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March 26, 2008
England have bounced back from defeat in the opening Test in Hamilton to take their series against New Zealand with two convincing victories in Wellington and Napier. Questions marks stills surround a number of the players, but some stars have been unearthed. Andrew Miller takes a look at the players who secured England their first overseas series win in three years.
Alastair Cook - 5
Provided important ballast in both innings of the Wellington win, but was subdued for the rest of the series, as New Zealand's seamers probed a familiar failing outside off stump. His catching at Hamilton, however, was a revelation - particularly the screeching swipe at point that dismissed Stephen Fleming in the first innings. At Wellington, he became the youngest England cricketer to register 2000 Test runs, so there's plenty time to iron out his technical glitches.
Michael Vaughan - 5
A series tally of 123 runs at 20.50 will be seriously troubling to England's captain, who never really looked out of form but somehow succumbed to more than his fair share of aberrations. His departure triggered or intensified collapses in each of the three Tests, never more drastically than on the first morning at Napier, when England slumped to 4 for 3 on a blameless pitch. As a leader, however, he re-established his credentials thanks to England's come-from-behind victory, in particular through the ruthless sacking of his senior bowlers, Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard.
Andrew Strauss - 6
Saved his career at the last ditch in Napier, an achievement which speaks volumes about the hidden resolve that lurks within such a phlegmatic character. Yet another of the top six who was there or thereabouts all series - a pair of pretty 40s kept his pot boiling in the first two Tests, but were hardly the returns to justify his reinstatement ahead of Owais Shah. A lifetime-best 177 was much more the ticket. He's still not quite as compact as in his 2004 heyday, but the confidence that comes with such success cannot be underestimated.
Kevin Pietersen - 7
Produced the most domineering innings of the series, just when England most desperately needed it, and in so doing, ended the most worrying slump of his short and spectacular career. He'd gone ten innings without so much as a half-century until he climbed into a counter-offensive at Napier, and turned the tide of the Test. Prior to that, Pietersen's fortunes had bottomed out in the second innings at Wellington, where he was run out for 17 via a deflection off the bowler's fingertips. After that sort of misfortune, someone was doubtless going to pay.
Ian Bell - 6
The fluency of his second-innings hundred at Napier took the breath away, and once again begged the question, why can't he back himself to play with such freedom when the pressure is really on? According to Cricinfo's scorers, he laid bat on ball for each of his first 99 deliveries of the innings, and middled the majority of them, particularly when driving through the covers or down the ground. He did much the same for his only other half-century of the trip - a carefree 54 not out at Hamilton while the contest crumbled around him. England have invested a lot of faith in his development, and rightly so. But he needs to start setting the agenda soon, rather than following the leader.
Paul Collingwood - 6
Faultlessly middle-of-the-road throughout the tour. He wasn't best pleased to be demoted to the No. 6 position, only a year after recording an Ashes double-century, but responded with three half-centuries in his first four innings of the series, including the anchor role in the pivotal partnership of the tour, with Tim Ambrose at Wellington. Hasn't reached three figures since the Durham Test in June, ten matches ago, which will bother him. He had a hit-and-miss time in the slip cordon, not least when Ross Taylor edged onto his calf in the second Test, but he's still among the safest of England's new breed of catchers.
Tim Ambrose - 8
Without his fearless counterattacking century at Wellington, England would have been dead and buried before the halfway point of the series. It was a hugely influential performance from a man in the most scrutinised position in the team, and he responded as if he didn't have a nervous bone in his body. His wicketkeeping was also sound - if a shade on the silent side - and though he had a couple of wobbles at Wellington, in particular a missed stumping off Jacob Oram, he looks set for a long and prosperous stint in the side. Mind you, much the same was said of Geraint Jones and Matt Prior after their early-career hundreds. An impressive start, but when you're the England wicketkeeper, there's no place to hide.
Stuart Broad - 8
A ballsy performance from a cricketer of immense talent and promise. As an up-and-coming fast bowler, Broad's game has an ugly streak that belies his angelic features, and that trait proved invaluable in inhospitable conditions on the penultimate day at Napier, when he more or less carried his tiring pace-bowling colleagues. His selection ahead of Harmison was a punt that paid off handsomely for England, and his abilities as a No. 8 batsman cannot be underestimated either. Without his gritty 42 in the first innings at Napier, Pietersen might not have had the faith and patience to haul England back into the game.
Ryan Sidebottom - 9
The player of the series by a country mile. Sidebottom excelled himself in each and every Test - a hat-trick at Hamilton, closely followed by his maiden ten-wicket haul. Another vital five-for to wrap up the Wellington Test, and then his defining spell at Napier, when he bowled unchanged between lunch and tea on the second day, taking five wickets in the session and seven in the innings - yet another career-best performance. He has surged past 50 wickets in his first full year of international cricket, and is hungry to make up for his six years in the wilderness. His batting at No. 9 was not to be under-estimated either. England have unearthed a very complete cricketer.
James Anderson - 7
His recall for the second Test, at the expense of Hoggard, was controversial, but when Anderson responded with a wonderful spell of hostile, fast, full-length swing bowling, England must have wondered how they had coped without him in the five years since his debut. It all went a bit flat thereafter, sadly. An untimely ankle injury, sustained while playing football, reduced his effectiveness and at Napier, he was cannon fodder even for the desperate Matthew Bell. When it swings, Anderson makes it sing, but all too often he has no Plan B.
Monty Panesar - 6
Capped his series with a seventh five-wicket haul, but Monty's belated success couldn't quite gloss over a disappointing tour. He was unlucky with dropped catches at Wellington, but didn't exactly earn the right to complain with the shoddiness of his own fielding, which regressed horribly after a season of notable improvement. Nevertheless, he is closing in on 100 Test victims, and he's only just completed two years in the team. It's not a bad return at all, and compares very favourably with his counterpart, Vettori, the closest thing to a role model on the international circuit.
Steve Harmison - 2
Loose and listless in his solitary outing, it was no surprise when Harmison was singled out as a scapegoat for England's first-Test defeat. England have been unable to shake him from his torpor, and when Vaughan offered him a meagre four overs in the second innings in Hamilton, the graffiti was all over the dressing-room wall. Harmy, go home.
Matthew Hoggard - 4
Not quite as culpable as his colleague, but he still paid the price for his worst Test performance since the tour of Sri Lanka four years ago. Down on pace, and wayward as well, he looked like a man who needed more overs under his belt. County cricket will offer him the chance for redemption next summer, but such is the success that Sidebottom is currently enjoying in that crucial holding role, it's hard to see how he'll force his way back without a spate of injuries.