England win by 98 runs but not before some palpitations
England went one-up in the National Bank Test series when achieving a 98-run win over New Zealand at Jade Stadium in Christchurch today, but not before some heart-stopping moments inspired by New Zealand batsman Nathan Astle.
If fairy tales were part of cricket, New Zealand would have achieved a world record target of 550 runs today, but they gave it a good shot, or Astle gave it 74 good shots, the number of scoring strokes he played while scoring 222, at world record pace, to give England a fright by scoring 451.
In reality, New Zealand lost this Test by failing to take vital catches, England captain Nasser Hussain 52 in the first innings and Graham Thorpe on four in the second innings.
They went on to score 106 and 200 not out respectively.
Then New Zealand were dismissed for a paltry 147 in their first innings which left them 81 runs short.
The catching and fielding from both sides during the game was below par, New Zealand captain Stephen Fleming said the catching had never been as bad during his five years as captain, while some of the batting was ordinary and on other occasions out of this world.
It allowed Hussain to claim afterwards that it had been a great Test match, and in terms of individual performances, there were efforts to rank with the stars - Hussain's first innings century in difficult conditions, Thorpe's double century, Andrew Flintoff's maiden Test century, and Astle's world record double century, the fastest of all time by 59 balls.
It was an improbable target but New Zealand gave it everything, although some of the top order batsmen struggled.
Matt Horne looked out of touch for his four, Lou Vincent played ordinarily in his three-ball innings for a duck, Mark Richardson survived a leg before wicket decision that looked plumb only to be given out on 78 caught off his shoulder.
Fleming was undone by an inside edge for 48 while Craig McMillan exercised a poor option by hitting a return catch to Andy Caddick to be out for 24.
Adam Parore wasn't around long enough before failing to lift his bat far enough out of the way of a steepling ball from Caddick which he played onto his wickets while Daniel Vettori pulled the ball around to mid-wicket to offer an easy chance.
Caddick bowled superbly in the conditions to have six wickets for 122 runs, although his figures took a mauling from Astle as he twice lost balls when hitting them onto the rooves of the grandstands at the ground.
Matthew Hoggard, who took seven for 63 in the first innings, had one for 142 in the second, being mauled even more severely by Astle. The tragedy of it was that New Zealand lost Chris Cairns to a patella tendon injury and he will play no further part in the Test series.
The challenge will be for New Zealand to find an attack capable of bowling the side back into the Test series.
Hussain said he had been thinking that Astle and Danny Morrison had denied England a Test victory on their last tour here, in Auckland, and could it happen again?
"He struck the ball brilliantly. We mixed it up but wherever we put it, he hit it for six.
"It was a magnificent Test match. It was littered with great things throughout."
Hussain said although the target was 550 he never took anything for granted because cricket was a game that comes up and bites you.
He had been delighted with the disciplines of his bowlers, even in the face of Astle's onslaught. Caddick had bowled superbly under the conditions with a flat wicket and used his height well.
"What the win has shown is that we've got a bit of character.
"But there's nothing between these two sides and we will have to practise and play at our best to win the series," he said.
Fleming said the challenge was ahead of New Zealand now.
"It will be difficult, a lot has happened in this Test. We will have a completely different make up because of the injuries.
"We were confident coming into the match. That hasn't changed and we are still after the respect we want, no matter who we play.
"Our confidence has taken a dent but we haven't under-estimated anybody," he said.
Fleming said he had never seen Astle hit the ball so well, or anybody for that matter.
Fleming also added that Cairns had not intended to bat but with Astle going so well he thought it was worthwhile to see what might be achieved.
Had he not batted it can only be wondered at what special moments in the game would have been missed out on. That would have been a tragedy for the game.