SPORT

Caution may be the watchword as England takes on Kiwis

LONDON, MAY 19. Just when Michael Vaughan seemed to have got to grips with his sudden elevation to the England captaincy, a freak accident has whipped the job away from him and left him out of the first Test against New Zealand at Lord's on Thursday.

Marcus Trescothick, his only rival for the leadership when he took over from Nasser Hussain a year ago, moves in as England's 75th Test captain.

Vaughan was injured stretching forward to play a very ordinary delivery from a groundstaff slow left-arm bowler during the first practice session at the Nursery End on Monday. At first he seemed to be all right but then his knee collapsed under him and by the time he had been scanned it was clear he would miss the Test. It is an odd injury both because of the tame nature of the accident and because England captains usually manage to keep fit.

Mike Atherton defied back pain throughout his tenancy, Alec Stewart was too fit to be injured often and Nasser Hussain suffered only from breaks to his needle like fingers.

Trescothick was favourite to succeed Hussain at one time but a couple of misjudgements in Australia when he led the side without any sign of flair against Australia `A' cost him points. He is the first Somerset player to lead England since the slow left-arm bowler Jack `Farmer' White in four Tests during 1928-9.

In contrast with Vaughan's ill fortune, New Zealand's skipper Stephen Fleming has sufficiently recovered from his injury to lead the side although it will be without the formidable Shane Bond, still sidelined after an operation.

The result is that both sides will probably be cautious, try to test one another's weaknesses and set up tactics for the other two Tests — back-to-back at Headingley and Trent Bridge — rather than go hard for victory at Lord's.

New Zealand has had the worst of its warm-up matches and lost to Kent last weekend. New Zealand still has an experienced side, full of fighters and are likely to stretch England in a way the West Indies could not as England powered to a 3-0 win in the Caribbean recently.

England is at a crucial moment in its development. Neither side can overtake the South Africans much less come within touching distance of the Australians but whoever wins this series will be firmly in third place and, as England follows up with what should be four easy Tests against West Indies it will threaten the top two as it begins the winter campaign.

Where that will be no one can guess at the moment as events unravel in Zimbabwe, where England is scheduled to visit. But if it heads to South Africa in mid-December with two wins against West Indies and a success against New Zealand, England may be ready for second place.

Next summer the Ashes are again up for grabs and England will go into that series thinking that, for the first time since 1989, it might regain the trophy.

Once again England will look to its solid middle order for runs. Mark Butcher is now the only possible No. 3, Hussain may be 36 but he is as defiant as ever and Graham Thorpe can claim to be one of the finest left-handers in the world at the moment although with Brian Lara and Matthew Hayden vying for the Test record score there is a lot of competition.

Geraint Jones, the new England wicketkeeper, will be under the severest pressure. Arguments continue about his selection ahead of Chris Read around the selection committee as well as in every four-ale bar in the country and although Jones showed up well while Lara made his undefeated 400 and has been promised a long trial, he will be watched at Lord's by some of the greatest wicketkeepers of the past 20 years from Bob Taylor of England to Ian Smith of New Zealand as well as Rod Marsh, selector and head of the English Academy.

Andrew Strauss will probably open instead of Vaughan and if he is a success he may even keep the job as Trescothick's partner. Wise voices have suggested Vaughan should move down the order eventually, which would solve England's problems when Hussain retires.

As if one freak accident were not enough, Aleem Dar of Pakistan and the youngest umpire on the international list, tripped over a television wire and was so badly hurt that Rudi Koertzen of South Africa was called in to take his place.

The teams:

England (from): Michael Vaughan, Marcus Trescothick, Andrew Strauss, Mark Butcher, Nasser Hussain, Graham Thorpe, Andrew Flintoff, Geraint Jones, Ashley Giles, Simon Jones, Matthew Hoggard, Steve Harmison, Paul Collingwood and James Anderson.

New Zealand: Stephen Fleming (Capt.), Mark Richardson, Nathan Astle, Scott Styris, Brendon McCullum, Craig McMillan, Chris Cairns, Daniel Vettori, Jacob Oram, Daryl Tuffey and Chris Martin.

Umpires: Darrell Hair (Australia) and Rudi Koertzen (South Africa). TV

umpire: Mark Benson. Match referee: Clive Lloyd (West Indies).

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