At Manchester, May 23, 24, 25, 26. England won by six wickets. Toss: New Zealand.
There were two points of significance even before the toss. Australian umpire Darrell Hair returned from ICC exile to stand in his 77th Test, but his first since the Oval match of 2006, when he had played the leading role in declaring that Pakistan had forfeited the game to England (a decision changed to a draw by the ICC in July). He made no waves here, and umpired very competently. Secondly, Old Trafford was to be removed from the Test calendar for at least three years after this match, which created some debate, and no doubt some regret for Panesar, who combined with a gale to blow New Zealand's second innings away in a spectacular turnaround, and took his total to 25 wickets in three Tests on the ground.
Under brighter skies for the most part than had been seen at Lord's, Vettori decided to bat on a dry and bouncy pitch with a patchwork look about it. It was a sign of events to come that Vaughan went to his spinner Panesar in just the tenth over but, after 99 minutes of How and Redmond, New Zealand looked exceedingly comfortable at 80 without loss. Vaughan recalled his trusty Sidebottom, however, who dismissed Redmond and Marshall in quick succession, going round the wicket as he had done with growing frequency on the preceding tour of New Zealand. The frenetic Taylor of Lord's transformed himself into a cultured, patient version, but he soon lost the brilliant McCullum, who tried to deal in big numbers and dominate Panesar in both innings, but failed miserably.
Taylor also lost Flynn who, attempting to hook the fiery Anderson, was struck on the grille of his helmet at such pace that he lost two front teeth and was so bloodied and dazed that he took no further part in the match. Oram too looked decidedly uncomfortable with England's short-pitched approach. Bad light stopped play just after tea, but next morning he ran himself out, taking on Cook's deadly aim from backward point. Two balls later Vettori unbelievably went in similar fashion, neglecting to ground his bat as he completed a second run - bizarre and embarrassing circumstances compounded by the fact that Panesar was the fielder.
With New Zealand at 250 for six, Taylor needed an ally: he found one in Mills, who looked most accomplished in bringing up his maiden international fifty. Taylor's maturity had already resulted in his second Test century, off just 130 balls, before he cut loose in Twenty20 fashion, hitting four of his five sixes (one hooked over the deep square fielder). It was a largely faultless, responsible and classy knock which saw New Zealand through to a respectable 381 at a healthy run-rate of 4.2.
England's reply was pedestrian. A partnership between Strauss and Vaughan realised 78 runs but cost momentum; Oram bowled a spell of eight overs for five runs as Vaughan tried using his feet but couldn't get him away. Strauss compiled a tidy, secure 60 before edging to McCullum off O'Brien, the Wellington seamer who had replaced Southee and bowled gutsily into the wind as he did at home. After Sidebottom was unsuccessfully employed as night-watchman, England were left a little exposed at 152 for four.
The wind increased to gale force on the third morning, which seemed to suit the O'Brien-Vettori combination: they skittled England's vaunted middle order with very little fight. Pietersen compiled just 26 from 80 deliveries, and had it not been for a positive 30 from Broad, the last man out, England might have followed on.
Vettori, who had taken five wickets bowling downwind, gathered his players on the outfield and told them to aim for 300 second time round: bat England out of the match and, with so much time in the bank, on a bowler-friendly pitch, the odds were heavily in their favour. They reached 85 for two, 264 ahead, thanks to How and Marshall.
Vaughan sorely needed a match-winner, and he found one in Panesar who, like Vettori, chose the downwind approach. He was flatter, usually faster, and more aggressive "into the pitch", securing four quick lbw verdicts from Taufel as New Zealand crumbled. Six for 37 was Panesar's best Test return, and Taylor was his 100th Test wicket, celebrated with the standard jig and beaming smile. With Anderson, Broad and Sidebottom taking turns from the Stretford End into the wind, England's bowling unit combined with improved fielding to dismiss New Zealand inside 42 overs. Flynn hoped to bat, but was rested on medical advice.
England's bowlers had presented their batsmen with the chance to create history: a winning target of 294 had never been achieved in the fourth innings at Old Trafford. They set off at a slightly higher tempo than before, with the left-handed pairing of Strauss and Cook employing judicious strokeplay and aggressive running between the wickets. This appeared to unsettle New Zealand, whose consistency with the ball began to fade, though their flagging spirits lifted when Cook was caught at short leg off Vettori. However, Strauss and Vaughan looked comfortable, reaching the close at 76 for one.
To this point the pitch had provided the opportunity for all aspects of the game to come to the fore. The fact that 16 wickets were lost on the third day could be put down to exemplary spin bowling and batsmen whose option-taking was flawed. The fourth day started clear but exceedingly chilly, and if anything the gale-force wind was more intense. Vaughan accepted the advice of Lancashire groundsman Peter Marron to use the heavy roller, and the pitch played consistently into the afternoon.
New Zealand began in earnest with their best combination of O'Brien and Vettori, and were still favourites, with England requiring another 218. But the tourists seemed nervous and a little wayward, so Strauss and Vaughan pounced. They batted positively, almost throughout the first session, running quick singles, and the score was 171 for two at lunch. Strauss looked most assured on 73, his third half-century of the series: facing Vettori, he was helped by the presence of only one close fielder on the leg side, in front of square. Instead of a backward short leg, Vettori preferred a deep backward square, although sweeping had already been ruled out as too dangerous on the bouncy pitch.
After lunch, the message was clear for New Zealand - strike early and often, or face defeat. Strauss and Pietersen provided the perfect counter to that plan: when Strauss's purple patch saw him through to a superbly worked 106, England had 235 on the board and had clearly assumed control. It was his 12th Test century, and one of his most important. Pietersen gave Vettori a helping hand and a small glimpse of hope, running himself out, but Bell and Collingwood, both obviously out of touch, nervously inched their side towards glory. On the stroke of tea, Collingwood legglanced a single and England had achieved their fifth-highest run-chase. They regained the favourites tag, while New Zealand left Manchester perplexedly ruing the one that got away.
Man of the Match: M. S. Panesar.