Injuries mar England

The selectors have picked seven wicket-keepers in next to no time and, without Giles to offer advice, Vaughan seems a lesser captain. Pietersen averages 50 still but — for all he has scored two of the four England centuries in a streak of seven Tests without a victory — he looks vulnerable, more promise than fulfilment. By Ted Corbett.

On that September evening in 2005 when we walked away from the Oval, every Englishman a proud holder of the Ashes, we had a dream. And why not?

We had defeated the old enemy for the first time in 16 years and the future was surrounded by a rosy glow which was not only the by-product of an over-indulgence in champagne.

England had the batsmen — Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen — to make any number you cared to imagine. They had the fast bowlers — Steve Harmison, Andrew Flintoff, Matthew Hoggard and Simon Jones — to blow away the best and a brain box — Ashley Giles — to control the run rate.

Geoff Boycott kept repeating that Vaughan was the best captain in the world, England were second in the world rankings and climbing; and if Geraint Jones was a dodgy wicket-keeper, surely the selectors would replace him soon.

So what went so badly wrong in the last three years that England can go to New Zealand and, on a pitch built for a draw, lose match, face and dignity?

“Circumstances, dear boy, circumstances” was one Prime Minister’s explanation for disaster and there have been plenty of those. Trescothick and Giles gone, injured in the mind and the hip respectively; Jones so shattered by his knee problems that Glamorgan have been glad to see him go to Worcestershire where he will find barely one ball a season will behave as a fast delivery should; and Flintoff gone in the ankle which will certainly not stand much more pounding from that 16 st. body mass.

The selectors have picked seven wicket-keepers in next to no time and, without Giles to offer advice, Vaughan seems a lesser captain. Pietersen averages 50 still but — for all he has scored two of the four England centuries in a streak of seven Tests without a victory — he looks vulnerable, more promise than fulfilment.

The new Don Bradman he is not and sometimes he is so much at sea that there is a temptation to run into the middle and offer him a sextant and a compass.

During the game on the pleasant parkland of Hamilton, it became clear that Harmison was coming to the end of his own era. Once he frightened batsmen; no more. One Kiwi youngster confessed he could not understand what effect Harmison was trying to obtain while the bowler admitted that his mind was elsewhere as he ran in to bowl.

He gave an interview in mid-match in which he said he loved his family first and then that he wanted to play for England most. He is that rarity, a confused, not to say bewildered fast bowler.

I try not to remind you of a forecast of one who knows him well. “He will be back as captain of Ashington before he is 30,” was the now almost fulfilled prophesy. Ashington is a small village on the outskirts of Newcastle and they are due for a stronger bowling line-up sometime soon.

My pals in the game have always been predatory fast bowlers — Trueman, Hadlee, Lillee, Holding, Roberts — all single-minded, ruthless men without a doubt in their minds, who could conquer snobbery (in Trueman’s case), severe injury (Lillee) and a body that by the time he was retiring refused to let Hadlee get out of bed unaided.

I have never met one with a frozen mind. I will not try to offer a reading of the Harmison mind but somewhere in his background there must be a notion that an Englishman abroad was admitting failure.

My grandfather was such a man. He rose to the top as a Baptist Church minister and was offered a living in Jamaica but turned it down “because no Englishman wants to admit he had to go abroad to earn his living.” He was a Yorkshireman, of course.

Harmison comes from a similar persuasion. Perhaps Trescothick does too. Maybe that half grin on the face of Vaughan — in the manner of George Bush — is not just contentment at a fortune but a refusal to confess that anything in his life is wrong. He has a £1m house near Manchester, a holiday home in Barbados and all the other trappings of 21st century success.

No need to earn his living abroad then even if, as is forecast, he is living out his last days as England captain.

The biggest error made by the England management after the match was one that a history lesson would have told them to forget.

When they arrived in Wellington they announced that there would be “optional” nets — big mistake.

David Gower made the same decision after finding a series of poor practice strips in West Indies in 1986. The noise created by that ruling was deafening. I know; I was in the Caribbean but I could hear the shouts all the way from the rural shires of Olde England.

Not surprisingly Gower lost his job the following summer on the pretext that he had been defeated by India.

Nothing of the sort. It was the optional nets phrase that rankled. “The chaps at the golf club were scornful,” Peter May, chairman of the selectors, told me. Well, no wonder there had to be a change of leadership.

The modern England cricketer is handsomely paid. It has been worked out that not only does every Harmison wicket cost £10,000 but that every over in the last year has come at £1,000.

Nothing, of course, compared with the riches on offer to Premier League footballers or cricketers willing to plunge into the Twenty20 leagues.

The whole of the match at Hamilton was played against the background of those leagues in India. Where that scenario will play out no-one can be sure but the men behind this new format became rich because they knew the value of a dollar.

So they will not contemplate failure — any more than Kerry Packer backed off as soon as official MCC cricket said “boo” — and it is more likely they will finish richer still.

One other group of cricket enthusiasts know the value of a pound and they are the English fans without whom the crowds at Hamilton would have looked pathetic.

I know many of these guys and realise that they make these huge trips as a holiday without any expectation that England will win.

They enjoy their cricket, they are as generous with their applause for the opposition as they are for their own side, but they will eventually grow tired of applauding good shots by Stephen Fleming and Rod Taylor of wickets by Daniel Vettori and be left with only the magnificent catches from Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood to bring them to their feet.

Besides, even though the England players — led by Pietersen — have scoffed at the idea of joining the Twenty20 circus they may not continue to turn down £1m if repeated failures change them from dream makers into nightmare figures.

THE SCORES

First Test, New Zealand v England, Hamilton, March 5-9. New Zealand won by 189 runs.

New Zealand — 1st innings: J. How c Collingwood b Panesar 92; M. Bell c Cook b Harmison 19; S. Fleming c Cook b Sidebottom 41; M. Sinclair c & b Collingwood 8; L. Taylor c & b Pietersen 120; J. Oram c Cook b Hoggard 10; B. McCullum c Ambrose b Sidebottom 51; D. Vettori c Strauss b Collingwood 88; K. Mills (not out) 25; J. Patel c Strauss b Sidebottom 5; C. Martin b Sidebottom 0; Extras (b-1, lb-6, w-1, nb-3) 11. Total: 470.

Fall of wickets: 1-44, 2-108, 3-129, 4-176, 5-191, 6-277, 7-425, 8-451, 9-470.

England bowling: Sidebottom 34.3-8-90-4; Hoggard 26-2-122-1; Harmison 23-3-97-1; Panesar 37-10-101-1; Collingwood 15-2-42-2; Pietersen 3-1-11-1.

England — 1st innings: A. Cook c (sub) b Martin 38; M. Vaughan c McCullum b Patel 63; M. Hoggard c Fleming b Martin 2; A. Strauss b Vettori 43; K. Pietersen c & b Vettori 42; I. Bell b Mills 25; P. Collingwood lbw b Oram 66; T. Ambrose c Fleming b Patel 55; R. Sidebottom (not out) 3; S. Harmison c Fleming b Patel 0; M. Panesar lbw b Mills 0; Extras (b-4, lb-1, nb-6) 11. Total: 348.

Fall of wickets: 1-84, 2-86, 3-130, 4-159, 5-203, 6-245, 7-335, 8-347, 9-347.

New Zealand bowling: Martin 32-15-60-2; Mills 21.1-6-61-2; Patel 43-14-107-3; Oram 21-9-27-1; Vettori 56-17-88-2.

New Zealand — 2nd innings: J. How c Hoggard b Sidebottom 39; M. Bell c Ambrose b Sidebottom 0; S. Fleming c Cook b Sidebottom 66; M. Sinclair c Cook b Sidebottom 2; B. McCullum c Strauss b Panesar 0; L. Taylor c & b Panesar 6; J. Oram lbw b Sidebottom 0; D. Vettori c Cook b Sidebottom 35; K. Mills lbw b Panesar 11; J. Patel (not out) 13; C. Martin (not out) 0; Extras (lb-5) 5. Total (for nine wkts., decl.) 177.

Fall of wickets: 1-1, 2-99, 3-109, 4-110, 5-115, 6-115, 7-119, 8-141, 9-173.

England bowling: Sidebottom 17-4-49-6; Hoggard 12-3-29-0; Collingwood 6-1-20-0; Harmison 4-0-24-0; Panesar 16-2-50-3.

England — 2nd innings: A. Cook c McCullum b Mills 13; M. Vaughan lbw b Mills 9; A. Strauss c McCullum b Mills 2; K. Pietersen lbw b Mills 6; I. Bell (not out) 54; P. Collingwood b Vettori 2; T. Ambrose b Martin 0; R. Sidebottom c McCullum b Martin 0; M. Hoggard c McCullum b Martin 4; S. Harmison c Fleming b Patel 1; M. Panesar c McCullum b Oram 8; Extras (b-4, nb-7) 11. Total: 110.

Fall of wickets: 1-19, 2-24, 3-25, 4-30, 5-59, 6-60, 7-60, 8-67, 9-77.

New Zealand bowling: Martin 13-4-33-3; Mills 13-4-16-4; Oram 4-2-2-1; Vettori 14-6-16-1; Patel 11-2-39-1.