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New Zealand's injury is largely self-inflicted

David Hopps at Headingley
Monday June 7, 2004

The Guardian

Stephen Fleming has spent so long listening to people tell him that he is the best captain in the world that this England tour has become dangerously akin to cricket's version of The Luvvies. But even the most theatrical admirer of Fleming's talents would have recognised that last night was no time to be crying: "You were wonderful, darling."

Fleming has one fail-safe thing in common with the Luvvies: as a Kiwi cricket captain he gets an awful lot of opportunities to wear black. But for all the praise lavished upon him, and lavished with good reason, this was a day when the script was unsalvageable. By the close of a sunlit evening New Zealand were capitulating, with enough injuries to fill another fight scene in Troy. And that is the last thing the world needs.

Even Fleming's catch to put a cap on Geraint Jones's maiden Test hundred, a zestful innings which puts the Jones v Chris Read wicketkeeping debate on the back burner for the rest of the summer, had not been taken without the need to leave the field for treatment. Judging by the amount of head-shaking by him as his patched-up attack malfunctioned in conditions where they imagined they might press for victory, he probably needed physio on a cricked neck.

Fleming did not deserve a day such as yesterday, but New Zealand did. To bring 14 players and six administrators on a three-Test tour is madness, especially when one of them, Shane Bond, travelled unfit. New Zealand once called up a photographer for fielding duties on a tour of India, and if things get much worse here the assistant computer analyst (bowling actions) may well get a run-out today.

This is the New Zealand casualty list as of 8pm yesterday, although by now someone has probably slipped on a fish-and-chip tray in the Leeds town centre: Fleming, groin and forearm; Michael Papps, broken finger; Daryl Tuffey and Nathan Astle, knees; Jacob Oram, side strain. Craig McMillan also sub-fielded with a broken finger, as did Bond even though his knee and back problems are so bad that he is going home.

Then there was Daniel Vettori, an injury for which responsibility will be claimed by the cognoscenti of the Western Terrace, some of whom are becoming peeved by their media reputation as cricket's most yobbish crowd and who would like you to know that they are able to sing "Ingerland, Ingerland" and "Down in one" as well as to berate Fleming for not having a short-leg.

Vettori had the misfortune to field in front of this alcoholic haze, where he was happily goaded as Australian crowds used to bait Phil Tufnell. It is the fate of iconoclastic left-arm spinners to be cast as the clown. Vettori tried to silence them with a tumbling stop, tore a hamstring and was helped off to ribald applause. His tour may be over.