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"Duckman" Morrison keeps Poms at bay

Danny Morrison holds one record which does not do anybody, least of all himself, proud. He has scored the maximum number of ducks in Test cricket. Admittedly, he is a number 11 batsman but there are a good many others who bat at that position and trouble the scorers. Morrison does not believe in doing that too often.

Yet, it was this man who, in the company of Nathan Astle, denied England victory in the first Test which ended in Auckland on January 28. Astle, deservedly, got a hundred. He and Morrison added 106 in an undefeated stand for the last wicket, carrying New Zealand, who trailed England by 131 on the first innings, to 248 for nine declared and safety.

Morrison made 14 not out and faced 133 balls to do that. It is a tribute to his grit and desire to save his team. Some of the West Indies players could take a lesson from him. He faced one ball over 22 overs himself and kept his end up. Astle did the scoring. Blocking was enough as New Zealand could not conceivably hope to win the Test. All they were looking for was a draw. They got it and in style.

But this does not only do credit to the Kiwis. It is a telling indictment of England's bowling resources. And also another miserable statistic as far as their performance abroad is concerned. In the last decade, since the triumphant tour of Australia in 1986-87, England have won just five out of 41 Tests played overseas. They have won just one series abroad in this time, against New Zealand in 1991-92.

The decade of failure for England began in Pakistan in 1987; a 1-0 series defeat was overhadowed by the famous Gatting-Shakoor Rana row. Then followed a 2-1 loss to the West Indies in 1990, a 3-0 hammering by Australia in 1991, a 2-0 win over the Kiwis in 1991-92, a 3-0 drubbing by India in 1993 and a comprehensive defeat by Sri Lanka in a one-off Test in Colombo. Next followed a 3-1 loss to the West Indies, the low point being when England were bowled out for 46 at Port of Spain.

Next winter, Australia duly doled out a 3-1 bashing to the Poms and then to add some variety it was South Africa's turn to win 1-0. The recent tour of Zimbabwe is too fresh in the memory to need recall. England have hit rock-bottom and were hoping for some success during this tour. They were hoping that a victory in the first Test would lift them and give them the impetus to win the series and get a boost for the forthcoming Ashes series against Australia.

And for once things did go fairly well for England but on the final day nothing clicked. The Kiwis came into the fifth day with three wickets down and lost six more before the rescue act began. The England bowlers had no answer to the last wicket pair. Mike Atherton's response after the Test -- "life goes on" -- is probably indicative of how involved the English skipper is in the proceedings. He knows that he faces the axe unless this series is won and won well.

The unofficial Test cricket rankings system devised by Wisden Cricketers' Almanack puts England in the seventh spot with only Zimbabwe and the Kiwis below them. The country which gave the world the game has certainly sunk fairly low. And it may not be the lowest point for English cricket, not with the Australians expected this summer.