Rutherford among bright spots for NZ
New Zealand don't play long Test series. The best they can do is have two small Test series together. It's a cheat but still means they play a good deal of Test matches against one side without playing anyone else.
Most of New Zealand's Test series are a lot shorter. Against Bangladesh in 2010 they played in a one-Test series. Or as you might also call it, one Test.
This makes their cross-continental Test series against England a fairly rare event. A chance to be tested over a period of time, and not just a micro series.
And it started so well. The No. 8 team in the world, missing two of their most talented players in Daniel Vettori and Jesse Ryder, starts by ripping out the No. 2 ranked team for 167.
Then, the real embarrassment came when Hamish Rutherford walked in.
If you have never seen Rutherford hit a back foot drive through the off side, you have never seen cricket as nature intended it to be. A nervous trigger movement, followed by a solid base, a dangerously angled bat swung effortlessly, the ball scooting away like it's been fired from a tank.
At Dunedin, the ball hit the off-side boundary repeatedly as Rutherford made 171, outscoring England's entire first innings, and doing it fast. It was an innings of timing, luck and boundaries. It shocked and mocked England.
With it being only a four-day Test due to rain, England were able to draw, due to the strong top-order display from Alastair Cook, Nick Compton and Steven Finn. It would also be the only time in the five Tests that Rutherford would pass 50.
England started the second Test by scoring over 400 runs. Their bowlers also came good, rolling New Zealand for 254 in 89.2 overs. Then they did something peculiar: they asked New Zealand to follow on. With rain in the air, they took their chance, but the rain won. New Zealand held on for a draw only two wickets down without facing a ball on day five.
Eden Park was the Peter Fulton Test, with a century in each innings from the tall awkward batsman who likes to whip across the line and looks old enough to be dropping Joe Root off at University.
In the first innings Fulton inspired a total of 443, in the second, 241 for 6 declared. In between, Trent Boult had bowled England out for 204 from 89.2 overs. New Zealand decided not to enforce the follow on.
Unlike England at Headingley, they scored quickly in their third innings; like England, they set a stupidly obscene target of 481. At stumps on day four, with England 90 for 4, they would have been pretty confident of victory.
Instead they ran into a bail that wouldn't come off, Matt Prior and Monty Panesar and drew another match. It was probably the most defensive piece of captaincy from Brendon McCullum in the entire series, and cost him a massive upset victory.
Yet, New Zealand left for England in good spirits. Although, had they noticed they'd forgotten to pack their batting, they might not have been as chipper.
Lord's saw three innings of the Kiwis fighting hard. They could have batted better after limiting England to 232, and they struggled with one partnership in the third innings but they never let England crush them. Several players stood up when they needed them.
Most importantly Tim Southee, who a couple of years back looked like he was too slow for Test cricket and could only bowl with a new ball, wrote his name on the Lord's 10-wicket honours board. Southee has showed his quality for a while, but this was a monster performance, it kept his side in a Test, showed how he could make something out of nothing and made him look like a leader. It was very impressive.
Much unlike New Zealand's fourth innings.
They could have been forgiven for turning up in Leeds with no fight left in them. But their first day here showed a side desperate to hold on. Early wickets scared England. Late wickets kept their total within the category of an unlikely-yet-possible win. When Rutherford and Fulton came out looking strong, with the sun on their backs and the pitch on their side, it seemed like they could have one last go at England.
Then it all fell down. Good bowling from England found every single technical deficiency the Kiwis had. Their bowlers found very little respite, other than some slow batting, and ended with Martin Guptill bowling declaration overs.
Their final innings total was the highest in the four they played in England. It was only 220. For the second time in the match, their total was boosted by tail-end slogging.
In five Tests they were the dominant team in two, humiliated in two, and hung on in one with some help from the rain. Considering what happened in McCullum's first series in charge, and what happened to Ross Taylor to get him there, this was a very respectable result for the eighth-ranked side in the world.
With their seam bowling line-up and some of the batting talent they are still to get the most out of, New Zealand should spend the next few years improving their ranking. They should win Tests, and even series, against the biggest six nations. They should look back at this proper Test series as one where they learnt lessons, held their own against a quality side and worked out what they need to improve on.
Even if they don't win as many Tests as they want, their biggest gift to cricket over the next couple of years could be making Hamish Rutherford a consistent Test player.
It's not okay to lose but, if you are going to, you might as well give the world some off-side beauty to look at.