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At Nottingham, June 10, 11, 12, 13. England won by four wickets. Toss: New Zealand. Test debut: K. D. Mills.
For all the ups and downs along the way, a roller-coaster ride will always end in the same place. So too with this series. For the third time, New Zealand began strongly and held the advantage at various stages, only to dip for one last time in the final stretch. It took a nerveless hundred by Thorpe, his 14th in Test cricket, to complete what was described as a blackcapwash. And Fleming, New Zealand's highly regarded captain, could reflect on some unhelpful umpiring and injuries which restricted two of his front-line attack to 47 balls in the match.
In their stead, Cairns, who turned 34 on what proved to be the last day, coaxed his creaking body through a near-heroic effort to mark his Test farewell. He had brought this forward (though he continued in one-day cricket) because he wanted to bow out at Trent Bridge, his home from home as a Nottinghamshire overseas player. Despite the result and two failures with the bat - the crowd wanted to see a last swashbuckling innings - he could take pride from match figures of nine for 187, and seemed genuinely humbled when stewards lined up to form a guard of honour after the presentation ceremony.
Thorpe pipped him for the match award, but those who appreciate tales of the human spirit would have overlooked both. David Hopps's comparison of Ashley Giles to a wheelie bin, popularised via the radio by Henry Blofeld, had captured a general disregard for the slow left-armer, a decent sort who had considered giving up in the face of criticism. Now, the bin wheeled back, removing two of New Zealand's top three in the first innings, producing a peach of a ball to account for Cairns in the second, and then joining Thorpe for a match-winning partnership of 70 in 14 overs.
The folly of New Zealand's decision to include a single specialist slow bowler in their squad was exposed by the injury to Vettori. Their attack was unbalanced because they could not call up another spinner in time. James Franklin, left-arm seam, was drafted in from Rishton, of the Lancashire League, and Kyle Mills given a debut. England were unchanged, sticking with Saggers ahead of the centrally contracted Anderson, but, on a pitch much improved from the previous year against South Africa, they had to wait until the 52nd over for the first breakthrough, when Giles ended yet another obdurate effort by the limpet-like Richardson.
This time, Fleming completed his seventh Test hundred, whipping Saggers over midwicket for a second six, but a loose stroke brought his downfall after tea, and Harmison removed Astle and McMillan with successive deliveries as England made better use of the second new ball. Despite a hundred from Styris - like Fleming's, reached in 161 deliveries - New Zealand proved unable to construct a single substantial stand on Friday morning, when the ball swung and seamed more readily. Mills became Hoggard's 100th Test wicket and, four balls later, Martin his 101st.
However, Cairns and Franklin - introduced in the third over when Martin's hamstring went - made good use of the conditions as well. Effectively, the Vaughan-Trescothick opening partnership was restored, because they came together at 18 for two. Vaughan responded beautifully. Mills saw his first ball at this level race to the boundary and Vaughan reached his fifty in 49 deliveries with a six off Franklin, before becoming yet another victim of Cairns's slower ball. Soon after that, Mills joined Martin on the treatment table with a side strain.
Trescothick and Flintoff failed to build on half-centuries, and Thorpe was undone by one of three questionable decisions by Simon Taufel on the third day. A leg-side catch appeared to brush the thigh pad and, with Cairns and Franklin rising to their responsibilities, England needed some late clubbing by Giles to restrict the first-innings deficit to 65. Fleming and Richardson extended that until New Zealand were effectively 159 for nought. But once Giles's spin deceived Richardson - who had batted 21 hours 53 minutes in the series - the collapse was in motion. Fleming himself was given leg-before by Taufel offering no stroke to a ball going over the stumps, and Styris caught behind after swishing - and missing - against Harmison. The remaining five wickets realised 28 runs next morning. That still meant a target of 284: no side had ever won a Test at Trent Bridge chasing more than 247 in the fourth innings. Confidence grew when Cairns and Franklin claimed three wickets in the first 15 overs.
But England were not about to go down with a prod and a poke. Butcher hit 12 fours, despite a broken finger, and Thorpe scored heavily between point and extra cover while presenting watertight defence in between. Jones helped him add 52 and Giles played even more forcefully in support. New Zealand's energy was spent by the time England claimed the extra half-hour on Sunday evening, with 25 needed. It took 21 balls. Thorpe completed a 163-ball hundred of concentrated study, and then England's first clean sweep in a three-match series for 26 years.
Man of the Match: G. P. Thorpe. Attendance: 61,432; receipts £1,260,609. Men of the Series: England - S. J. Harmison; New Zealand - M. H. Richardson.