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March 24, 2013
Matt Prior is adamant that England are capable of recovering from another poor batting display to still emerge with a series win against New Zealand. There was something for them to cling to in the closing stages of the third day in Auckland as they reduced New Zealand to 8 for 3 after they had not been asked to follow-on, but the home side's lead still stands at an imposing 274.
In a manic 13-over period at the end of England's innings and start of New Zealand's second, seven wickets fell for 12 runs. However, the defining passage of the day came much earlier as England slumped to 72 for 5 in the morning session against a swinging ball that they failed to cope with. Of their final total of 204, 101 came in a partnership between Prior and Joe Root, which shows the paucity of what else was on offer.
England are now starring at only their second series defeat in New Zealand unless they can chase down a large total - the highest successful chase at Eden Park is 345 - or bat out time to leave the contest at 0-0. Prior, who has had an impressive match with bat and gloves, tried to keep a sense of perspective about the situation.
"I know it feels like the world's over, but it's not really," he said. "We've got some very good cricketers who can put in match-winning, or match-saving performances. The thing I love about this team is we might do it the hard way, but we fight - and we keep fighting.
"We've shown that in Dunedin and in Nagpur. These are memories we'll pull out and use, and know we have the skill and ability to get something out of this game still.
"We're now in a position where we're going to need a bit of luck and a lot of skill. But if we can get early wickets, who knows? It's still a good deck. We're going to have to bat a lot better, obviously, but we can chase these runs."
This was the second poor first innings that England have put together in the series following their 167 in Dunedin. There was not quite the same gifting of wickets this time - although Prior and Stuart Broad both played loose shots - but English batsmen should be able to combat the moving ball.
"It's not like everyone feels like they're a walking wicket at the moment," Prior said. "We've had a couple of bad days, and it's certainly something we need to address - and we will do. We're going to get another chance in the second innings. That in a funny way is a good thing. You get straight back on the horse."
The key for New Zealand was the pressure they built on England's batsmen - the innings run rate was below two until Prior upped the tempo before the second new ball only to carve to point four deliveries before it was due. Tim Southee and Trent Boult were exemplary, something Prior was keen to acknowledge.
"I know Trent ended up with the most wickets, but I thought Tim Southee bowled a couple of very good spells. Hats off to the New Zealand bowlers."
New Zealand's grip on the contest was challenged when they did not enforce the follow-on, Brendon McCullum following the preferred route these days of not sending a side straight back with a view to giving his bowlers a breather, but they remain one good session away from being almost impregnable.
"To get a rest then look to use the next two days was pretty crucial," Boult said. "We need to push on tomorrow - 30 for 3 wasn't in the plan but to have a 280-run lead is a pretty good position. There were a couple of signs of a bit of up and down going on, so that's pretty exciting to see from a bowling point of view."
New Zealand have not won a home Test series against anyone other than Zimbabwe or Bangladesh since beating West Indies in 2005-06. Victory here, on the back of the South Africa tour and the captaincy controversy, could be a defining moment for these players.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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