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March 23, 2008
Sidebottom's seven-wicket haul took his series collection to 23 and Brendon McCullum's scalp took him to 50 in his 13th match and they were the best figures by an England bowler since Steve Harmison's 7 for 12 at Sabina Park in 2004. He showed, too, that his game is constantly expanding with three of his wickets coming from a round-the-wicket angle which he'd rarely used before at international level. For the third time in three weeks he led England off and his team-mates owe him a decent rest before he has to go out again.
When Michael Vaughan played a horrendous pull in Chris Martin's first over Sidebottom might have been tempted to keep the whites on before some normality returned with Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss adding 72 in 24 overs. Strauss slowly began to middle the ball, but Cook couldn't survive the day when he edged one that was too close to cut off Jeetan Patel having previously been dropped by McCullum off a similar shot when on 34.
This has been an unpredictable series at the best of times with fortune swaying day by day, but this time it changed in a session. Fleming appeared to be writing his own script, dispatching the bowling with disdain in a 53-ball half-century which sent fielders scurrying. Matthew Bell, a walking wicket, had padded up in the first over but the second-wicket stand with Jamie How firstly consolidated then exploded. James Anderson was taken to the cleaners - his last three overs costing 44 over two spells - and a polar opposite performance to his Wellington efforts.
Whatever happened in the interval Vaughan and Peter Moores should save it for future engagements, because when England reappeared they looked a different side and exploited the overcast conditions which stayed throughout the day. Fleming's failure to convert to three figures, when he flashed Sidebottom to second slip three overs into the afternoon session, summed up his 111-match career and suddenly the soft underbelly of New Zealand was exposed. Probing around the wicket, Sidebottom removed How when he drove outside off stump and Strauss, who had earlier spilt a chance offered by Fleming on 44, held on at first slip.
Stuart Broad briefly broke Sidebottom's monopoly with a beautiful delivery to Ross Taylor, reward for an improved second spell which helped build the pressure. It has been another encouraging match for Broad who, despite failing to add to his overnight 42, is developing his all-round game and delivered a 13-over burst. However, as well as England were bowling New Zealand helped in their own demise. Fleming and How both drove without due care and attention, but Mathew Sinclair's shot hit a new low as he tried to pull a Sidebottom, cramped himself for room and lobbed a catch to mid-on. For period this was a Test match only in name as wickets were thrown away recklessly.
McCullum signalled his intentions immediately, walking across the crease first ball and quickly carving Broad through the covers. An aggressive approach is often worthwhile in low-scoring matches, although some selectivity is also required. Sidebottom, still persisting around the wicket, swung one in with the arm as McCullum tried to cut, and claimed his third five-wicket haul in three Tests. He then slanted one across Grant Elliott to end a brief debut innings from the allrounder who looks considerably below Jacob Oram's class.
Tim Southee had become only the sixth New Zealander to take a five-wicket haul on Test debut when he helped clean up England's innings. However, he looked out of his depth with the bat as he backed away to leg and Broad soon bounced him out. It was revenge for Broad who had fallen first ball of the day and as New Zealand passed 100, with one wicket down, Southee wouldn't have believed he'd be back taking the new ball early in the final session. Test cricket has a habit of ebbing and flowing, but this was taking it to extremes.