Wednesday, March 12, 2008

New Zealand bowlers take control

Jacob Oram's remarkable spell after lunch completely redressed the balance...

Having dominated the morning session, England lost a flurry of five wickets between lunch and tea as New Zealand fought back brilliantly on the first day of the second Test in Wellington. At lunch, England were 79 for 0 and the failings of their batsmen in Hamilton looked to be a distant memory. But Jacob Oram produced a miserly, attacking spell of 2 for 6 from nine overs straight after lunch to completely redress the balance and leave England fighting to stay alive.

The switch in momentum was as dramatic as it was surprising. Whereas Michael Vaughan and Alastair Cook put on 79 before lunch at a decent rate of 2.92 an over, England imploded after the interval - though it took a magic ball from Oram to dislodge Vaughan. Two deliveries after lunch Oram angled one into him, the ball cutting away slightly from Vaughan's forward push and it brushed the top of his off stump - an 80mph legbreak. Oram's dramatic impact was all the more surprising given his solid if unspectacular performance in Hamilton (2 for 25 from 29), yet England were prepared to treat him with rather more respect than perhaps he deserved. Admittedly his length was nagging, but by no means was he as unplayable as the strokelessness of England suggested.

Soon after, Cook - having stroked his way to 44 to become the youngest England batsman to pass 2000 Test runs - fished at a teaser from Oram outside his off stump to hand Brendon McCullum a simple chance. It was a loose, nervous stroke - waftily poking away from his body - and left England with Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen at the crease, neither of whom were in decent form.

Oram was well supported by Kyle Mills who, though he lacked the incisiveness of his fine spell in Hamilton, had the gumption to pitch the ball up more often than not. Inevitably it produced the odd boundary - Strauss rolled back the years with a beautiful drive straight back past him - but Mills got his man with a perfect slower ball that utterly foxed Strauss into loosely looping one to point. England had slipped to 94 for 3 and, with it, totally lost the momentum.

It was Ian Bell's awful, nervous hook which summed England's modus operandi perfectly. In he marched to face Mills who dropped in a bouncer, and Bell hooked it from outside the off stump to top edge it just short of Mark Gillespie, who made his return to the New Zealand side, at fine leg. Had a more agile fielder been stationed there, England would have rightly slipped to four down. Bell was dropped by McCullum in the next over off Oram - a tricky chance diving to his right - and though he creamed Chris Martin for the most textbook of fours as tea neared, a feeble push ended his innings on 11 to leave England in serious trouble.

The one man who continues to threaten - even when he's not in prime form - is Pietersen. He scratched around against Martin and Mills early in his innings but, with the flurry of wickets at the other end, the occasional nudge through the covers and whip through midwicket kept his score ticking over. When he slapped Gillespie past mid-on for four, there was a sense the Pietersen of old might be returning, but it wasn't to be. Gillespie - like Oram two hours previously - produced a corker which cut back on Pietersen, to bowl him through the gate for 31.

England have rung the changes for this game, dropping Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard, and at lunch they appeared to have quelled the demons of Hamilton. How quickly fortunes can change. In two hours, New Zealand have shown the benefit of a disciplined line and length to pray on the insecurities and technical frailties of England's top-order, and it has paid dividends.

England 1 Alastair Cook, 2 Michael Vaughan (capt), 3 Andrew Strauss, 4 Kevin Pietersen, 5 Ian Bell, 6 Paul Collingwood, 7 Tim Ambrose (wk), 8 Stuart Broad, 9 Ryan Sidebottom, 10 James Anderson, 11 Monty Panesar.

New Zealand 1 Jamie How, 2 Matthew Bell, 3 Stephen Fleming, 4 Ross Taylor, 5 Mathew Sinclair, 6 Jacob Oram, 7 Brendon McCullum (wk), 8 Daniel Vettori (capt), 9 Mark Gillespie, 10 Kyle Mills, 11 Chris Martin.

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