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March 10, 2013
Relief was the overriding emotion for Alastair Cook after England salvaged a draw in Dunedin despite one the worst starts they have made to a Test in recent times and he admitted to being no nearer to an answer on why the team starts so poorly overseas.
Led by Steven Finn's unexpected resistance as nightwatchman - he batted 203 balls in nearly five hours - England negotiated the final day with only a few uncertain moments, largely after tea when Finn and Joe Root fell in quick succession with the lead below 100.
It was the second Test in a row where England have batted out nearly two days to save a game following their series-clinching performance against India in Nagpur before Christmas. Although a difference scenario - on that occasion the first-innings scores were almost level so it was always about building a lead - it acted as inspiration for a batting line-up still embarrassed by their demise for 167 on the second day.
"We've been lucky in one sense to escape with a draw certainly," Cook said. "That's a huge reminder that if you don't perform, you don't deserve to win anything. When you get bowled out for 160-odd in the first innings on a good wicket you are always going to be struggling and facing an uphill battle just to save the game. After they were 130 for none, it was pretty much damage limitation from there on.
"It was about stopping them scoring which we didn't do as well as we could have done and we knew when we batted again we had to bat 170 overs. It was very similar to the Nagpur situation. That was very evident to see and we reminded the lads that they done it before and there's no reason, if we applied the same mindset, we couldn't do that. The character to dig ourselves out of a hole is very pleasing."
While England's fight bailed them out of a tough situation - as it did at Brisbane in 2010-11 - it would be far more preferable if they did not find themselves in such positions. Excluding Bangladesh, they have not won the opening Test of an away series since beating South Africa at Port Elizabeth in 2004-05. Cook did not have an answer. "We don't know. That's the bottom line," he said.
"It's a thing we talked about before the series, something that we recognise we have started overseas series poorly for a while now. It's something we wanted to address, but unfortunately our actions didn't back up our words and it's very hard to come back from the situation we found ourselves in."
Cook didn't shy away from what put England into a backs-to-the-wall position in the first place - a series of horrid shots on the second day as the first innings lasted only 55 overs. Cook, himself, was culpable when he cut a short ball to point while four wickets were donated to Bruce Martin.
"They put some pressure on us, but if you look at the shots it was pretty poor shot selection, or probably more poor shot execution, you can pretty much describe it as soft dismissals. If you do that against any team you pay the price."
As ever when a team fights back to draw a Test from such a difficult position - England have only saved four matches with bigger first-innings deficits in their history - there are questions about where the balance of power now lies especially with back-to-back Tests. Brendon McCullum was pleased that his team had been able to dictate the match throughout, but Cook felt England could take plenty from their second innings.
"It certainly gives us some confidence, especially when you get bowled out for 160 in the first innings, as a batting unit you can start to have negative thoughts - you don't want that to snowball."
Andrew McGlashan is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfoFeeds: Andrew McGlashan
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