March 25, 2002

Now the battle is for fourth place on the world Test ladder

New Zealand waved goodbye to the prospect of a third placing in the ICC Test Championship when failing to win the second National Bank Series Test at the Basin Reserve against England but a win in Auckland could still see them claim fourth ahead of England.

Already England have secured the William Jordan Rosebowl for another term - the trophy is awarded to the winner of home series between the two countries. The only time New Zealand has won it remains the summer of 1983/84.

The third Test starts in Auckland on Saturday. The New Zealand team for the Test will be named tomorrow.

It won't be remembered as a match of accurate umpiring and if it proves to be the last of Steve Dunne's career it will not be the most shining example of efficiency, a point that should have been brought home to him by the on-field responses of both sides to some decisions - muted as the responses may have been under requirements of the International Code of Conduct.

The message was plain, the players were not happy, and the all-seeing television eye would suggest they had good cause.

New Zealand batted through 84 overs on the last day today, having been left a target of 356 in 86 overs, but under the conditions it was never on. When play ended two overs early, New Zealand were 158/4 with Nathan Astle (11) and Craig McMillan (17) unbeaten.

It was always going to be a fine balancing act for England captain Nasser Hussain. He was always conscious of the threat posed by Astle after the Christchurch onslaught, but in reality the prospect of a repeat here in Wellington was always going to be unlikely.

A different pitch, different circumstances, and different needs for Astle's team.

Ten years ago in Christchurch Phil Tufnell went through the New Zealand side in an afternoon as the home team lost seven wickets for 53 runs.

But Ashley Giles did not offer the same problems to the New Zealand top order that Tufnell managed.

And while the Basin Reserve came under scrutiny in the match, one thing has generally remained constant about the ground since the mid-1980s, at least, it doesn't quickly deteriorate and, in fact, gets better the further the match goes.

Losing the first day and most of the second helped ensure there would be no dramatic break up of the pitch on this occasion.

It was at best one of those days which provides frustration for all but the most fervent admirer of Test cricket.

England came out and went for the bash to add 97 runs in 18 overs, courtesy largely of 75 runs blasted by Andrew Flintoff who was let off the leash and given free rein to pummel the New Zealand attack, which he did.

The one disappointment for England had to be the failure of Marcus Trescothick to achieve his third Test century in a situation made for him. He was out for 88 to Daniel Vettori's bowling.

At one stage Flintoff was in danger of setting the world record for the fastest 50 in Test matches although the actual amount appears to be in some dispute. Some claim Ian Botham's 26-ball effort at Delhi in 1981/82 is the record while others say Kapil Dev's 30-ball effort at Karachi in 1982/83 is the fastest.

Whatever the record, Flintoff didn't make it as his 50 came off 33 balls. He was eventually out, offering a simple return leading edge to Vettori when on 75, scored off 44 balls. He hit two sixes and nine fours.

If there was any satisfaction for New Zealand's bowlers it was that Vettori stayed composed under the circumstances and took three for 90.

In New Zealand's response Mark Richardson fell to a good, over-the-shoulder catch by Graham Thorpe from Giles' bowling at fine leg, at least by the time he caught it, for four.

Lou Vincent then came and played an applied innings, although he was given a huge stay of execution when Dunne failed to give him out caught off his gloves by Mark Butcher at silly mid-off.

Vincent scored his second half century of the match and was 71, from 181 minutes and 170 balls, before he was trapped leg before wicket by Matthew Hoggard.

Earlier, Matt Horne had played a more compelling innings, and one that should probably see him retained for the third Test, of 38 in 109 minutes.

Stephen Fleming provided a crease occupation intent on saving the Test with 11 runs scored in 143 minutes.

Hoggard did cause a minor flutter of expectation with Vincent and Fleming's wicket but Astle and McMillan batted without error to keep the series alive.

New Zealand knew what they had to do to win the Test in terms of bowling, and they failed. Some change seems likely for the last Test, probably the selection of Daryl Tuffey for Chris Martin.

But the home side also need to remember that their two first inning batting efforts in the Tests to date have been poor when they are capable of much better and without those runs they are never going to put the pressure on England in the later stages of the game.