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March 7, 2008
While England got dogged defence down to a fine art, they forgot that to defend successfully, you need to score runs as well. For almost an hour in the afternoon the run-rate hovered at around one an over. Incredibly, that was while Kevin Pietersen was at the crease. The result was that although New Zealand only took four wickets, their lead remains large enough that if they can bowl England out cheaply tomorrow and score quick runs, they will have at least a day for their bowlers to win the match.
New Zealand bowled superbly until weariness took hold in the last hour. The seamers offered little, the spinners tormented the batsmen, and Daniel Vettori tightened the noose with intelligent field placing that choked England's usually aggressive middle order.
Resuming on 87 for 2, England pressed on for much of the morning as Michael Vaughan and Andrew Strauss made slow, steady and untroubled progress, and when Vaughan brought up his half-century with a deliberate steer to third man off Vettori, the chatter was all about how a draw was almost inevitable.
Even when the breakthrough came from Jeetan Patel, it seemed only a brief hiccup. Patel, who visibly grew in confidence as the day progressed, found a modicum of turn outside off stump and Vaughan feathered a sharp chance through to Brendon McCullum behind the stumps. Three balls after lunch and Strauss fell, undone by a sublimely-flighted ball from Vettori which fizzed out of the footmarks outside off and ripped through a loose drive.
Vettori then turned the screw. When not bowling himself, he placed his field to choke the batsmen's strengths, especially when Pietersen was on strike, reducing one of the game's great strokemakers to a plodding grafter. Pietersen thumped the third ball of his innings before lunch for a towering straight six; in the entire afternoon he managed 26 runs, and eight of those came off the last two overs of the session. It wasn't until the brink of tea that he hit his second boundary.
Pietersen's uncharacteristic vigil - he was at one stage given an ironic cheer for a single - ended soon after tea when a thin edge into his pads carried back to a diving Vettori, but as the shadows lengthened Collingwood and Ambrose finally started to hit out, their unbeaten seventh-wicket stand of 41 coming at heady two an over. The diminutive Ambrose showed no sign of nerves in his debut innings.
England should have done enough to ensure that unless this pluperfect surface suddenly falls apart, this game will end in nothing other than stalemate. But watching the way Vettori and Patel whirled away in the afternoon, and imagining how many more questions they will ask on a wearing fifth-day pitch, it would be foolish to write New Zealand off quite yet.
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