Kiwis blown away

Monty Panesar is on cloud nine after nailing Jamie How.-AP

Much of the cricket was magnificent, technically sound as well as exciting as England claimed its finest victory since that Botham-inspired win over Australia at Headingley in 1981 by making its fifth highest fourth innings total to triumph, writes Ted Corbett.

However beautifully Daniel Vettori and Monty Panesar bowled, however thrilling Ross Taylor’s shots; we all loved the calm batting of Michael Vaughan and the return to form of Andrew Strauss; but the main memory of the second Test at Old Trafford will always be the wind.

In Deansgate, one of Manchester’s main thoroughfares, the advertising mobiles, specially weighted to keep them stationary, were being blown around as if they were matchsticks in a high sea. Helmets behind the wicketkeeper fell with every gust, flag ropes banged against their poles, the Bridgewater Canal, a famous local landmark, looked like the Atlantic. Even the corridors high in the Press Box felt the gale.

“It’s worse than Wellington,” Iain O’Brien, the fast bowler who has played all his cricket in the most windy of New Zealand cities, said. Just to emphasise the point he huddled even deeper inside his fleece.

Bowlers were moved sideways so that they had to pull out of their run-ups, umpires’ coats flapped, immaculate TV presenters had their expensive hair-dos and their tailored suits ruffled in a most unseemly manner, the ball swirled away from catchers, leaving them grasping foolishly at fresh air, and batsmen queued to describe how they felt as if they were tottering along on high heels.

The weather forecasters called it “a fresh gale” gusting up to 45 miles an hour. The cricketers’ words for it were unprintable as it dried the last drop of moisture from the pitch, broadened its cracks and left it unreliable.

Yet, much of the cricket was magnificent, technically sound as well as exciting. England claimed their finest victory since that Botham-inspired win over Australia at Headingley in 1981 by making their fifth highest fourth innings total to triumph.

The tall and lean O’Brien bowled better than any man is entitled to after a chequered career that has brought him just seven Tests in his 31 years. The two left-arm spinners gave, in their own contrasting ways, exhibitions of the highest order. Vettori was a classical example of control with a cleverly disguised arm ball. Panesar was a classic example of a bowler out of control, with no attempt to disguise the fact that he thought he should have a wicket every ball.

Andrew Strauss... a timely hundred.-AP

Taylor, barely disguising his one-day method under a white Test shirt, played an innings that might have been close to record speeds if he had not lost the strike in the 90s.

England saved their reputations by winning after New Zealand lost their foothold on a slippery slope during the third day. Not just their own reputations but those of the selectors.

This freak weather should have persuaded Geoff Miller, the national selector, that it was a one-off and not one on which form and performance should be judged. But if selectors have a fault it is that they will pick and choose.

England selectors have only four times chosen the same personnel for four successive Tests as they did here. They live by Peter May’s motto. “I could not be too drastic, could I?” he intoned after dropping seven of the men bowled out for a total of less than 100 by Malcolm Marshall, just about the best paceman who ever lived.

For the first three days of this gale-hit Test England received nothing but criticism, much of it deserved. The critics claimed they allowed New Zealand — and Taylor in particular — to score too many runs, too quickly. They were bowled out for too few, they were in danger of losing all hope of a solid team — with the recovering Andrew Flintoff and Simon Jones still to find a place — gone long before the Ashes were up for grabs again.

Yet, when Paul Collingwood, a struggler who is out of form and luck, hit the winning runs to complete the six-wicket victory off the last ball before tea on the fourth day, you had to take your hat off to this team who struggle magnificently in adverse conditions.

“It is a sign of an emerging team that they recover from their mistakes,” said Vaughan and if that is true, and Miller hesitates before he tinkers, there may be a great side in the offing.

They began badly, losing the toss and allowing Jamie How, Taylor, Jacob Oram and Kyle Mills to hit important runs. James Anderson, who has been described as a fast bowler who does not run hot and cold, but who runs hot and cold and cold and cold and cold, finished with four for 118 runs but off only 21 overs.

He hit the headlines as heavily as he hit the newcomer Daniel Flynn in the mouth, left him sick and dizzy and needing the help of a specialist and eventually confined to his hotel room for the rest of the match.

This blow was evidence of a tougher attitude among the England players — they also went Australian fashion for short singles as they sought out victory on the final day — but it does not make up for inaccurate bowling of the type Anderson delivered.

Alistair Cook went early but Strauss began to show signs of his old form — the experts can point out his faults, I will point to his scores — and with Vaughan, who never seems to be out of sorts even if he sometimes gets out for small scores, gave England a start.

Once Vaughan went there was a collapse even if the youthful, athletic, keen Stuart Broad made an important 30. He and Anderson will give way if Flintoff and Jones return but the selectors will have to wonder if in their present state either of those two Ashes winners will score as many as Broad.

He bowls fast and bats fluently as if he had inherited his father Chris’s knowledge and experience as well as his genes. One day he will be a remarkable all-rounder. But for him England would have been in a sorry state. Vettori was convinced his side had the match won and told his team in a pitch side huddle that they had to take their time and ensure England faced a target of 450.

Daniel Vettori’s superb spell in the first innings went in vain in the end.-AP

They did nothing of the sort and that was down to one remarkable bowler — Monty Panesar, excitable, intense, pumped up, demanding justice, stricken when he gets no for an answer; a dancing, jubilant, laughing, babbling and bubbling, whirling spinner when it all goes right.

Six for 37 — his Test best — won the match, gave Strauss a target to chase, and rightly Panesar was Man of the Match.

It is good to see Strauss, if not at his best, if technically imperfect, if less than the guy who scored all those runs when he first arrived in the big time, back with runs to his name.

Not only can he play, but he smiles as he wins matches, laughs when the gods give him their blessing, so that the spectators can enjoy the match too.

His beaming face is just one reason why in the near future England will put the wind up most other teams around the world.

THE SCORES

Second Test, Old Trafford, May 23-26. England won by six wickets.

New Zealand — 1st innings: J. How c Ambrose b Anderson 64; A. Redmond b Sidebottom 28; J. Marshall lbw b Sidebottom 0; L. Taylor (not out) 154; B. McCullum c Collingwood b Panesar 11; D. Flynn (retd. hurt) 4; J. Oram (run out) 38; D. Vettori (run out) 1; K. Mills b Anderson 57; I. O’Brien c Bell b Anderson 5; C. Martin b Anderson 0; Extras (b-4, lb-11, w-3, nb-1) 19. Total: 381.

Fall of wickets: 1-80, 2-86, 3-102, 4-123, 4-136* (Flynn, retd. not out), 5-249, 6-250, 7-339, 8-368, 9-381.

England bowling: Sidebottom 27-6-86-2; Anderson 20.3-0-118-4; Panesar 22-1-101-1; Broad 20-3-60-0; Collingwood 1-0-1-0.

England — 1st innings: A. Strauss c McCullum b O’Brien 60’ A. Cook lbw b O’Brien 19; M. Vaughan lbw b Vettori 30; K. Pietersen c Taylor b Vettori 26; R. Sidebottom c How b Vettori 4; I. Bell c Taylor b O’Brien 8; P. Collingwood lbw b Vettori 2; T. Ambrose c Taylor b Vettori 3; S. Broad c (sub) b Mills 30; M. Panesar c McCullum b Mills 1; J. Anderson (not out) 3; Extras (b-2, lb-7, nb-7) 16. Total: 202.

Fall of wickets: 1-33, 2-111, 3-141, 4-145, 5-160, 6-164, 7-164, 8-179, 9-180.

New Zealand bowling: Martin 10-3-31-0; Mills 9.3-1-38-2; O’Brien 23-9-49-3; Vettori 31-5-66-5; Oram 8-3-5-0; Redmond 2-1-4-0.

New Zealand — 2nd innings: J. How lbw b Panesar 29; A. Redmond c Collingwood b Anderson 6; J. Marshall lbw b Panesar 28; L. Taylor lbw b Panesar 15; B. McCullum lbw b Panesar 0; D. Vettori c Broad b Panesar 4; K. Mills c Ambrose b Panesar 8; J. Oram c Ambrose b Sidebottom 7; I. O’Brien c Anderson b Sidebottom 6; C. Martin (not out) 0; D. Flynn (absent hurt); Extras (lb-11) 11. Total: 114.

Fall of wickets: 1-28, 2-50, 3-85, 4-85, 5-91, 6-91, 7-106, 8-114, 9-114.

England bowling: Sidebottom 12.2-5-26-2; Anderson 8-1-21-1; Panesar 17-5-37-6; Broad 4-0-19-0.

England — 2nd innings: A. Strauss c Taylor b O’Brien 106; A. Cook c Marshall b Vettori 28; M. Vaughan c McCullum b Martin 48; K. Pietersen (run out) 42; I. Bell (not out) 21; P. Collingwood (not out) 24; Extras (b-9, lb-10, nb-6) 25. Total (for four wkts.) 294.

Fall of wickets: 1-60, 2-150, 3-235, 4-248.

New Zealand bowling: Martin 13-1-45-1; Mills 6-0-17-0; Vettori 35-7-111-1; O’Brien 20-2-62-1; How 1-0-4-0; Oram 13-1-36-0.