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March 8, 2008
A match which had been notable for slow scoring and a paucity of wickets turned on its head on the fourth afternoon when New Zealand, pressing for quick runs, lost six wickets for 20 in 11 breathtaking overs. Their chief tormentor was Ryan Sidebottom, whose 5 for 37 included a hat-trick. New Zealand are still in a decent position, leading by 269, and if they can nudge and nurdle that past 300 tomorrow, then they will be the favourites given how hard it is for any batsman to force the pace on this pitch.
But they are not as impregnable as they were when Stephen Fleming and Jamie How were cruising on 99 for 1 before the maelstrom. New Zealand had bowled England out shortly after lunch to take a first-innings lead of 122, and despite losing Matthew Bell to Sidebottom in the first over, had the match completely in their hands. After a solid start, they began to put pressure on England as the lead passed 200.
The whole situation was changed by a quite brilliant catch in the deep by Matthew Hoggard just as the tempo of the innings was rising. How hit hard and true towards deep midwicket but somehow Hoggard, hurtling to his right five yards inside the rope, threw himself high and wide to cling on to the catch as he fell to earth. How's shake of the head said it all.
A hiccup rapidly became a fully-fledged collapse as four wickets crashed in nine balls, including a Ryan Sidebottom hat-trick either side of Monty Panesar's dismissal of Brendon McCullum. Sidebottom, whose feat went almost unnoticed amid the coming and going of batsmen, was aided by some brilliant catching from Alastair Cook. Rarely can one man, let alone one side, have held so many outstanding catches in one match
Fleming, who had looked in imperious form, started the slide when a loose drive was well held by Cook in the gully, and then Cook somehow clung on to one rocketing towards him as Matt Sinclair threw the kitchen sink at a wide ball and got a thick edge. Jacob Oram completed the 1-2-3 when he was again undone by minimal footwork, trapped in front for a duck. As Sidebottom tired Panesar took charge, holding a simple return catch to remove first-innings century-maker Ross Taylor and then enticing Kyle Mills to heave across the line. A good crowd, basking in the sunshine and with little to cheer in the previous day and a half, were in raptures.
It was hard to believe this was the same England side that looked out of sorts in the field only an hour before. Vaughan had even brought on Collingwood ahead of the out-of-sorts Steve Harmison and left Panesar kicking his heels, even though for more than a day Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel had shown than spin was king on this surface.
Nor had the first session given any indication of what was to follow, even though England's pedestrian innings finally ended soon after lunch in a rush of wickets. They had resumed at the same crawl that had been the hallmark of their third-day performance and through the morning scored a mere 61 runs, including 28 in the first hour.
Vettori and Patel whirled away and posed a few problems. Ambrose played with excellent composure for a man in his first Test and brought up his fifty shortly before the break. By then he had lost Collingwood , who had provided the session's highlight with an out-of-character lofted six over long-off, lbw to Oram. Given that the previous four sessions had produced five wickets, the end came surprisingly quickly, New Zealand requiring just 7.1 overs after lunch to wrap things up, during which time one run was scored. England lost two wickets in two balls to Patel in the first over after the resumption, before Panesar fell to Mills' first delivery with the new ball.
After 11 sessions of torpor the match is intriguingly poised, and with the weather superb and the pitch holding together well, a thrilling climax is in store tomorrow.