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March 7, 2013
Was this really the team bowled out for 45 two Tests ago? Was it really the team who sacked their captain in such a way that he took time away from the game? Was it really the team whose off-field exploits make as many headlines as those on it? Was this really the team whose management and executive structure do not appear to see eye-to-eye?
What this was, without doubt, was one of New Zealand's greatest days of Test cricket in recent times. This was not dominating against a lowly Zimbabwe or Bangladesh side. They outplayed one of the strongest Test teams in the world from start to finish. There was an air of disbelief from those who have followed New Zealand cricket's recent woes.
"We're in the position that every team can dream of at the moment," Neil Wagner said, and even that sounded like an understatement.
It was Wagner who sparked New Zealand's incredible day. In his first over, with his second and third deliveries, he removed England captain Alastair Cook and trapped Kevin Pietersen lbw first ball. England's top order looked a little vulnerable coming into the match due to the lack of match practice and the home side made it count.
Wagner had been bullish in Queenstown after roughing up England's batsmen, including removing Pietersen, and highlighted keeping him short of runs. He said New Zealand would try to "hammer" on his confidence. He was as good as his word today and, when asked about England's performance, did not produce a dead-bat answer.
"They were under a bit of pressure and thought they might take lower-risk shots but at the end of the day, that's the way they play," he said. "There's days when it doesn't come off and days when it comes off and on those days you don't want to be the opposition and they can hurt you badly. Other days it doesn't come off and it was just one of those days when it didn't work for them."
The standout feature of New Zealand's day, of which there were many, was that the key individuals - Wagner, Bruce Martin and Hamish Rutherford - could, in slightly different circumstances, have been playing in the Ford Trophy one-day tournament rather than a Test match.
Wagner was only included in the squad after impressing for the New Zealand XI in Queenstown. Initially, Mark Gillespie was tipped to be the likely option to bolster the pace resources, but Wagner's six wickets last week tipped the balance back his way. He may still have missed the final cut, though, if Doug Bracewell had not decided to clean up his house, in the process stepping on a piece of glass. In this case, Wagner's glass was certainly half full.
However, his first three Tests had brought five wickets at 68.80 and it was already being suggested that he was another player unable to transfer dominant domestic form to the top level. One good day does not mean he has cracked it, but the relief from him was palpable. "I needed it and I was just glad to get it under the belt I guess," he said.
Wagner shared eight wickets with Martin, but the 32-year-old left-arm spinner was not a certain starter in this match just the day before. Four quicks were being seriously considered by Brendon McCullum and Mike Hesson. It's difficult to say Martin bowled for his wickets (caught point, deep square-leg and short fine-leg) but his presence ensured England's batsmen could not settle in against four medium-fast bowlers.
Martin also made it clear before the series that he was not too interested in being a defensive bowler and "would look to take a few poles and bowl to some attacking fields" if he got his chance. McCullum, a captain out of the same aggressive mindset, supported him with men around the bat and also gave him the ball straight after lunch when logic might have suggested resuming with two seamers. When Matt Prior began to open his shoulders, McCullum did not withdraw Martin to the safety of the outfield and the following over he claimed the wicket.
Then there is Rutherford, like Wagner, an Otago cricketer playing on his home ground. Of all the problem areas in the New Zealand team over recent times, the opening partnership has been one of most vexing.
Rutherford did not look remotely out of place, resisting England's attempts to disturb him with the short ball and driving more confidently than during the one-day series. His opening stand with Peter Fulton, currently worth 131, is New Zealand's best since Mark Richardson and Stephen Fleming added 163 against England, at Trent Bridge, in 2004.
A compact left-hander from the same school as McCullum, Rutherford was picked on the basis of strong domestic form but was not the most prolific option available. There is also the likelihood that if Martin Guptill had not been injured during the one-day series, he would have been given another chance alongside Peter Fulton. It was a day for a host of accidental heroes.
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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