Stretched to the limit
New Zealand had their chances to take the series, but their thin resources were eventually exploited by England. The victory in Hamilton will go down as one of their best, but their top-order is seriously weak, especially now Stephen Fleming is departing the scene. Andrew Miller takes a look at the players who fought hard before finally coming up short.
A brave half-century in Napier massaged his figures but couldn't disguise the woefulness of his form. Prior to that innings he had managed 48 runs in five outings, including three ducks, the worst of which came in the first innings of the same game, when he padded up to Ryan Sidebottom for the most palpable lbw of the series. If he's done enough to make the England tour, swing bowlers up and down the country will be gleefully awaiting his lack of foot movement.
Jamie How - 6
The stats don't quite show it, but this was something of a breakthrough season for How. He starred in the one-day series and carried some of that form through to the Tests, where his first-innings 92 at Hamilton was instrumental in the victory that followed. These are lean times for New Zealand's batting, but How has the technique and the temperament to cement a role at the top of the order.
Stephen Fleming - 6
What an appropriate send-off. Six innings, six starts - nothing less than 31, nothing higher than 66. It's been the story of his 14-year career. Flashes of brilliance, followed by momentary losses of concentration. Whenever he was at the crease, New Zealand looked in control of their destiny. Now that he is gone, their batting looks threadbare, to say the least.
Ross Taylor - 8
A class act who reached maturity while his team-mates fell like dominoes. He had an embarrassing welcome to the crease at Hamilton when the PA announcer revealed his career average of 17 to all and sundry, but he rose above such indignities with a finely crafted 120, an innings of uncharacteristic circumspection from a man best known for his one-day exploits. He added half-centuries in each of the two defeats that followed, including a defiant 74 on the final morning of the series, and England will not be taking him lightly in the return series in May.
Mathew Sinclair - 2
It is now more than seven years since "Skippy" scored the last of his three landmark centuries, 204 not out against Pakistan, and the change that has washed over his game in that time is tragic to behold. He barely managed a third of that tally for the entire series, and succumbed in such a variety of manners that it was impossible to pinpoint any single weakness. He is simply devoid of all confidence, and surely cannot now expect to redeem himself in England.
Grant Elliott - 3
His debut started brightly enough with a first-morning wicket, but Elliott's limitations were sorely exposed thereafter. His pace was insufficient, and his batting undercooked. In an 11-year career he has managed only four centuries at an average of 27.94, and that was pitifully apparent as he mustered a match tally of ten runs. At one-day level, he might yet be a proposition, but he's out of his depth in Test cricket.
Jacob Oram - 7
Sorely missed at Napier, if only for his strangulatingly accurate bowling, which was more than any of England's specialist batsmen could cope with in the first two Tests. Only Tim Ambrose, with his penchant for the uppercut, was able to hit him off a length, but he still went at less than two runs an over while claiming eight key wickets. His batting was less of a success, although his reputation preceded him, and England didn't start celebrating their Wellington win until he had been prised from the crease.
Brendon McCullum - 6
Counterattacked impressively on the first day in Hamilton, and bludgeoned a quickfire 85 in Wellington, but too many of his innings were, in his own words, "short and sweet". After his spectacular one-day season, McCullum was loathe to temper his aggression, but paid the price in each of the three Tests. His keeping wasn't flawless either, but he has a presence about him that too many of his team-mates lack.
Daniel Vettori - 7
His captaincy in the first Test was positive, pro-active, and decisive, and could have set the tone for the series, had it not been for the subsequent failings of his top order. Vettori did his utmost to stem the tide on each occasion, batting with grit and panache at No. 8 to finish as New Zealand's third-highest run-scorer for the series. His bowling was skilful but under-rewarded, at least until he doubled his series tally in the final innings at Napier. His marathon 56-over stint in the first innings at Hamilton strangled England's ambitions.
Kyle Mills -7
Produced the spell of his life on the final day in Hamilton, scalping four wickets in 5.3 overs to set New Zealand up for a very famous win. Swung the ball consistently throughout the Wellington defeat, and could be relied upon for some lusty tail-end blows as well. Was a loss to the side when he withdrew with a calf tear.
Tim Southee - 9
Quite a debut. Southee poked his nose into the international arena during the Twenty20s in February, but it wasn't until he returned a Man of the Tournament performance at the Under-19 World Cup that his star really started to rise. Into the fray he was pitched, and he responded with a wonderful first-day display of 5 for 55, swinging the ball at good pace and cool accuracy. He didn't look too flash with the bat in the first innings, as Broad bounced him out with disdainful ease. But second-time around, and the disdain was all Southee's, as he swiped his way to an incredible 40-ball 77 not out, including nine sixes.
Jeetan Patel - 6
Sparky appearances at the top and tail of the series. He doesn't look like a world-beater with ball in hand, but he has the confidence and attitude to make up for his shortcomings, and the manner in which he ripped his offbreaks at Hamilton went a long way to undermining England's collective confidence. He'll be on the plane to England, and deservedly so.
Chris Martin - 6
New Zealand's leading wicket-taker for the series, and a key performer in the Hamilton victory. Went missing a touch in the second Test, but returned at Napier where he proved a vital foil to Southee with the ball in the first innings and, less expectedly, with the bat in the second. Deserves and needs his rest now, before leading the attack in England in May.
Mark Gillespie - 5
Picked up wickets, six of them in his solitary outing of the series, but didn't entirely convince his doubters - especially those who winced at his occasionally haphazard fielding. Nevertheless, a tally of 11 in his first two Tests cannot be sniffed at. He'll no doubt thrive in the early-season English conditions, where his zip and swing will prove especially tricky to negotiate.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo