Nathan Astle hooks a bouncer from Matthew Hoggard

In double time: Nathan Astle hooks Matthew Hoggard on his way to 222

© Getty Images

I Was There

'It was the best I'd hit it. I never repeated it'

It was carnage at Christchurch when Nathan Astle sent England's bowlers all over the park and set the record for the fastest double-century

Interviews by Andrew McGlashan |

The last time England played a Test in Christchurch was at Lancaster Park in 2002. It turned into an astonishing match. Graham Thorpe's 231-ball double-century was eclipsed by Nathan Astle's world-record 153-ball display of fearsome hitting, which for a moment conjured the possibility of an extraordinary New Zealand win. In the end, England held on for victory. Some of those who took part look back on a match for the ages.

Stephen Fleming won the toss and put England in on a very green drop-in pitch. They were quickly in trouble at 0 for 2, with Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher dismissed in the first over by Chris Cairns. Then Nasser Hussain stepped forward with a captain's innings.

Mark Butcher, England batsman: It was exceptionally green, was very difficult to tell it from the outfield. We are two down, I've nicked off, before people have barely sat down.

Nasser Hussain, England captain: For me it was about fear of failure. In situations like that the pressure is almost off a little bit because no one is expecting you to get any. It's moving around that much, if you get a good ball, so be it. It took that pressure away from me in a funny sort of way, and I always seemed to be at my best in that sort of situation. I liked to grit it out, tough it out, and I used to enjoy the battle of survival.

Duncan Fletcher, England coach: Hussain played one of his finest innings. It was typical of his character that he should chisel out 106 in a team total of 228, as the ball darted all over the place. Due to what happened later in the match, I am not sure that people fully understand how good an innings it was, and it was easily forgotten amid the subsequent big hitting.

Butcher: I tell you how much it goes under the radar, I'd completely forgotten about it. Nasser basically stopped us from losing the Test on that first day.

Nasser Hussain's 106, scored on day one under challenging conditions on a green pitch, was instrumental in England gaining the upper hand in the game

Nasser Hussain's 106, scored on day one under challenging conditions on a green pitch, was instrumental in England gaining the upper hand in the game © Getty Images

Graham Thorpe, England batsman: Nasser will tell you he played the best innings of the match… it was terrific, it was very green, moving around quite a bit, so it was a wonderful hundred.

Hussain's century hauled England to 228 and then Matthew Hoggard, in his sixth Test, claimed 7 for 63 to remove New Zealand for 147. England were 106 for 5 in their second innings when suddenly a switch was flicked in the pitch and the batting.

Butcher: I managed to get out hit-wicket to Ian Butler - just went back to work one away. It happened to me on another occasion, too, against Chris Lewis in a televised semi-final.

Fletcher: After we'd bowled them out for 147… the transformation in the pitch was remarkable. Suddenly now it was flatter than anywhere - probably only bar Antigua - in the world.

Nathan Astle, New Zealand batsman: Usually the pitches here did that. That one had a lot more grass than we'd seen before, but it turned into a bit of a road. I dropped Thorpe in the slips [second ball], which obviously didn't help.

Thorpe: The pitch then changed, had great carry and bounce, no real sideways movement, but we lost wickets again at the start of our second innings. I got dropped and then after that, Andrew Flintoff and myself decided to just go for it.

Thorpe and Flintoff, who scored his maiden Test century, added 281 in 51 overs as England's lead swelled at pace

Thorpe: Sometimes you get a bit of luck early in your innings and it allows you to play with some freedom. I just remember hitting the ball on the up a lot - a lot of cuts and pulls - and really going for my shots. It was a really fun partnership.

Second chance: Thorpe was dropped by Astle early in his innings and went on to make an unbeaten 200

Second chance: Thorpe was dropped by Astle early in his innings and went on to make an unbeaten 200 © Getty Images

Hussain: Thorpe was another fighter who you loved to have in your team. When it was a difficult, match-turning situation, Thorpe was someone you wanted - probably above anyone else, maybe [Michael] Atherton as well. I would always want them battling for my life. Chalk and cheese, too, Thorpe and Flintoff - the little short nurdler and nudger and Flintoff, the right-handed bruiser of a ball. They got on pretty well, those two.

Butcher: Thorpe and Flintoff smashed it to all parts. It was freaky, the way the match turned around. From run-making being so difficult then not being able to do anything to stop it.

Hussain: I was constantly looking at the pitch, but it was blatantly obvious it was just getting better and batter. All credit to those two because when they went in, it was still doing plenty.

Hussain declared late on the third evening to set New Zealand 550. Andrew Caddick steadily chipped through the batting order and it looked like being a formality for England.

Butcher: Anything that had a bit of bounce in it, Caddick was an awesome bowler. He was a real unpleasant person to face. A lot of batsmen around were quietly quite bothered by Caddick, but not sure he ever sensed that.

Hussain: I remember criticism from TV and others: "They are 450 ahead that's plenty, they are 500 ahead, what's he batting on for?", but I was like, "Have you seen this pitch?" There was no history to drop-ins. You just had to go on what you're seeing, and what you're seeing is this pitch is getting better and better. You can be playing on it for a week.

When the No. 10, Butler, came to the crease with the score at 301, Astle started to open his shoulders, but the target was still miles away.

It was Flintoff's maiden Test hundred and Thorpe's only double-century

It was Flintoff's maiden Test hundred and Thorpe's only double-century © Getty Images

Hussain: I'm a worrier, and at eight down when Astle is teeing off, on those sorts of grounds, you know an hour of this guy and we could be in a bit of trouble. He was a destructive player. There was no presumption we'd won the game.

Fletcher: What came next nearly drove me to distraction. There was no way that they should have even come close to winning that match.

Astle: It just kind of happened. There was no point where I really thought I should have a go. It was one of those days that everything I was hitting was coming out the middle of the bat. People ask me a lot about it, but the only thing I can say was that it even amazed me because usually you go through patches in an innings where you hit it well and then struggle a bit, but for some reason, everything hit came out of the middle.

When Butler fell, New Zealand were nine down and still 217 runs short of their target, but Chris Cairns was batting at No. 11 due to an injury. And Astle was launching the ball out of the ground.

Astle: It was the best I'd hit it. I never repeated it. I seemed to be in the right position at the right time and things happened in slow motion. There's one I hit off Caddick that actually went over Grandstand No. 1, over the roof and down the road. To be fair, all of them were pretty decent hits and would have cleared the boundary on most grounds.

Butcher: It was the most extraordinary thing. I had a ringside seat because by then I was off the field, having broken my thumb. I'm sat in the dugout, so you have this view of the ball being pogo-ed everywhere and having to dive out from underneath the awning to see where the ball had ended up.

Thorpe: I'd never seen a ball hit so cleanly or so far. I remember one going straight over the ground off Caddy. There was one which went square and one which went straight, which [Astle] ran at.

All of a sudden, the runs required slipped below 150 and England could not stem the flow.

Astle:

Astle: "I'm not a big memorabilia collector and the bat is probably one of three or four things I've kept out of my whole career" © Getty Images

Butcher: You are looking at the numbers and thinking: This is bloody ridiculous. There's no way on earth they will chase that down. From off the field, you had the feeling it was a bit of fun, perhaps just a little bit of a worry but no chance.

Astle: When we got down to about 150 needed, you could just tell in the way their body language was and the look on Nasser's face, the conversations he was having with the bowlers. You definitely picked that they were nervous. We were going pretty quickly. They were worried.

Hussain: I wasn't getting twitchy, but I was telling the boys to watch it. Also, I could see, and I won't name the bowlers, one or two when every ball is disappearing out of the ground and I'm at mid-off, they are looking at me as if to say, "Skip, what do we do here, this doesn't usually happen." You just have to keep saying, "Keep bowling your length, make him play the shot again" - and invariably he would. But I had firm belief that if we stuck to our plans we'd win the game.

Thorpe: The thing was in that stand with Cairns, they were scoring at like 12 an over, so you are looking up at the scoreboard thinking they need another 150 but that was coming down very quickly. If we didn't get a wicket in the next 15 overs, they'd win.

Eventually, Hoggard produced a slower ball that Astle edged to wicketkeeper James Foster and hopes of a miracle were over.

Hussain: At times, Hoggard and Caddick would bowl length and disappear. They weren't really brought up on bowling slower balls, so you had to think on your feet a little bit.

Fletcher: I could not believe what I was seeing from the bowlers. They just did not have a clue what to do; they were unable to think on their feet. Eventually there was a break and I said 'Look guys, it's a one-day international situation. You have to vary your pace.' Thank goodness Hoggard was listening and soon snared Astle with a slower ball.

Relieved England players acknowledge the spectators after winning the Test by 98 runs

Relieved England players acknowledge the spectators after winning the Test by 98 runs © Getty Images

Astle: The wicket was a road and the way I was playing, it was something we thought was achievable, even to the point [that] we discussed whether we pull it back, nurdle it around, then go again, but at the end of the day we thought: this is working, why change anything?

Thorpe: We'd had about three or four overs of really thinking the game could get away from us.

It was a rare overseas Test victory for England, but the match would be remembered for Astle's innings

Butcher: It wasn't the same euphoria that it would have been if it had been 200 runs, but everyone came off and it was quite exhilarating having been part of a game like that. Everyone was bloody happy to have been on the right end of it because you wouldn't have wanted to be remembered as the team who surrendered 550 runs in the last innings.

Fletcher: Once the dust had settled on the victory I realised it was one of our top wins because New Zealand had been in Australia beforehand and gained considerable credit in drawing all three Tests.

Astle: I'm not a big memorabilia collector and the bat is probably one of three or four things I've kept out of my whole career.

Duncan Fletcher's quotes from Behind the Shades: The Autobiography (Duncan Fletcher, Simon & Schuster, 2008).

Andrew McGlashan is a deputy editor at ESPNcricinfo

 

RELATED ARTICLES

Comments