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Cricket: NZ batsmen fail again, England in control

Stumps day three - England 116/1 - lead by 296
New Zealand's batting is sometimes like watching the opening credits to the cartoon Danger Mouse. A fuse is lit on a big black bomb which, at some point, you know is going to explode.

That's how it felt watching the visitors' deceptive 174 on the third day of the second test at Headingley. The innings was a caricature of test match batting which wrapped up in 43.4 overs and lasted three hours 31 minutes.


Strangely, England opted not to enforce the follow-on with a lead of 180 (follow-ons are 150 runs for four-day matches). Some pundits suggested it might be a way to get extra batting practice ahead of the Ashes. New Zealand risk becoming what they feared... an entrée.

England is 116 for one, a lead of 296, with captain Alastair Cook 88 and Jonathan Trott 11.

The visitors' first innings looked better than it was due to one of test cricket's more unusual scorecards.

Two half-century partnerships for the first and 10th wickets book-ended a batting black hole where eight wickets fell for 60 runs. The order of top scorers read Peter Fulton 28, Hamish Rutherford 27, Neil Wagner 27 and Trent Boult 24 not out.

A cricket writer's place is not to issue coaching clinics about why the team went wrong. That is for experts who have played at test level. However, you hardly need a Hubble telescope to see few of the lessons supposedly identified from the Lord's 68 capitulation were applied.

To put it in a factual context, New Zealand have scored 449 runs and lost 30 wickets this series. Partnerships have lasted a shade under 15 runs per wicket.

It was a touch disconcerting to see balls disappearing into the stands or wafted into the vacant outfield at pre-test training. More defence would have been reassuring but captain Brendon McCullum believed their first test "hour of madness" was a blip given the consistency demonstrated in 18 previous days of test cricket against England.

Fortune did not favour New Zealand at times. England captain Alastair Cook's decision - via Stuart Broad - to review a Tim Southee lbw was an example. To give it not out was hardly an umpire howler but England took a lucky dip and won. The ball was judged to have hit pad momentarily before bat as it squirted to mid-on.

In contrast to Lord's, the visitors were more troubled by bounce and spin than swing.
Ross Taylor played-on to a tricky ball jagging back from Steve Finn but most other dismissals seemed avoidable for test-quality players. Finn nipped the ball back regularly towards right-handers. He relied on awkward bounce rather than outswing.

Graeme Swann finished with the best figures of four for 42. He justifiably whooped when, bowling to Martin Guptill and Dean Brownlie, he spun deliveries through holes the size of a cat-flap between bat and pad.

Earlier, Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford produced their third 50-plus partnership of the five tests between New Zealand and England since March. It brought the visitors back into the test in perfect batting conditions.

The 55 runs included a couple of dicey moments, but the odd French cut can always be excused in a solid opening stand.

For an older generation the 10th wicket stand of Wagner and Boult might've briefly rekindled visions of Brian Hastings and Richard Collinge making 151 against Pakistan in 1972-73 but such a flicker was soon snuffed.

Compounding the disappointment was the fact New Zealand suffered a minimum of collateral damage dismissing England for 354, five overs into the day. They conceded just 17 further runs.

Trent Boult was rejuvenated with the second new ball on his way to a second test five-wicket bag. He finished with five for 57 from 22 overs, taking all of them for 24 runs from his last seven overs.

The New Zealand bowlers were forced to lay out their markers before giving any serious thought to reclining in their lazyboys. Boult left the field with a side injury after two overs. It's uncertain whether he'll take any further part in the match.

Perhaps most humbling was observing Headingley's western stand more captivated by building a snake of beer cups in the final session than watching England extend their lead. Victory or even a draw looks distant from here for New Zealand - ominous forecasts excepted - although successful fourth innings totals of 315 (England v Australia, 2001) and 404 (Australia v England, 1948) have been achieved.

In 1983, when New Zealand won their first test in England at Headingley, Jeremy Coney offered the following quote after hitting the winning runs: "The main feeling was thinking of all the New Zealand players who have been coming here for 52 years, better players than myself, and making sure that their sweat and effort had not been in vain."

It'll be extraordinary if a similar line is used 30 years later.

NZ innings

- NZ Herald

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