Duck King's last stand drives England batty

 

WHEN the dust settled on one of the most valiant and extraordinary escapes in Test history, the fact remained that England have now drawn six, and lost two, of their last eight Tests. Their last win overseas was in Adelaide at the end of January 1995. After 38 Tests as captain, Michael Atherton is still looking for his ninth victory.

But in New Zealand, the talk was of a more positive set of statistics, those belonging to Danny Morrison, who markets duck whistles as a commercial spin off of his record of making a world record 24 Test ducks, and the century-maker Nathan Astle. Their last-wicket partnership of 106 was a record in Tests between the countries and was made possible by Morrison's defiance.

It lasted two hours 45 minutes and 133 deliveries, and took New Zealand from 142 for nine to 248 when, with England's cause hopeless, Atherton called it a long day at five o'clock with half an hour's play remaining.

While New Zealand's captain Lee Germ on said he was reluctant to comment on England's use of their attack, Morrison, a former Lancashire colleague of Atherton blamed the bowlers.

"I think they bowled a bit short to me, instead of trying to get me out by getting me driving at the ball. Instead of bowling a length to me, they peppered me with short ones on a very slow wicket. And I was surprised when they took the new ball."

Morrison, 30, added: "My batting is a bit of a joke and has deteriorated since I left high school and I became known as a little prick who could run in and bowl fast. But I did bat for four hours and 10 minutes to score 25 and bore the tits off Pakistan in Faisalabad a few years ago.

When the match was all over, the air in the interview room was heavy with anti-climax. One could almost hear the sniggers in Bulawayo as reporters placed their cassette recorders on the table, filing silently past Atherton's grey features as if he were lying in state. While this was going on, something remarkable happened.

David Lloyd, the England coach and infamous dispenser of gibberish during the tour of Zimbabwe, sat down, felt his collar almost effetely, dredged up a watery smile and proceeded to be the epitome of generosity, sportsmanship and soft-spoken diplomacy. Not once did he say "we flippin' murdered them."

Lloyd, whose maladroitness in Zimbabwe was so profound that one suspected it must have been a relative of his who managed Douglas Jardine's visit to Australia in 1932-33. He said, instead: "This was an epic day, a classic day's Test cricket.

"We got ourselves into a terrific position, hoped to get two or three wickets in the morning and got five. A couple of things went our way and we got lucky. This afternoon New Zealand applied themselves exceptionally well. We tried everything. But it was a terrific effort from their last batsmen and a terrific effort from our lads. We have every confidence in ourselves to start winning; it's just getting over that last hurdle." He has obviously been got at by Lord's.

After that, wearing an expression of patient sadness, he walked off with something approaching serenity, probably to tear out his thinning hair in private.

His lectern lesson was followed by Atherton's explanation. "We had a great opportunity to win and we didn't take it. We missed some opportunities in the game. On the first morning, I felt we played as poorly as I can remember. We also dropped a crucial catch on the first evening (Darren Gough missed Chris Cairns) and those chances cost us dear.

"Today, we had a good morning, but we couldn't quite finish it off. It's disappointing and frustrating. Twice in three Tests we have seen the winning post and not crossed it. When we came here we won two provincial games, knocking sides over and taking our catches. But we've come into a Test match and not done that. Astle played very well. I saw Morrison at Palmerston North and he was very much block-slog. I had three or four men round the bat and two or three out for his hoik to leg."

Germon added: "I thought Morrison took the strike away from Astle particularly well. The two guys showed the character that the other nine should have. I was doing my sums all the time and even when England required 17 runs an over, I didn't think the match was over.

New Zealand's Australian coach Steve Rixon said: "There was not a lot I could say when we were eight down at lunch. I was resigned to defeat. We have taken more from this draw than England, who have now played three Tests this winter without a win. We have come out of it strong and are looking forward to Wellington."