The perfect script – nearly.
The BLACKCAPS have come excruciatingly close to victory in the final ANZ Test against England, eventually thwarted by a single wicket in a match which will go down as one of the most thrilling in the games’ history.
The New Zealand bowlers admirably charged in to near exhaustion on the final day, but couldn’t overcome a match-saving performance from Matt Prior (110*). Monty Panesar (2*) was the other hero of the day for the visitors, seeing off five balls in the most dramatic of circumstances to keep the series level.
Having resumed the day at 90 for four and 391 runs behind, it was a question of survival for England and credit has to be given to the fight they displayed. English fans were ecstatic. Kiwis - heartbroken.
England were dogged throughout the day, with Joe Root (29 off 79), Ian Bell (75 off 271) and Stuart Broad (six off 77) all spending long periods at the crease. So often partnerships were created which looked to have sealed off the match, but the BLACKCAPS bowlers never seemed to fatigue, keeping their hopes alive until the final ball.
Trent Boult made the first break through with a peach of a delivery to trap Joe Root lbw, before Tim Southee caught the edge of Jonny Bairstow’s bat when he was on six. Excitement was beginning to grow, but a resolute partnership between Bell and Prior steadied England once again.
Edges were dropping short of the slips, the ball was finding the gaps and even when Prior had one come off his body onto the wickets, the stumps still wouldn’t fall. New Zealand Cricket fans were going through agony.
But in the over before tea they finally had Bell. The ever-persistent Wagner enticed a rare mistimed drive from the 32 year-old and celebrated jubilantly as Southee gobbled up a regulation catch at third slip.
Unfortunately it didn’t result in the collapse the BLACKCAPS might have hoped for, as Broad dug in, to battle off a spirited bowling performance. Wagner, Southee, Boult and Bruce Martin threw everything at Prior and Broad to no avail, as with four overs to go, they were still three wickets away from victory and showing few signs of faltering.
In a last throw of the dice McCullum gave Kane Williamson the ball. The part-timer proceeded to send the crowd and his team-mates into a frenzy, taking the wickets of Broad and James Anderson in three balls, both caught by Ross Taylor at first slip.
In the last three overs, each ball was a chance, but despite some going agonisingly close, the unorthodox Panesar and seemingly nerveless Prior held on to defy the BLACKCAPS and their fans their moment of glory.
While not ultimately successful, every bowler created chances and was impressive throughout. Kane Williamson came close to being a national icon with innings’ analysis of four for 44 from 20 overs, collecting career best figures while doing so.
English fans will rightly worship Prior for his 100. It was like few others in test history and certainly saved his side the series.
There were plenty of heroes in the encounter, and everyone who witnessed the match is sure to remember it for years to come.
Day four: Six wickets away from history
Kane Williamson took two crucial late wickets on day four to have the BLACKCAPS just six wickets away from a famous victory in the third ANZ Test match against England at Eden Park, Auckland.
Having declared at 241 for six with a lead of 480, the BLACKCAPS then reduced England to 90 for four at the end of the day and a near impossible 391 away from victory.
The hosts once again had the better of the action in all of the important moments on the penultimate day, with some special personal performances leading them a position of complete control.
One such performance came from Peter Fulton, with the 34-year-old escalating to near cult status when he became just the fourth man in New Zealand cricket history to make back-to-back centuries in one match.
Having battled brilliantly last night to settle things down for the BLACKCAPS, Fulton then exploded in the morning and afternoon sessions, detonating five sixes and 14 fours to bring up his century off 162 balls.
It was a superb way to back up his first knock of 136, and almost single-handedly ensured that the BLACKCAPS would finish this match with a draw at worst. The 1.98 metre opener has been a revelation over the tour, having spent an astonishing 19 hours in the middle overall.
While he will deservedly hog all the headlines, Brendon McCullum continued his fine form with his seventh half century in eight matches this tour. The number six smashed an exhilarating 67 off 53 deliveries, including one six which went a dumbfounding 116 metres.
The declaration came soon after lunch, with England facing a massive total and 143 overs to survive at the crease. It didn’t get off to a good start, with Nick Compton edging one off Tim Southee for just two runs.
After a period of defiance from Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott, the BLACKCAPS were in need of a wicket to lift them once more, and received that boost when Neil Wagner enticed the edge of Trott on 37.
It was undoubtedly a key moment, but the next one would arguably be even bigger.
Part-timer Kane Williamson tossed one up outside off-stump to Cook, giving the prolific opening batsmen an opportunity to drive. A full swing of the bat ensued, but only a thick edge caught the ball and a super catch from Dean Brownlie at second slip sent the skipper on his way. The wild celebrations from the BLACKCAPS acknowledged just how huge a wicket it was.
They had time for one more scene of jubilation before the end of the day and Williamson again was the bowler. Night-watchman Steven Finn also opted to drive, but the quick reactions and juggling skills of Tim Southee saw him depart for a duck. Stumps was then called with one team far happier than the other.
Williamson heads into tomorrow with unlikely figures of two for five off 6.1 overs, while Southee and Wagner both finished with one apiece.
They will have to wait until 10:30 tomorrow morning to try and finish the job off. Six wickets tomorrow and history will be made.
Day three: Boult blitzes through England
Trent Boult secured the first five-wicket-bag of his career in the third ANZ Test match between the BLACKCAPS and England, and in doing so gave his side a golden opportunity for a historic series victory.
There’s still two days of hard toil left and England won’t make it easy, but there are plenty of reasons for the BLACKCAPS to feel optimistic. They currently have a 274 run lead over their opponents and will be hoping to add to that tomorrow before having another crack at the English batting line-up.
The only blight on day three was the loss of three early wickets in the BLACKCAPS second innings, but Peter Fulton (14*) and Dean Brownlie (13*) settled things nicely and will resume tomorrow at 35 for three.
Earlier though it had been all the home side, as a couple of key wickets at the start of the day saw England’s first innings restricted to just 204.
The likes of Boult and Tim Southee were a handful all day and had England seriously struggling at 72 for five. A 101 run partnership between Matt Prior (73) and Joe Root (45) for the sixth wicket stemmed the momentum somewhat after lunch, before Neil Wagner made the crucial break through when he had Prior caught at point.
From there Boult took over, enticing the edge of a number of the lower-order batsmen and firing to career-best figures in the process.
The 23 year-old ended with innings analysis of six for 68 from 25 overs. It was nothing short of brilliant and is a sign of just how good a talent he is. Southee too finished with useful figures, claiming three for 44 from 23.2 overs.
It was enough to give the BLACKCAPS the option to enforce the follow-on, but they resisted the temptation and instead will make England bat fourth on a pitch which is starting to favour the bowlers.
Hopefully Boult can reproduce the same sort of effort when England have to bat again. One thing is for certain – the visitors will need to score more than 204 to win this match.
Day two: BLACKCAPS maintain advantage on day two
The BLACKCAPS picked up two huge wickets in the final session of day two, leaving England 50 for two at stumps in the third and final ANZ Test match at Eden Park in Auckland.
Resuming play at 250 for one, the BLACKCAPS added a further 193 before being eventually dismissed for 443. It wasn’t quite the batting display that kiwi supporters had been treated to yesterday, but was still more than enough to leave fans optimistic.
A tickle down the leg side off the bowling of Trent Boult saw captain Alastair Cook gone for just four at the beginning of the England innings. That brought together last Test’s centurions Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott, but on this occasion they weren’t able to reproduce that magic, with Boult getting his second of the day when he trapped Trott lbw.
They’re two key batsmen back in the shed, but the BLACKCAPS know they will face a tough task tomorrow to dismiss the remaining eight.
Earlier, Kane Williamson (91) and Peter Fulton (136) had returned to the crease, but fell without making too much further progress on their overnight scores.
Williamson came up nine runs short of his ton when he edged a handy delivery from James Anderson, while Fulton was slightly unfortunate to be caught down the leg-side. The pair had done a splendid job for the BLACKCAPS and set up a sizable launching pad for the middle-order to build on.
While there were plenty of starts of value, it would have to be said that the rest of the line-up didn’t capitalise quite as well as they would have liked. Tim Southee (44), Brendon McCullum (39) and Dean Brownlie (36) combined to help their side surpass 400, but will be disappointed they didn’t push on.
The main force behind restricting them was Steven Finn, with the lanky strike bowler charging in all day long and claiming his fourth career five-wicket bag with innings analysis of six for 125 from 37.3 overs. He’ll be on a hatrick on his next ball, after dismissing Bruce Martin and Trent Boult on consecutive balls to bring the BLACKCAPS innings to a close.
With a lead of 393, the BLACKCAPS are in the box seat heading into day three and will be excited about their opportunity tomorrow – quick wickets tomorrow will go a long way to winning this Test match.
Fulton leads dominant BLACKCAPS day
Few cricket matches in recent memory have created quite as much hype as the third and final ANZ Test match between the BLACKCAPS and England, and for good reason too; it’s a series decider, Eden Park was hosting for the first time since 2006 and there was finally a decent weather forecast.
Expectations were dangerously high, but you’d be hard pressed to find a kiwi supporter who walked away from the first day unsatisfied.
After losing the toss and being put into bat, the BLACKCAPS proceeded to take control of the Test by finishing 250 for one at stumps. All three batsmen who occupied the crease played at a terrific level, but the hero of the day was undoubtedly Peter Fulton.
The 34 year-old put on an unbeaten 124 off 277 balls in what was his maiden Test century. It was a patient innings, yet brilliant to watch, with the man they call ’two-meter-Peter’ smashing 15 fours and three sixes. His efforts were well recognised as he strolled off the pitch at stumps, the delighted crowd rising to their feet in a standing ovation.
The day has started with himself and Rutherford seeing out the new ball without any major scares of note. While the run-rate was fairly steady, they suddenly changed gears after about 15 overs, with some extraordinary strokes taking the sting out of the English attack.
Rutherford hit a pair of sixes off one Monty Panesar over, while Fulton both found and cleared the rope on many occasions as well. Unfortunately the over before lunch Rutherford was dismissed for 37, edging one while swiping at a widish delivery from Steven Finn.
That brought Kane Williamson to the crease and the 22 year-old quickly settled himself for a long stay in the middle. He showed caution at the beginning of his innings, but rewarded spectators for their patience with some glorious shots in the afternoon sessions.
England struggled for answers with the ball and New Zealand’s confidence increased as they began to pass handy milestones.
Fulton celebrated his first International ton after 256 minutes at the crease, while the 200 for New Zealand came up soon after in the 72nd over.
The duo then slowed down in the final few overs of the day, but successfully made sure that they would be there to carry on the next morning. Their partnership currently stands at 171, with Williamson only 17 off his own century on 83 not out.
It’s an exciting start for BLACKCAPS fans and tomorrow now looms as a fantastic day to capitalise on that. We can only hope it goes as well as it did today – that and for more fine weather.