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March 16, 2013
The remnants of Cyclone Sandra, set to bring much-needed rain to drought-hit New Zealand, could yet have the decisive impact at the Basin Reserve but the home side are retaining far more positive thoughts than hoping the rain helps them out of a hole which has forced them to follow-on.
Their fight has started well, as they battled through the final session of the third day to reach 77 for 1, and although that is still 134 runs from making England bat again, BJ Watling, who made 60 in the first innings, was bullishly talking about providing a tricky final-day target for Bruce Martin, the left-arm spinner, to bowl at.
"I think they might have thrown us a bit of a lifeline," Watling said. "If we can bat well tomorrow morning and for a couple sessions to get rid of the deficit we can put them under a lot of pressure if we get a bit of a lead and then bowl on day five. There is still another two days to go and it might break up which will bring Bucko [Martin] into the last day.
"We are disappointed with our first innings, we needed 350 at least on that, but if we can rectify that and put them under pressure with 350-400; a lead of 200 on that track could be quite defendable."
Watling's gutsy display, which followed a first-ball duck in Dunedin, continued the positive impression he made in South Africa and earlier on this tour when he played a key role in the New Zealand XI victory against England in Queenstown. However, he was critical of himself for falling to the second new ball after a stand of 42 with Martin had taken his side close to saving the follow-on.
"It was quite disappointing to get out to the new ball. That was a crucial stage where I had to be there at the end. Bucko was going really well so it wasn't the best time to get out so I need to be a bit better at those situations."
In reality, it should be New Zealand's lower order, with the exception of the dogged Martin, who need to look in the mirror. Tim Southee did not suggest any inclination to help out his senior partner when he fell to a well-telegraphed plan and hooked a bouncer to long leg, Neil Wagner flashed at a wide one and Trent Boult ended the innings with an ugly heave. Miracles are not expected from a tail, but neither is surrender.
"It was a bit disappointing to be bowled out at the end," Watling said. "The lads will work on and be better off tomorrow or the next day."
It meant, after confirmation that the weather radar was not looking any more promising, that England enforced the follow-on for the first time in an overseas Test since Durban in 1999 after Andy Caddick had blown away South Africa for 156. The last time they did it and won was against New Zealand, at Christchurch, in 1992. Stuart Broad, who did most of the damage on this occasion with 6 for 51, confirmed it was all with an eye on the forecast.
"With the weather around, it was important to be able to enforce," Broad said. "It's not often enforced, because the bowlers tend to like a bit of a rest, and it's good to get their batsmen back out in the field and build a big lead with scoreboard pressure. But with the radar around, it's really unsure how much cricket will be left in the next two days. That was the only reason behind it."
It now puts England in a similar position to New Zealand last week when their attack racked up a lengthy stint in the field. James Anderson appeared to be labouring by the end of the day and Broad knew it was going to a test of the reserves.
"I think he's okay," Broad said of Anderson. "He's just torn into that wind for 20 overs, and it's taken it out of him a little bit. This wind, howling through, can stiffen the body up quite badly. So it's about keeping mobile."
Unless the forecast changes significantly, it won't only be the wind causing issues over the next two days.
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