Predictions go wrong

Daniel Vettori, the Kiwi skipper, walked over to Michael Vaughan and suggested that as there was no way this game could get a positive result they should take advantage of the encroaching bad light, the lack of spectators and the need to head to Manchester for the second in 72 hours and call a halt to the proceedings, writes Ted Corbett.

The New Zealand tour party arrived in this country a month ago to be greeted with the usual British suggestion that they would simply be ground into the surface of the pitches for the each of the three Tests.

No surprise there. The English have this odd idea that everything that happens in this country is the best in the world although being British we are too modest to say so. Well, most of the time anyway.

Why we believe that British police are the best when a huge proportion of crimes go unsolved has never been clear to me. It is the same with British justice. Men are frequently released from jail and given large amounts in compensation for years behind bars which is some indication that the scales of justice lack balance.

It is probably true that the English Premier League is the best in the world but that is half fuelled by foreign billionaires, the teams are filled with overseas players and when an attempt is made to put out a national side the result is a disaster, even though we pick the best coaches from Europe.

As for the cricket team we are beginning to convince ourselves that we can regain the Ashes next summer and we thought — against all the evidence — that the Kiwis, who won the first Test in their own country this spring by a wide margin, were a mere stepping stone to triumph against Australia.

Daniel Vettori was given a roasting by Mike Atherton, England captain 54 times before retiring to the television gantry and, more recently, to be cricket correspondent of ‘The Times’. He said that Vettori should not have gone to the Twenty20 stuff in India but that instead he should have been with his team when it landed.

All in the name of bonding, Atherton said: ‘It was inconceivable that a captain should behave so badly.’ Hidden message: “I would never have left my team to make a million bucks.”

Vettori’s response — I don’t know that he read the piece but you can bet your sweet life that someone pointed it out — was to take five wickets in the England innings following a dogged 48 in the Kiwi first innings.

Finally he was able to walk over to Michael Vaughan and suggest that as there was no way this game could get a positive result they should take advantage of the encroaching bad light, the lack of spectators and the need to head to Manchester for the second in 72 hours and call a halt to the proceedings.

There is no basis in the laws, rules and regulations for such an end but a surprised voice behind me got it right. “My God, commonsense at last!” he said and you had to agree it was an unusual moment.

Some minutes later it was announced that Vettori had been made Man of the Match and rightly so too.

If there had been any justice there might have been an announcement about Atherton’s steep learning curve on the way to success as a writer but he will know that few people in my trade get their forecasts right.

It is a way of the world for us to get predictions wrong; why else would we not have got the contents of our pockets on the result and gone to live on our own Caribbean island? Atherton already has a home in West Indies but more from the results of his cricket, his fame and his books than his jousts with the bookmakers.

Vettori and his team-mates headed up the M1 and the M6 to their posh hotel in central Manchester with every reason to be pleased with their performance. They owed something to the weather but on a sporting pitch they had competed with England who missed Andrew Flintoff, now unable to play for the first-half of the season and uttering a lot of “hopefullys” about his chances of getting into the Tests against South Africa.

England won the toss and put New Zealand in and clearly expected to bowl them out for a small score. Instead they collected 277 mostly because of an extra-ordinary innings from Brendon McCullum, a wicket-keeper with ambitions to be the second Adam Gilchrist.

McCullum blasted 97 off 97 balls including a six over extra cover that still had us all salivating five days later. He hit another six, straight off Monty Panesar and 15 fours that took the score from 41 for three at such a rapid rate that when Panesar bowled him the whole England side broke into a bhangra.

Ryan Sidebottom, whose sudden rise to fame may have had something to do with his off target performance, took the last four wickets — for 55 in 28.3 overs which is decent enough — and finished with six in the match. I am not suggesting his head grew in size but it must be disconcerting to suddenly find you are leading a Test attack after years of being told you were hardly good enough for a county side.

The England first innings was all about Vaughan who scored his first century in any sort of cricket for 10 months. I found it difficult to fault his performance on a pitch that the New Zealand pace bowlers used effectively and where Vettori tortured him for an hour. So England had a lead of 42 near the end of the fourth day. By that time fewer than 200 overs had been bowled instead of the required 270 and, as Vaughan rightly pointed out at the end of the match, the result might have been vastly different if the weather had not been wet and cold and dark for three days.

For the first three hours of the final day it was possible to imagine an England victory but once Jacob Oram arrived at the crease — only because McCullum was injured by a leaping ball from Stuart Broad — this massive Kiwi ensured that there was no more foolish talk of a New Zealand defeat in what was the equivalent of three days.

Oram batted for two hours as if he had been brought up in Twenty20 cricket. Sixteen fours and two sixes tell their own tale of defiance and aggression and a willingness to defy orthodoxy if the occasion demands.

I recall the shock in this country — we are the best at almost everything are we not — when the 1949 New Zealand side could not be beaten in three days by an England team containing Hutton, Washbrook, Edrich, Compton, Bailey, Evans and Bedser.

We found all those decades ago that there is a tough as teak spine under the skin of many New Zealanders; a few years later I saw them in action in Korea during that war and realised they had he-men tendencies.

So perhaps, while Flintoff is absent hurt, England ought to promise not to underestimate this sturdy breed and to give their quiet, almost shy captain a bit more respect.

The Scores

First Test, Lord’s, May 15 to 19. Match drawn.

New Zealand — 1st innings: J. M. How c Ambrose b Anderson 7; A. J. Redmond c Cook b Anderson 0; J. H. Marshall c Strauss b Broad 24; L. L. Taylor c Collingwood b Broad 19; B. B. McCullum b Panesar 97; D. R. Flynn b Anderson 9; J. P. Oram c Strauss b Sidebottom 28; D. L. Vettori b Sidebottom 48; K. D. Mills b Sidebottom 10; T. G. Southee b Sidebottom 1; C. S. Martin (not out) 0; Extras (b-16, lb-14, w-1, nb-3) 34; Total 277.

Fall of wickets: 1-2, 2-18, 3-41, 4-76, 5-104, 6-203, 7-222, 8-258, 9-260.

England bowling: Sidebottom 28.2-12-55-4; Anderson 20-5-66-3; Broad 24-4-85-2; Collingwood 3-1-11-0; Panesar 11-2-30-1.

England — 1st innings: A. J. Strauss lbw b Oram 63; A. N. Cook c McCullum b Martin 61; M. P. Vaughan c Marshall b Vettori 106; K. P. Pietersen lbw b Vettori 3; I. R. Bell c McCullum b Martin 16; P. D. Collingwood c Taylor b Vettori 6; T. R. Ambrose lbw b Vettori 0; S. J. Broad b Oram 25; R. J. Sidebottom c Taylor b Mills 16; M. S. Panesar c Flynn b Vettori 0; J. M. Anderson (not out) 0; Extras (b-3, lb-7, w-1, nb-12) 23; Total 319.

Fall of wickets: 1-121, 2-148, 3-152, 4-180, 5-208, 6-208, 7-269, 8-317, 9-318.

New Zealand bowling: Martin 32-8-76-2; Mills 22-3-60-1; Southee 16-2-59-0; Oram 19-5-45-2; Vettori 22.3-4-69-5.

New Zealand — 2nd innings: J. M. How c Cook b Broad 68; A. J. Redmond c Strauss b Anderson 17; J. H. Marshall lbw b Sidebottom 0; L. L. Taylor lbw b Panesar 20; B. B. McCullum c Ambrose b Anderson 24; D. R. Flynn (not out) 29; J. P. Oram b Sidebottom 101; D. L. Vettori (not out) 0; Extras (b 4, lb 5, nb 1) 10; Total (for six wkts.) 269.

Fall of wickets: 1-47, 2-52, 3-99, 4-115, 4-120* (McCullum, retired not out, 47.2 ov), 5-252, 6-269.

England bowling: Sidebottom 21.2-4-65-2; Anderson 19-5-64-2; Broad 17-4-54-1; Panesar 24-8-56-1; Pietersen 5-0-21-0.