McCullum steers New Zealand home
England were off the pace throughout. They batted too slowly, bowled too naïvely, and fielded like a side resigned to defeat - four chances of varying degrees of difficulty were shelled while the game was still live, including a howler by Stuart Broad at third man when McCullum had made 31. New Zealand were led superbly in the field by Kyle Mills, who took 4 for 36 with two wickets in an eight-over burst with the new ball and two more with his offcutters in the death overs, but none of England's bowlers seemed willing to follow his lead.
James Anderson, once again, was especially culpable. He unleashed the Kiwi beast in his third over by serving up another diet of short wide long-hops that McCullum bludgeoned up and over the covers for two fours and a six. When he returned for a second burst at 75 for 0 in the tenth over, with his side in dire need of wickets, he was clobbered for three massive sixes in a row - the first, which was spectacularly caught in the second tier of the grandstand, took him to his fifty from just 27 balls.
McCullum's form in this series has been nothing short of sensational. He finished with 261 runs from 203 balls faced, and only once, at Auckland, did he fail to reach 40 - not surprisingly, that was the only game that New Zealand went on to lose. Once again he compiled a century stand with his new opening partner, Jesse Ryder, but on this occasion Ryder was little more than a bystander. By the time he was lucklessly run out for 24 from 32 balls, his partner had pummelled his way to 72 from 34.
It was England's captain, Paul Collingwood, who eventually ended McCullum's stay. One ball after dropping a regulation return chance, he knocked back the off stump as McCullum attempted another heave through midwicket. But Jamie How, in the form of his life, responded with two sumptuous drives before the new batsman, Ross Taylor, got off the mark with consecutive edges for four. It was clear that nothing was going to stop New Zealand now.
Well, almost nothing. Just as at Napier, England found a second wind at precisely the moment that everyone else had given up on them. Scott Styris was once again the unwitting catalyst, as he wellied an attempted pull to cover off the undeserving Anderson, before Ryan Sidebottom - very much in the zone - removed the debutant Daniel Flynn and the dangerous Jacob Oram with consecutive off-stump legcutters. At 198 for 6, there was a glimmer for England and they were convinced that Vettori had edged Anderson but Billy Bowden disagreed. Then came the mandatory ball change at the end of the 34th over, and the venom went out of their challenge as the rain began to fall.
In truth, England scarcely deserved to get so close to victory. Batting first, their innings had been a mishmash of partially formed anchor roles, and all-too-brief cameos. Phil Mustard never got going, Ian Bell and Kevin Pietersen played themselves in then gave their wickets away in crass fashion - Bell to a lofted drive, a shot he had been playing exquisitely, and Pietersen to a second-ball mow off the spinner, Jeetan Patel.
Alastair Cook seemed set to drop anchor for the full 50 overs when he missed a quicker one from Daniel Vettori, who also served up the ball of the innings to have Collingwood stumped for 14. Owais Shah was scratchy in a rare lengthy opportunity, and in the end England owed every ounce of their competitiveness to Luke Wright and Dimitri Mascarenhas, who belted six sixes between them as 81 runs were added in the final eight overs.
Unfortunately for England, Wright and Mascarenhas's ease of strokeplay was the norm for this wicket, not the exception. By the time McCullum was into his stride, there was no doubt about the outcome. England had done well to recover their poise after the humiliations of the opening two games, but the 3-1 series result still flatters them. There is much for Collingwood and his team to work on before the return one-day series in June.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo