Series review

New Zealand v England 2007-08

Derek Pringle

Test matches (3): New Zealand 1, England 2
One-day internationals (5): New Zealand 3, England 1
Twenty20 internationals (2): New Zealand 0, England 2

Man-of-the-Series Ryan Sidebottom leads England off the field, New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Napier, March 23, 2008
Combining swing with probing seam, Sidebottom finished with 24 wickets at 17.08 apiece, the most ever by an England bowler in New Zealand © Getty Images

"Thou shall not covet thy opponent's wealth" was never a cricketing commandment, yet during England's tour of New Zealand it shot to the head of the list. Against the background rumblings of the franchise-driven Indian Premier League 7,000 miles away, England won the Test series and the Twenty20s, but lost the one-dayers - and the global jackpot which saw New Zealand's leading players, along with the rest of the world, fetch jaw- dropping amounts of money at cricket's new cattle market in Mumbai.

Owing to a combination of central contracts and playing commitments, England's best cricketers were not available for the inaugural IPL and its six- week window of opportunity in April and May, though that did not prevent their being distracted by the vast sums bandied about. Brendon McCullum, New Zealand's muscular wicketkeeper-batsman, fetched $US700,000 at the auction two weeks before the opening Test. But while many felt that would wreak havoc with the home side's dressing-room spirit, it was Michael Vaughan's team - defeated in the First Test at Hamilton by 189 runs - who began the series like a team distracted. One down with two more back-to-back Tests to play left England little room or time for manoeuvre. The shock result provided a necessary jolt, not just for the players to raise their game, but for the selectors to do likewise. They did not demur, even retaining James Whitaker, the selector who had joined the tour as recommended by the influential Schofield Review, for an extra few days so that any big decisions could be delivered with official clout.

In the event there were two: out went the underprepared and under- performing bowlers Matthew Hoggard and Steve Harmison, and in came Stuart Broad and James Anderson. The purge had the desired effect, the new pair providing much-needed energy and support for the increasingly impressive Ryan Sidebottom. Along with Monty Panesar's timely six wickets in the final Test, Anderson and Broad supplemented Sidebottom's ever- present threat often enough to secure successive victories in Wellington and Napier, only the third time that England had come from behind to win a three-match series.

Combining swing with probing seam, Sidebottom finished with 24 wickets at 17.08 apiece, the most ever by an England bowler in New Zealand. He even took a hat-trick in New Zealand's second innings of the opening Test, his victims all top-order batsmen. Perhaps more remarkable still was his progression from being Nottinghamshire's leading bowler to the leader of England's attack in just ten months, a fillip for the domestic game and the timeless virtues of line and length.

Before the series began, Stephen Fleming, an opponent here but Sidebottom's influential county captain at Trent Bridge, predicted that the shaggy-haired left-armer would probably be the difference between the sides. So it proved. His father Arnie, capped once for England against Australia in 1985, and a spectator during the first two Tests here, was justifiably proud when his son was named man of the series.

The 2-1 win was both worthy and timely. Yet, as Vaughan later admitted, it revealed more about the team's character than its class. It was only in the final Test, for instance, that a top six batsman made a first-innings hundred: Kevin Pietersen's 129 broke a drought that had persisted since June 2007, some nine Tests before.

Three other centuries were made by England during the series. The first, by Tim Ambrose batting at No. 7 in Wellington, was career-enhancing, the others, by Andrew Strauss and Ian Bell in the second innings at Napier, career-prolonging after an otherwise trying series for the pair. Having been dropped for the tour of Sri Lanka, and with no cricket until he played for Northern Districts in January, Strauss was a controversial selection in the last party picked by David Graveney, who had spent almost 11 years as chairman of selectors. It looked to be a parting blooper until Strauss, tantalising his supporters to the last, made 177 in his final innings of the tour.

Ambrose's hundred, following a fifty on debut in the previous Test, could not have been better timed for those who saw him as the latest solution to England's wicketkeeping dilemma, a problem that had seen the Test and 50-over sides use Geraint Jones, Chris Read, Paul Nixon, Matt Prior and Phil Mustard in the preceding 15 months. Neat and unassuming behind the stumps, Ambrose gained added kudos for making his hundred under the most trying batting conditions of the tour. Yet wicketkeeping errors persisted. His missed stumping of Jacob Oram in the same Test would have brought howls of derision had his predecessor, Prior, been guilty of such a fluff.

Stephen Fleming acknowledges the crowd as he heads off for the final time, New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Napier, March 25, 2008
Stephen Fleming ended an illustrious career © Getty Images

While the final result did not elevate England from mid-table in the ICC's Test rankings (they remained behind Australia, India, Sri Lanka and South Africa), it did relieve some pressure on the captain, Vaughan, who experienced his worst three-Test series with the bat: 123 runs at 20.50. As in Sri Lanka three months earlier, Vaughan opened the innings with Alastair Cook. But while their partnership notched two hundred stands in six innings there, their best in New Zealand were 84 and 79, with Vaughan failing to reach 15 in four of his six innings. As he later admitted, it was during this tour that he first thought of resigning the captaincy.

The extra demands of leading a side and opening the batting are no secret, but the pressure that seemed to bother Vaughan and his team most was the expectation that they should beat New Zealand comfortably. The top order seemed particularly afflicted. England's near strokeless display in their first innings of the opening Test was a prime example of occupation without direction: they took 173 overs to make 348. Given that neither the conditions nor the bowlers were particularly challenging and that all the regular top seven batsmen got to 25, it was a monumental failure of tactics and belief. On a slow, dry pitch, and after Ross Taylor's maiden Test hundred had helped them reach 470, New Zealand used constrictor tactics - accurate bowling ably supported by a ring of fielders saving one - shrewdly, though with both teams content to wait for something to turn up, the play was more Beckett than cricket. Eventually something did break the deadlock: an unseemly collapse by England on the final day which saw them dismissed for 110 after Daniel Vettori had set them 300 in 81 overs.

Chastened by the loss, and the "full and frank" team meeting that followed, England changed the misfiring bowlers for younger models and won the battle of the seaming pitch in Wellington. With the momentum now tilting their way and the home side losing two key bowlers, Oram and Kyle Mills, to injury, they sealed the series after Sidebottom took seven for 47 to give them an unexpected but decisive first-innings lead in the final Test.

While it eased growing doubts around Vaughan, victory also allowed the coach, Peter Moores, some breathing space. Nearing a year in the job, Moores had come under pressure from the media during the one-day series, which England lost 3-1, principally for having no obvious manifesto except hard work. Yet what became plain as the tour wound on, especially after the two air-clearing team meetings behind closed doors, was that players' reputations would not be preserved at the expense of poor performance or preparation - as Hoggard and Harmison discovered.

The coach's other achievement, small here but with the potential to grow, was to get those on the fringe of the team to play some cricket, not always easy now that the vogue for back-to-back Tests has shrunk the time available for practice matches. The decision to allow Anderson to play a four-day game for Auckland during the First Test, while unusual, proved a canny move when Anderson - valuable overs under his belt - took seven for 130 in the next Test.

Although instigated by Auckland, who had already sounded out the possibilities of borrowing Chris Tremlett until injury ended his tour, Anderson's secondment was not universally approved. Justin Vaughan, New Zealand Cricket's chief executive, and Gavin Larsen, chief executive of Wellington, both former Test cricketers, voiced strong concerns. "I can see a scenario where Anderson is bowled into form with Auckland and then comes into the final Test and bowls England to victory in a decider," said Vaughan, his prediction out by a single Test.

Jesse Ryder slogs a six over long-on, New Zealand v England, 4th ODI, Napier, February 20, 2008
Jesse Ryder was impressive at the top of the order © Getty Images

The coach's lot is always a precarious one unless his team are winning, and Moores's opposite number John Bracewell found an equally sceptical media on his case after defeat in the two Twenty20 matches that kick-started England's visit; Jonathan Millmow, a former player turned journalist, called Bracewell's side the worst New Zealand team in 40 years. But his stock recovered strongly after they won the one-day series and the opening Test. The combative and pragmatic Bracewell, who had previously coached Gloucestershire to six one-day titles, had some interesting views on the Indian Twenty20 leagues. While many felt they would suck the lifeblood from countries with limited playing and financial resources, like New Zealand, by attracting away their best cricketers, Bracewell felt the big money would not only reduce the need to give those involved a pay rise but also attract a higher proportion of talent normally channelled towards rugby, New Zealand's pre-eminent sport.

He did not speculate over what might have been had Shane Bond, arguably the best fast bowler on either side, been able to play against England. Bond had signed up for the Indian Cricket League - the unsanctioned twin brother of the IPL - and said he initially had New Zealand Cricket's blessing, only for it to ban him when the ICC decreed the ICL unofficial. Had he been available, England's apprehensive batsmen might have performed as poorly as their opponents' top order; over the series New Zealand's first five wickets averaged a fraction less than the last five.

New Zealand made light of their loss, though in truth Bond's poor fitness record throughout his career meant they had got used to coping without him, something England have never quite managed with Andrew Flintoff, once again an absentee after surgery on his troublesome left ankle. In any case niches, even as specialised as Bond's, do not remain vacant for long. When 19-year-old Tim Southee announced himself in the final Test with five for 55 and a whirlwind unbeaten 77 off just 40 balls (his first ten balls were scoreless), Bond's licence to thrill appeared to have passed to another. Southee had played against England in the two Twenty20 matches in February before heading off to the Under-19 World Cup in Malaysia, where his brisk outswingers, mostly too quick and too good for his peer group, made him the player of the tournament. His Test debut came in Napier when both Oram and Mills, stalwarts with the ball, withdrew injured, a move that made England strong favourites until Southee and Chris Martin reduced them to four for three on the opening morning.

The Indian leagues were not the only disruption for the players. Earlier in the tour, as they prepared to fly from Christchurch to Wellington for the first one-day international, they endured long delays following a hijack attempt on another plane by a woman with a history of mental problems. The immediate consequence was that practice at Wellington's Westpac Stadium was cancelled, though when England comfortably lost the match there next day, as well as one in Hamilton three days later, it suddenly took on a wider significance.

It was during the one-day match at Hamilton's Seddon Park, a purpose- built cricket ground rather than one primarily set up for rugby like Christchurch and Auckland, that Ian Botham refused to work in Sky's commentary box, situated on the fourth storey of a temporary structure of scaffolding and portable cabins. It wasn't just Botham who failed to rise to the occasion in Hamilton; England lost both the one-day game and the Test there in such dire circumstances that they held the two famous full and frank team meetings.

Before the next one-day match, in Auckland, which provided England with their lone win, Fleming announced he would retire after the Test series. One of the most respected captains of his era, as well as New Zealand's highest run-scorer - he finished with 7,172 runs from 111 Tests - Fleming was a great achiever rather than a great player.

His urbane manner and dashing run-scoring will not be easily replaced, though another left-hander, Jesse Ryder, showed the potential to supply the latter, should he direct his undoubted talents towards breaking records rather than toilet windows in bars. An incident at 5.30 a.m. after a night celebrating the one-day series win left Ryder nursing severed tendons in his right hand, and kept him out of the Tests here and the tour of England that followed. But his batting during the one-day series, which brought him 196 runs at 49, offered enough beguiling glimpses to suggest Fleming might not be mourned for too long.

Match reports for

Tour Match: Canterbury v England XI at Christchurch, Feb 2, 2008
Report | Scorecard

Tour Match: Canterbury v England XI at Christchurch, Feb 3, 2008
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1st T20I: New Zealand v England at Auckland, Feb 5, 2008
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2nd T20I: New Zealand v England at Christchurch, Feb 7, 2008
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1st ODI: New Zealand v England at Wellington, Feb 9, 2008
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2nd ODI: New Zealand v England at Hamilton, Feb 12, 2008
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3rd ODI: New Zealand v England at Auckland, Feb 15, 2008
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4th ODI: New Zealand v England at Napier, Feb 20, 2008
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5th ODI: New Zealand v England at Christchurch, Feb 23, 2008
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Tour Match: New Zealand Invitation XI v England XI at Dunedin, Feb 25-26, 2008
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Tour Match: Major Association XI v England XI at Dunedin, Feb 28-Mar 1, 2008
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1st Test: New Zealand v England at Hamilton, Mar 5-9, 2008
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2nd Test: New Zealand v England at Wellington, Mar 13-17, 2008
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3rd Test: New Zealand v England at Napier, Mar 22-26, 2008
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© John Wisden & Co.