New Zealand keep their noses in front
Close New Zealand 384 (Fleming 117) and 190 for 5 (McMillan 28*, Franklin 2*) lead England 319 (Trescothick 63, Cairns 5-79) by 255 runs
New Zealand started the third day at Trent Bridge with a timely morale boost from Down Under. In their Rugby Union international against England, the All Blacks romped to a crushing 36-3 victory. It was the sort of news that couldn't help but inspire their black-capped cousins to greater deeds.
Sure enough, James Franklin and Chris Cairns shared nine wickets between them to secure a highly improbable 65-run lead, before Mark Richardson and Stephen Fleming more than doubled the advantage with a coolly-compiled 94-run opening stand. By the close, New Zealand led by 255 runs with five wickets remaining. All it will take is defeat by France tomorrow evening, and England's sporting bubble will have been well and truly pricked.
New Zealand's position would have been even better, had it not been for a couple of howlers from umpire Simon Taufel, who sent Stephen Fleming on his way, lbw for 45, before adjudging Scott Styris to have been caught behind for 39, as he swiped at a wide delivery from Steve Harmison with three overs of the day remaining.
There was clear daylight between Styris's bat and the ball (and, at that stage, between New Zealand's prospects and those of England) but the error allowed England to regroup before the close. New Zealand still remain in charge, but with two bowlers missing from their attack, they need to set England something nearer 350 if they are to have any realistic hopes of avoiding the whitewash.
Mind you, the absence of Chris Martin and Kyle Mills had made no difference in morning session, when Cairns's wily assortment of slower balls, and Franklin's zippy left-arm swingers were too much for England's remaining five batsmen, who were rattled out on the stroke of lunch, for the addition of 94 runs.
In reply, England's seamers made a lethargic start. For the most part they were accurate but unthreatening, and Richardson and Fleming settled in for the long haul. Fleming struggled to get the ball off the square at first, but Richardson was in an uncharacteristic hurry to capitalise on his scoring opportunities. Every time England bowled too straight, he would clip them through midwicket; too much width and they disappeared through the covers.
It was left to Ashley Giles to make the breakthrough. On 41, Giles had got his palm to an uppercut off Harmison, but he made amends in the second over of his spell, as Richardson played across the line and was pinned plumb lbw by a sharply turning delivery. He was gone for 49, one short of his fourth half-century of the series, and he was rightly applauded from the field by the Trent Bridge crowd. New Zealand may have lost the series, but in batting nearly 22 hours for his 369 runs, Richardson has remained unbowed throughout.
After tea, New Zealand's middle-order stumbled in that now-characteristic manner. Brendon McCullum was utterly deceived by a fine piece of bowling from Giles, beaten in the flight as he came down the track and well held by Flintoff at slip as the ball skewed off a leading edge (106 for 2).
Flintoff then took the big wicket of Fleming, who had been troubled by his tight off-stump line from around the wicket, and was sent on his way by Taufel as he padded up to one that would have been slipping over the top of off stump (126 for 3). When Nathan Astle followed for a fourth-ball duck, Flintoff was on a roll and England were in the ascendancy. But Styris and Craig McMillan brought down the shutters, at least until Taufel's late aberration.
It was not one of Taufel's best days as an umpire. Earlier, he had scuppered England's prospects of a first-innings lead when he gave Graham Thorpe out for 45 to a leg-side delivery that flicked his thigh pad. At that stage England had been reduced to 255 for 7, with the nightwatchman Matthew Hoggard the other early wicket, caught fending to slip off Franklin.
Giles and Geraint Jones showed what might have been on another day. Jones got off the mark in style, cutting Franklin to the point boundary off the fourth ball he faced, then square-driving the last ball of the over for four more. But just as he appeared to be settling in for another of his calculated assaults, he aimed a woolly swish over midwicket, and Scott Styris had the wicket, lbw for 22. At 295 for 8, England were in the doldrums.
Giles demonstrated his worth with an important 45, full of sound judgment and impressive improvisation, but Cairns at the other end was too clever for England's tailenders. Martin Saggers had no answer to another beautifully conceived slower ball, which rolled inexorably back onto his stumps, and Harmison was comprehensively beaten by a second-ball yorker. His dismissal completed Cairns's 13th five-wicket haul, and given New Zealand's injury crisis, it was one of his most timely interventions as well.