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At Basin Reserve, Wellington, March 13, 14, 15, 16, 17, 2008. England won by 126 runs. Toss: New Zealand.
Test cricket between England and New Zealand has been, historically, thin gruel for spectators. As if we needed reminding, survivors of New Zealand's first win against England turned up at the Basin Reserve 30 years later to celebrate and reminisce. John Wright was there, happily recounting his six hours for 55, and in the commentary box Geoffrey Boycott was reminding folks how bad the pitch was when he crawled to 77 in over seven hours of grinding tedium. The latest re-enactment was Test cricket of an entirely different tempo - with a different result to boot, England winning comfortably with two sessions to spare.
After a soporific opening encounter at Hamilton, where the pitch was slow enough to defeat the most enterprising intentions, Test cricket the modern way resumed in Wellington. A firm, well-grassed pitch gave bowlers and batsmen alike the chance to express themselves, which they did in four and half days of excellent, cut-and-thrust Test cricket, enjoyed - genuinely enjoyed - by the biggest crowd seen at the Basin Reserve for years; on the third day, NZC shut the gates.
The weather helped, too. The cricketing gods took pity on those bowlers designated "into-the-wind" workhorses, sending just a gentle breeze down Cook Strait, into the harbour and on into the city for the first three days. Only on the fourth morning, when a southerly whipped up and the flags stood to rapt attention, did the ground give notice of why it is the most feared venue for bowlers the world over. All told, the conditions were perfect, and the players responded magnificently.
England had jettisoned the old (Hoggard and Harmison) and rung in the new (Anderson and Broad) to give their attack, they said, more energy and purpose after a slothful display in the First Test. New Zealand bolstered their own seam attack by replacing off-spinner Jeetan Patel with Mark Gillespie.
Accordingly, with four front-line seamers, Vettori felt he had little option but to insert England. A wicketless first session prompted questioning of this judgment, but the amount of movement extracted by Oram either side of lunch suggested Vettori knew his conditions, even if his opening bowlers were unable to exploit them.
It was Oram - hitting the seam regularly with his stiff, upright action - who restored the balance with a double-wicket burst immediately after lunch. England, soon, were tottering at 136 for five, the match in the balance and the series slipping away. Then Ambrose and Collingwood came together, as they had in the first innings at Hamilton, and took England to 300 and an eventual total of 342, which ultimately underpinned their victory.
Collingwood has fashioned a reputation as a man for such an occasion, eschewing risk and knuckling down to the task. Ambrose, on the other hand, was a revelation. True to his Antipodean roots, he took the counter-attacking option, flaying anything short and wide (of which there was plenty) and driving crisply when the bowlers overcompensated.
Keen to reach his first Test hundred on the first evening, rather than be stranded in the nineties overnight, he launched into the second new ball. The day's final over, with Oram bowling to Ambrose on 97, produced the most intense drama of the match. Five times Ambrose swished and missed outside his off stump; five times Oram stood and stared, five times the crowd oohed and aahed. Ambrose went on to claim his landmark next morning but, watching how much movement Oram extracted with the new ball, New Zealand must have feared that the match had slipped from their grasp.
So it proved. Anderson, with five wickets in the first innings, and Sidebottom, with five in the second, were the headline performers. Anderson's performance was laced with contention after Auckland gave him the chance during the Hamilton Test to find some form and rhythm in a first-class match against Wellington. Gavin Larsen, Wellington's chief executive, had wondered what might happen if Anderson found form, was recalled to England colours and then knocked New Zealand over.
He was prophetic. Using the breeze knowingly and positioning the seam expertly, canted towards first slip and gyrating backwards on its axis, Anderson demolished New Zealand's upper order in the first innings, removing the top five with a mixture of the unplayable (Matthew Bell got a beauty) and unpalatable (Fleming can rarely have looked as ugly as he did steering a wide long hop to backward point). A freak ankle injury, sustained playing football on the third evening, prevented Anderson from bowling at full throttle in the second innings. But by then, with New Zealand requiring 438, more than had ever been scored in the fourth innings of a Test to win, the damage had been done.
With Anderson a reduced force, Sidebottom and Broad stepped into the breach. Sidebottom, all heart, picked up the wickets, but it was Broad who made knowing observers sit up and take notice. Tall, rangy and deceptively sharp, he undermined New Zealand's fragile-looking upper order with a tormenting off-stump line. He picked up crucial wickets at important times, not least Fleming in the second innings, offering no shot to a straightening delivery. It was Fleming's final Test at his adopted home ground, and he left the field to sustained applause from English and New Zealand supporters in appreciation of his artistry as a batsman and cunning as a captain.
England chipped away at the wickets, despite missing a stumping and dropping five chances - three of them should have been taken, the easiest to Pietersen at mid-off. But McCullum, in the form of his life, refused to go quietly. Nearing what would have been a brilliant if unorthodox hundred, he heaved Panesar to long-on, where Sidebottom pouched the winning catch. It completed a rare overseas victory for England - their first since Mumbai two years earlier - and set up a potentially stirring finale in Napier. It was fitting that Sidebottom had the final say because, as this changing England side searched for some defining characteristics, it could have done worse than look to Sidebottom's earthy professionalism.
Man of the Match: T. R. Ambrose. Attendance: 35,800.
Close of play: First day, England 291-5 (Collingwood 48, Ambrose 97); Second day, England 4-0 (Cook 2, Vaughan 0); Third day, England 277-9 (Panesar 6); Fourth day, New Zealand 242-6 (McCullum 43, Vettori 0).