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March 9, 2008
The day started with both sides talking up their chances, and yet by lunch England were on their way to defeat after Kyle Mills blew away their top order with four wickets in five overs of hostile seam bowling.
Daniel Vettori had batted on for half an hour this morning before declaring to set England a target of 300 in 81 overs. In the context of the way Test cricket is played these days, that was not the impossible ask it might have been a decade or two ago. But England had needed 11 hours, twice their allotted time for this innings, to grind along to their first innings 348, and their required run-rate of 3.70 was stratospheric in comparison. Even so, when Alastair Cook guided two streaky fours through third man in Chris Martin's first over, there was a suspicion that New Zealand's attacking fields might aid them in their quest.
Mills, however, soon exploded such a notion. With his ninth delivery, he tempted Cook to fence outside off stump for Brendon McCullum to claim a regulation edge, and at 19 for 1 in the fourth over, England's uncertainty began to surface. Michael Vaughan had already got off the mark with a streaky top-edged pull over the slip cordon, and he was the next to go as Mills produced a wicket-to-wicket delivery that kept low and struck him plumb in front of middle stump.
New Zealand were now pumped to the gunwales with adrenalin, with attacking fields looming as Andrew Strauss and Kevin Pietersen attempted to pick up the pieces. Neither survived to the interval, however, as Mills again struck gold. Strauss hung his bat out limply to a delivery angled across his body, and McCullum, diving to his left, just kept hold of an excellent catch that might otherwise have flown past Stephen Fleming's shoulder at slip.
And in his very next over, Mills claimed the biggest scalp of the lot. Pietersen had been a subdued presence during England's plodding first innings, and his defensiveness once again got the better of him. Mills pitched just back of a length outside off stump, the ball seamed back in and flicked the top of Pietersen's back pad as he shouldered arms. Replays suggested the ball might have clipped the off bail, so the decision was marginal, but New Zealand's dominance was not. At 25 for 4 in the tenth over, Mills had the sensational figures of 5-1-7-4, and the real menace of the fourth innings, Vettori, hadn't even warmed up.
Sidebottom, who two hours earlier had walked off to a standing ovation, nibbled at one angled across him, and then Matthew Hoggard reached for one that he should never have been playing to give McCullum his third and fourth catches.
Vettori, who captained well and led by example with both bat and ball, deserving his Man-of-the-Match award, kept prodding with field and bowling changes. Steve Harmison, whose match was as wretched as Vettori's was impressive, was well held in his midriff by a beached Stephen Fleming at slip.
With the end in sight and freed from pressure, Bell started playing his shots, lofting two straight-driven sixes, while Panesar dead batted with assuredness. The pitch remained true and the ease with which they put on 33 in almost an hour for the last-wicket made a mockery of what had gone before. They took England past three figures before Panesar nicked Jacob Oram to give McCullum his fifth catch. Bell trooped off, his unbeaten 54 almost half his team's total. He alone could hold his head high.
Vettori's first act of the day had been to chivvy an extra 30 runs from New Zealand's innings, just to put all thoughts of defeat to one side. He did so impressively, with a pair of aggressive sweeps for four off Panesar and a delicate late cut to third man off Ryan Sidebottom. He added one more boundary before Sidebottom cleaned him for 35 to complete his Test-best figures of 6 for 49, and his maiden ten-wicket haul. The final catch was a steepler in the covers to give Alastair Cook his sixth of the match.
Vettori declared soon afterwards, and his bowlers then ensured his aggressive approach reaped rich dividends. The reward for his positive approach was to be welcomed. England, who were on the back foot throughout, got exactly what their negativity deserved. At times, they looked petrified of failure and hopelessly undercooked.
Rarely do sides come back from behind over three matches, and given their alarmingly negative outlook, it is hard to see how England, who have three days to try to regroup before the Wellington Test, can buck the trend.
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