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March 24, 2008
New Zealand offspinner Jeetan Patel endured the toughest day of his three-Test career as England's batsmen, Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell, piled on the runs on the third day in Napier. The pair recorded their first centuries of the year as England racked up a lead of 501 with six full sessions still remaining. However, by the close of play, Patel was still optimistic about his team's prospects of saving the series.
Patel bowled diligently for figures of 1 for 76 off 26 overs, having picked up the wicket of Alastair Cook on the second evening. But he took his lack of outright success as a positive sign, and believed that New Zealand, who were rolled over for 168 in their first innings, could take heart from England's success and dig for the draw on what is still a very true pitch.
"They batted really well, and they showed us what is capable on that sort of wicket," Patel said. "We had a chance yesterday to get in and build a big score and no-one really went on. It's disappointing on that front for us, but to see two good players go like that, I think it's a good learning curve for the rest of us."
"It's a great wicket, it's still coming through nicely," said Patel. "There's not too much turn although the newer ball gets a bit of bounce. Our guys just have to get in, kick on and get some big scores unlike the mediocre ones we've been getting so far."
There is an added incentive for New Zealand to fight to the bitter end in this match - the tour of England is fast approaching and the squad will be announced next week. As Strauss in particular demonstrated for England, when your career is under threat, it can act as a powerful incentive. For the likes of Matthew Bell and Mathew Sinclair, neither of whom has made a half-century in five attempts, an opportunity awaits in the coming days.
"We're pretty confident in what we can do," said Patel, who even raised the unlikely prospect of going for a world-record run-chase. "If we got off to a flier, or if in the middle of the last day if we were close, we might think about it. But first of all our guys have to really get in and push their claims for England, and their careers. There's a big tour coming up and the guys need to be able to perform in this scenario and save a Test for us. Hopefully they can push on to England from here."
As a bowling unit, New Zealand hadn't come across such a focused English batting effort all tour, and Patel was impressed with the resolve that Strauss and Bell showed. "There was a little bit of edginess but they got themselves in and worked really hard," he said. "They're playing for their spots and their careers and they showed how to do it. We thought we had a chance to get a couple early and skittle them for 200 but they batted well. I don't think we bowled poorly, I think they stuck around and hung in as hard as they could.
"There was more of a streak of aggression [today] but other than that I don't think they've batted any differently. Two guys got in and showed what they're made of. Our 20s and 30s aren't enough on that wicket, they're just the start of what you can get, as Strauss showed us."
It was a tough day for New Zealand in more ways than one. Stephen Fleming was late in arriving at the ground after succumbing to a 24-hour bug overnight, while Brendon McCullum took a nasty blow in the neck while standing up to the medium-pacer, Grant Elliott. "The mood's still pretty good," said Patel. "It's just a tough day's Test cricket. I think the guys realise that's what it's about. It's a hard grind."
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