First Test

NEW ZEALAND v ENGLAND 1991-92

Toss: New Zealand

A Test match that was otherwise as sedate as it was one-sided ended in the most thrilling fashion ten minutes from time when the New Zealand captain went to hit the boundary which would have levelled the scores. But having gone down the pitch to drive a flighted, dropping delivery from England's match-winner, Tufnell, Crowe could do no more than sky the ball to mid-off. The consequence was England's third Test victory in a row, something which they had not achieved since 1981. For New Zealand it was only their third Test defeat at home in 35 Tests since 1979-80.

Throughout the game the only question was whether England would have the time to win or not; they were on top from the first hour. Although the pitch was then damp enough to help the pace bowlers for the one time in the match, Morrison and Cairns were too wayward as they strained for an opening. Thereafter the pitch was plain slow, and being bound together by grass which was hardly scarred in the course of five days, encouraged spin only little, even Tufnell's. Plenty of rolling by the groundsman, Russell Wylie, and his removal of rubbishy top soil, had produced a benign clay-based strip far from the result wicket which England had seen on their two previous Test tours.

Stewart, in his highest and most controlled Test innings to that point, counteracted the early fall of Gooch and the uncertainty of Hick. The vice-captain reached 50 by lunch and 102 by tea, and it needed a ball which bounced abnormally to have him caught at first slip in the final over of the opening day. Stewart's cutting, cover-driving and pulling fully punished the regular bad balls; but it was his compactness, in not playing loose off-side shots early on, which was most impressive. So, it was an expensive mistake when Crowe, the sole slip, dropped Smith on 44. England's third-wicket pair had added 179 in 50 overs and the bat was completely in command by the time Smith repeated his back-foot drive and edged to the new first slip, Greatbatch. Stewart hit 17 fours, Smith 16, Lamb and Lewis 13 each (with a six for Lamb), as New Zealand lacked not only Hadlee but a medium-pacer to keep one end tight.

If England's run-scoring was slightly more leisurely on the second day, as Lamb sought a century on his return to the side and Reeve played his début innings, it was still thoroughly efficient. Such was their confidence that Defreitas, having blocked his first ball of the tour, drove the second over long-on for six. This was England's highest total at Christchurch, surpassing their 560 for eight in 1932-33. Poor weather limited New Zealand's reply to 2.2 overs on the second evening and allowed no play at all on the third morning. The prospect of a result receded further as Hartland defended calmly on his Test début. But then Tufnell had the first of his two inspired spells in the match, using the wind off the Cashmere Hills to drift the ball into the right-hander and taking four top-order wickets for 20. Wright, lured at last into driving, edged to slip, Hartland gave Smith the first of four close-in catches off pad and bat; and Thomson completely misread a ball drifting into him. Yet the game changed abruptly again when Patel counter-attacked against Tufnell, who had been similarly hammered by the same player on his first-class début for Middlesex in 1986.

Patel and Cairns carried on aggressively on the fourth morning to a new seventh-wicket record for New Zealand against England, of 117 in 120 minutes. But just as the follow-on target of 381 was coming within range, Patel went for a third run to Pringle, running back towards long-on, and missed out on his maiden Test century by a yard. It was the ninth instance of a Test batsman run out for 99, all post-war. Reeve chipped in by taking a wicket with his eighth ball in Test cricket, and New Zealand were batting again before tea on the fourth day. Thereafter it was hard work for an increasingly footsore England. Only one wicket fell before the close, another - the nightwatchman - on the last morning, and a third in the afternoon session, as New Zealand defended with great defiance. After tea England still had to take more wickets - seven - than had fallen on any of the previous days. Reeve was off the field with a stomach upset by food poisoning, Defreitas limped off before the close, and the pitch had barely worn at all. But Tufnell had rediscovered his length and flight.

Wright, tied down on 99 for 23 minutes either side of the tea interval, became ever more fretful at Tufnell's accuracy and for the first time in more than six hours went down the pitch to try and hit him over the top, The second time he charged, he was stranded by a wider ball bouncing out of the footmarks. In Tufnell's next over but one Greatbatch and Thomson were out. When Patel, torn between defending and attacking, skied to mid-off, 65 minutes remained. After Lewis had bounced out Ian Smith, the last pair were left with half an hour to survive and 18 runs to make. They knocked off 14 of them, until Crowe gambled all against a field brought in to save every run, and lost.It was the third consecutive Test in which Tufnell had taken five wickets in an innings, and his figures of 85.1 overs and 11 wickets for 147 runs were the fruit of flighted bowling of rare, old-fashioned craft.

Man of the Match: P. C. R. Tufnell.

Close of play: First day, England 310-A ( A. J. Lamb 17*, R. C. Russell 0*); Second day, New Zealand 3-0 ( B. R. Hartland 0*, J. G. Wright 2*); Third day, New Zealand 169-6 ( D. N. Patel 55*, C. L. Cairns 3*); Fourth day, New Zealand 81-1 ( J. G. Wright 28*, D. K. Morrison 0*).

© John Wisden & Co