England v NZ, 1st Investec Test, Lord's, 4th day May 19, 2013

New Zealand's hour of madness

After three days of competing with England on an even footing, Brendon McCullum's side collapsed in a manner reminiscent of their Cape Town horror show

In the end all those imaginary fears of countering Graeme Swann and the footmarks never materialised. It took just two England fast bowlers, albeit two of their best ones, to crush New Zealand in under two hours. Their 112-minute struggle with the bat resembled a terrible silent film, with not even one of the 11 New Zealand actors able to voice a challenge let alone put together some opposition.

How did New Zealand's batsmen slide from capable in the first innings to speechless two days later? On Saturday evening, after Tim Southee had put England on the back foot with a spirited spell in the dying light, he pointed out that he would have to return to finish the job to restrict the England lead. True to his word, he delivered: exerting the same control and maintaining the same discipline he had shown throughout the match with the ball, Southee engraved his name twice on the visitors' honours board. Now it was the turn of the batsmen.

Until then, Brendon McCullum's men had made sure they were alive, if not ahead, in every session of the match. Trent Boult and Southee, along with some tight bowling from left-arm spinner Bruce Martin, had taken advantage of England's cautious approach on the first day to restrict them to a small total. Friday was lit up by Ross Taylor's assertive half-century. Although they let England take a slender 25-run lead, Southee had helped New Zealand wrest the initiative back.

Barring their defeat to South Africa in 2012, England have been undisputed champions at home in the last few years. So for New Zealand to start the day with a possible victory on their mind was clearly a remarkable achievement. Yet, they could not afford to get carried away, especially considering the target was a steep one.

And as much as they had been impressive, New Zealand's batsmen had not been convincing against good swing and seam bowling in the recent past. During the first innings, Taylor and Kane Williamson had taken advantage of some wayward bowling to raise a challenge. But when England's bowlers turned up with a more disciplined approach - fuller lengths allied to the swinging conditions on Saturday morning - McCullum and the rest of the New Zealand lower order caved in.

"After South Africa we looked at how we strip things back and work out the balance and make-up of our team. We have shown significant gains with that strategy. It would be foolish to throw out after one hour of mayhem"
New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum

A day later, New Zealand's collapse proved they had still not managed to work out a counter strategy. When the opening pair of Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton walked in, their first big test was if they could survive the hour or so before lunch. Fulton left the first five deliveries of the innings, from James Anderson, safely before taking a single from the sixth. But in the next over, facing Stuart Broad's third ball, he chased a delivery that he could have easily let go and gave a simple offering to Matt Prior. Rutherford hit two fours against Broad, but his off stump was sent flying by one of the best deliveries in the match. For the second time, New Zealand had lost their openers inside seven overs.

Against England in March, Rutherford and Fulton had scored three centuries between them in the three Tests and managed to thwart the new ball. Their success had managed to stabilise the middle-order's failures. On Sunday, though, the whole New Zealand house lost its foundations. In a matter of minutes all the momentum gained during the drawn series at home seemed from the distant past, as New Zealand plunged into the same abyss as during the 45 all out in Cape Town last year.

The big question is, have New Zealand really picked themselves up post Cape Town or are they still frail against high-quality bowling? "It is pretty tough to explain at this point of time," McCullum said, trying to find reasons for the collapse. "For so long during this game we were obviously up with the play and at times I felt as if we were dictating the terms. But within an hour the game turned on its head and England continued to grow in confidence as they kept picking up wickets regularly while our confidence started to subside somewhat. The difference between the two teams came to that one hour of madness."

The pristine visitors' dressing room had suddenly been converted into an emergency room. McCullum described how players had to rush to get their "pads on and pads off quickly" during that chaotic period. "You are looking for a calm presence, whether that is out in the middle or in the change-room. There was plenty of calmness about the guys in the change room. I just felt we were not quit able transfer that out in the middle. We have had many of these experiences before. We have put distance between the last one ... We had taken some significant steps forward but today we stepped backwards."

Asked about a specific plan to approach the target, McCullum said there was none except remaining positive. "It was just about the guys playing their own games and finding the space in their minds to operate at their best," he said. "We are a calm batting unit. We are not a unit that needs to be hyped up. We have a group of players who are learning their own games, but also have confidence in what they showed back home.

"Yesterday we felt 230 was achievable, but you need a relatively decent start and six for 29 was certainly not the start we were after. Sometimes you lose a couple of early wickets and you just keep hoping to stem the flow of wickets. We probably started to panic and the gap between the two teams started to widen."

According to McCullum, both teams' top-orders had a tough time batting in the conditions. "Both top orders have struggled a little bit against the swinging ball," he said. "We were able to expose their top order as well to a certain degree. So they were certainly not good batting conditions, as the scores suggest. It is still important we remain consistent the way we go about things. After South Africa we looked at how we strip things back and work out the balance and make-up of our team. We have shown significant gains with that strategy. It would be foolish to throw out after one hour of mayhem."

The bigger lesson learned out of the episode for McCullum is stay solid and not slip your guard. "It is a matter of knowing that we as a team still need to be completely on song right throughout a Test match, rather than allowing an opposition of the quality of England to run through our batting line-up," he said.

Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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