he announced that he would leave the field if necessary to be present.

And so was born a discussion that transcended mere sport: whether it was right for an England cricket captain to abandon his post to support his wife. It went on for two days until Vaughan ran off the field at 6.20 p.m. during Friday's elongated final session to drive to Sheffield, where Nichola had been admitted to hospital. A daughter, Tallulah Grace, arrived later in the evening, Vaughan was back on Saturday morning, and by Monday lunchtime he was also celebrating another series win to follow the Caribbean triumph.

By then, the debate had switched from the baby's arrival to excited talk about England finally moulding a Test team ready to scale the peak of the world game. Progress, Vaughan acknowledged, was being made more swiftly than was thought possible the previous summer.

England made two changes. Vaughan himself returned from injury, a straight swap for the newly retired Hussain at No. 4, leaving Strauss in place as Trescothick's opening partner; and Kent's reliable swinger Martin Saggers replaced Simon Jones, who was ordered to rest his foot to prevent a stress fracture recurring (James Anderson, the next bowler in line, had a bruised heel). New Zealand brought in Papps for McMillan, who had a broken finger. Papps himself soon had a broken knuckle courtesy of Flintoff. On a wicket whose bounce was wholly unpredictable by the end, England's fast bowlers were, literally, dangerous.

Rain allowed only 19 overs' play on Thursday, when Vaughan, unsure how the pitch would turn out, put New Zealand in under overcast skies. Saggers dismissed Richardson, so immovable at Lord's, with his first delivery. Resuming on Friday, however, in more pleasant weather, Papps proved to be Richardson's successor in a line of obdurate New Zealand openers to frustrate England, broken knuckle or not. With Fleming, who reached his 41st Test fifty and for the 35th time failed to convert it to a hundred, he put together a hard-working 169-run partnership, helped by poor catching.

There was a generally lacklustre feel to England in the field. One theory was that they were distracted by the childbirth debate, another that they missed Hussain's abrasive presence. And it was a long day - too long, according to Butcher. To make up time, 15 overs were added to each day's allotment; on Friday and Sunday, this took seven and a half hours. Still, once Papps was removed England, especially Harmison and Flintoff, showed their pleasing new tendency to rein in opposition when they threatened to run away, and a priceless ability to extract maximum bounce from the conditions.

McCullum's rearguard fifty raised New Zealand to 409, but England trumped them. Trescothick, written off as just a one-day player by Shane Warne the previous week, responded with a magnificently aggressive 132 and shared another three-figure opening stand with Strauss, who again looked amazingly assured for a novice. On Sunday morning, when the ball was doing plenty, Thorpe and Flintoff built on this foundation in a partnership of understated importance. It was arguably Flintoff's most mature England innings to date, albeit against an underpowered attack who failed to exploit the conditions.

The most eye-catching contribution, however, came from Jones, who helped Flintoff add 118 for the sixth wicket. He had struggled with his glovework, but here he showed why he had been controversially promoted over Nottinghamshire's Chris Read, a superior wicket-keeper. Ruthlessly cutting and pulling for 15 fours and a six, he hit a maiden Test hundred in only his second full first-class season - and was out next over.

Meanwhile, New Zealand's injury list mounted. Papps could not field, Vettori went off after pulling a hamstring and Oram could not bowl because of a side strain. They were forced to call on Kyle Mills, Mathew Sinclair, unfit pace bowler Shane Bond, who was about to be sent home, the injured McMillan, and Rob Nicol, an Auckland batsman who happened to be in the crowd, as substitutes.

Having expected a first-innings lead, they conceded a deficit of 117 on a wicket getting steadily worse. Their morale was sinking while England's nose for a kill grew more refined. At the close of the fourth day, New Zealand were 15 behind with five wickets down, but Monday morning was still pregnant with possibilities. Hoggard, though, removed Styris with the 12th ball of the day and the batting quickly unravelled despite some brutal hitting from Oram. Papps appeared at No. 9 and lasted three balls; Vettori could not bat at all.

Hoggard, who had been under pressure after returning only three wickets in three innings, finished with four, but the contribution of Harmison, in his first Test at Headingley, could not be exaggerated: he created pressure for all the other bowlers as well as taking seven in the match. After England had knocked off the 45 needed before lunch, Fleming gave Harmison fulsome praise and described him as "more dynamic" than Glenn McGrath.

© John Wisden & Co