England face tall ask as spinners dominate
England 202 (Strauss 60, Vettori 5-66) and 76 for 1 (Strauss 27*, Vaughan 12*) require a further 218 runs to beat New Zealand 381 and 114 (How 29, Panesar 6-37)
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary
Sixteen wickets fell on the third, enthralling day of the second Test at Old Trafford as New Zealand set England a daunting 294 to win, on a crumbling pitch. It was a spinner's day, with five-wicket hauls for Daniel Vettori and Monty Panesar, and both sides suffered horrendous collapses as the advantage swung back and forth between the two sides.
England progressed with relative ease to 76 for 1 by stumps in a performance far improved on their calamitous effort of the morning, in which their middle-order was routed by Vettori. The relative comfort with which Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss batted was more due to the New Zealanders' ill-discipline, which was, in itself, a surprise given their earlier excellence. Perhaps, as one commentator suggested, they had begun to question their belief when the favourites tag was draped around their necks mid-afternoon. England should not be allowed to win, but began to believe the unlikely was possible.
New Zealand's bowlers utterly dominated in the morning, however. England's batsman - virtually static in their scoring, lacking any sort of conviction - couldn't cope with the nagging accuracy of Iain O'Brien, a gusty-wind specialist used to such howlers from Wellington. The luck wasn't with New Zealand, however. Kevin Pietersen survived a very close appeal for lbw in the first over of the day, and shortly afterwards should have been caught behind had the New Zealanders appealed.
No matter, though. Vettori brought himself on in tandem with O'Brien and found balls to turn, bounce and spit with alarming ferocity; one such viper was taken brilliantly by McCullum at head-height, as the eyebrows of waiting batsman rose to the grey skies. It was when, not if, a wicket would fall and Pietersen edged a fizzing delivery straight to Ross Taylor at first slip. Bell twice flayed haplessly at O'Brien, and a meek drive brought his downfall to hand Taylor his second catch of the day, a juggling effort at slip. England's big two had fallen, and Paul Collingwood - who has barely scratched a run all season for Durham - failed to pick up Vettori's arm-ball. England had lost four wickets in just over an hour of brilliantly disciplined bowling and organised captaincy, and Vettori had his fifth. The moment of the morning came from McCullum (who else?) who pulled off a quite remarkable one-handed snaffle in front of first slip to dismiss Panesar. New Zealand's cricket was pure; England's pitiful.
Stuart Broad was the only man to fight off a collapse which saw England lose 5 for 28 in 96 breathless minutes. A cultured 50-ball 30 with four crisp fours was laden with aggression, and how important might those runs turn out to be? Vettori finished with 5 for 66, his fifteenth haul and bowled like the masterful spinner he is. There was another twist in the tale, however, and another spinner stole the limelight.
New Zealand led by 179. Perhaps overconfidence set in, or maybe Panesar really was as mesmerising as his career-best figures of 6 for 37 suggest. After bowling out England, a camera picked up on Vettori's team huddle in which the captain demanded his troops to "bat and bat" and aim for a second innings score of at least 300. Either way, New Zealand's batsmen failed dismally.
Jamie How's pugnacious 29 from just 39 balls initially deflated England's already shaky confidence, but Aaron Redmond lacked How's authority and edged a lifter to Paul Collingwood in the gully. It was the introduction of Panesar which really made the difference. Like Vettori, Panesar gained awkward turn and bounce, trapping How in front of middle-and-off. James Marshall looked in excellent touch for his 28, cracking four fours, but he too was rapped in front. Panesar's superb Old Trafford record continued.
McCullum lasted just three balls and Vettori holed out to deep midwicket to hand Panesar his 99th in Tests as New Zealand slipped to 91 for 5. And just before tea Panesar notched his fifth wicket and his 100th in Test cricket, in his 28th game, when he trapped Ross Taylor in front. New Zealand lost 7 for 29 to be bowled out for a paltry 114, and Panesar had taken 6 for 17 in a brilliant spell to steal back the momentum - if not quite the match advantage.
A disenchanted New Zealand side emerged back onto the field for the second time in the day, bowling without a great degree of drive or discipline. Both Cook and Strauss were gifted wide balls - Strauss scything Mills over gully - and it remained perplexing as to why Vettori delayed his own introduction to the attack, and that of O'Brien. Inevitably Vettori found turn when he came on in the ninth over, but perhaps without the vicious rip of earlier, allowing Cook to flick him confidently through midwicket with good use of his feet. After passing their fifty partnership Cook edged Vettori to Marshall at short-leg to leave England still in pursuit of another 218.
Four years ago at Lord's, England beat New Zealand chasing 282 in the fourth innings, which required 103 from Nasser Hussain, and fifties from Strauss and Graham Thorpe. A similar tenacious trio will be needed tomorrow if England are to do the unlikely, but the prospect of Vettori on a fourth-day Bunsen ought to be enough for New Zealand to claim a series lead. Oughtn't it?
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo