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March 15, 2008
Alastair Cook is 23 years and 81 days old. He has been an international cricketer for two years and 14 days, and in that time he has played in 26 Tests, 21 ODIs and two Twenty20 internationals - a total of 49 games. By the end of the first hour of the third day at Wellington, he had faced 5470 deliveries, scored 2738 runs, and hit 310 fours (233 of them in Tests). Not once, however, had he managed to clear the ropes for six - a failing that had earned him the nickname "Handbrake" in the England dressing-room. All that changed in the 11th over, however, when Chris Martin banged in a bouncer. Cook climbed into an aggressive pull, the ball got big on him and he completely muffed the shot. But no matter. The ball sailed high and handsome over the third man boundary, and at last the mickey-takers could be silenced.
Deflection of the day
Kevin Pietersen has never known a run of form to match the slough he's currently in. He has now gone 10 consecutive innings without so much as a half-century, having never before had to wait that long even between hundreds. His struggles are a microcosm of the woes currently inflicting the England dressing-room, because if the most cocksure man in the side is having pangs of doubt, what hope the lesser mortals? And as Pietersen discovered today, when the chips are down, the luck vanishes with them. He had patiently made his way along 17 from 38 balls when Ian Bell drove Martin straight back down the ground. Martin bent his wiry frame and brushed a fingertip on the ball as it whistled past him, which was just enough to deflect the ball into the stumps, and send Pietersen on his way.
Drops of the day
Two in two balls - and they were at polar opposite ends of the difficulty scale. First there was Paul Collingwood, hoisting Daniel Vettori high down the ground, where Mark Gillespie circled like a wonky gyroscope before diving without conviction to palm the ball over the long-on ropes for good measure. And then, at the start of the next over, Ian Bell had his own let-off when he smeared a cut fiercely through point off Martin. Mathew Sinclair managed some impressive hang-time as he stretched to his fullest extent, but the ball burst through his fingertips to be pulled up just inside the rope.
Breaking news of the day
England finished the day in a commanding position, but it was another innings without conviction and without a top-order centurion. What the team would give for a man like Marcus Trescothick, who could always be relied on to set a brisk and bullish tempo for his team-mates to follow. Sadly, the news coming out of Somerset was that Tresco had pulled out of his team's pre-season trip to the UAE due to a recurrence of his stress-related illness. At 32, it is inconceivable that he will ever feel ready to return to the international fold. England's summer of 2005 seems longer ago than ever.
Stat of the day
England's lead at the close was a healthy 421, and with two full days of the game remaining, that should be more than ample to secure their series-squaring victory. The Basin is not renowned for its fourth-innings totals. The highest score ever made in the last dig is New Zealand's 286 against Sri Lanka in December 2006, but they still lost the game by 217 runs. The highest successful run-chase on this ground was achieved by Pakistan in December 2003, and more specifically by Yousuf Youhana (as he was then known) and Inzamam-ul-Haq, who made 88 not out and 72 not out in a total of 277 for 3. And ominously for New Zealand, they have twice passed 400 in the fourth innings of a Test, in 1973 and Astle's match in 2001-02, but they've twice finished on the losing side. The winner on both occasions? England.
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