Cricket: Cautious Cook, rain could save NZ

By Andrew Alderson in Leeds

Two key questions remain in the second New Zealand-England cricket test at Headingley.
1. Did England bat too long before declaring?
2. How much will it rain on the final day?

The answer to the first is essentially academic. At 158 for six chasing 468 for victory, New Zealand don't even have a "Headingley 1981 Ashes" chance of winning. Resisting for a draw will also be a struggle if the weather holds for the majority of the final day.

England should win the series 1-0 or 2-0 and advance confidently towards the Ashes.

To put the prolonged declaration in context: the world record 4th innings chase is 418-7 (West Indies v Australia, 2003), the Headingley best is 404-3 (Australia v England, 1948) and New Zealand's best is 324-5 (v Pakistan, 1994).

Captain Alastair Cook has played a conservative card and was well within his power to do so. Why roll the dice 50, 64 or even 144 runs earlier and get grief if the plan failed. He has to hope when Ashes fever takes hold that he has the presence of mind to declare more pragmatically if the urn depends on it.

Every forecasted answer to the second question suggests: yes, it will rain for at least a couple of sessions. However, more rain was expected here as well as Lord's.

New Zealand could face a gripping battle to survive. New Zealand fans should set the alarm for a possible final session.

Ross Taylor was New Zealand's best batsman with 70 in 159 minutes before Graeme Swann's flight deceived him. He was bowled just 2.3 overs before bad light stopped play.

Taylor says all eyes have gone to the forecast.

"We need a bit of help. We'll have to wait and see when we pull back the curtains in the morning. Something similar to the first day [of rain] would be handy. A draw is always better than a loss but England have thoroughly dominated the game."

Nevertheless, he was surprised by England's enduring stay at the crease.

"I guess the longer they batted the more respect they showed for us. If the rain comes tomorrow we'll see whether they did the right thing."

England batsman Jonathan Trott scored 76, second to Cook's 130 in their second innings.

Understandably he was a vehement supporter of the decision.

"I thought we got it spot on, we set out to get a certain total in the time we wanted. To get six wickets also places us in a good position [to win]. When you're in that position and 1-0 up in the series you can afford to let a game take its course. I don't think you have to chase it. You don't let the weather dictate how you play.

"It's a dry pitch, and we didn't want to bat last on it. You end up making a sacrifice and getting in a hole. We wanted a big lead and knew how many overs we wanted to bowl at them."

Trott endorsed Cook's decision to use boundary riders, despite a whopping lead.
"It's not a wicket where you can force the ball to all parts. If you set defensive fields it's hard to get the ball going square at pace. I think it was actually a way of building pressure. Get them trying to push and nudge it, that's often when you end up nicking. You don't want fours because it takes away pressure."

- NZ Herald

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