Third Test

New Zealand v England 2007-08

Steve James

At Napier, March 22, 23, 24, 25, 26, 2008. England won by 121 runs. Toss: England. Test debuts: G. D. Elliott, T. G. Southee.

Stephen Fleming congratulates Ryan Sidebottom on England's win, New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Napier, 5th day, March 26, 2008
Ryan Sidebottom is congratulated by Stephen Fleming, who played his final Test © Getty Images
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Farewells rarely become fairytales. So Stephen Fleming's 111th and final Test match ended in defeat, England coming from behind to take the series 2-1. And, with almost cruel appropriateness, the great "non-converter" Fleming scored two half-centuries, to finish his Test career with the remarkable total of 46 fifties and just nine hundreds (and only two of them in 54 Tests at home). At least in his final innings of 66 - its beginning marked by a humbling England guard of honour - he managed to nudge his average a smidgen above the agreed benchmark of 40.

New Zealand's burden of responsibility had always hung heavily on Fleming and here, even with the captaincy reins long gone, was a classic example. Briefly, he held the key to this match; sadly, he could not make it count.

At lunch on the second day, England were in disarray. They had been dismissed for 253 before New Zealand came out fighting. Though Matthew Bell made his third duck of the series, Fleming was in superlative touch, clipping his first ball through midwicket for four and then hitting boundaries almost at will. At the break, his team were 93 for one and he had made a rapid 56. Another hour of that and England were dead and buried - the match and series over, the future of coach Peter Moores and captain Michael Vaughan uncertain. It was a time of desperation. Frank words were spoken in the dressing-room. Then Vaughan turned to his latest "go-to" bowler, the excellent Sidebottom. In he steamed under cloudy skies. Fleming had added just three to his lunchtime score when he edged - his first loose stroke - to second slip. It sparked an extraordinary transformation. Sidebottom kept steaming in all afternoon, for the first time in his Test career bowling throughout the session, in which he took five for 33 from 13 overs. He ended the innings with his career-best, seven for 47, which already gave him more wickets than anyone else in a series between these countries in New Zealand. The last nine fell for 65 to leave a deficit of 85, which was critical.

With the pitch becoming ever more benign, England could bat without pressure in their second innings, and Strauss and Ian Bell profited especially. Indeed, Strauss's 177 saved his immediate Test career. After a first-innings duck and no previous fifty in his comeback series after omission in Sri Lanka, probably only a score of 70-plus would have been enough. But, batting with a composure and patience belying his dire situation, Strauss defied the doom-mongers and the runes. He drove the seamers particularly well in passing his previous Test-best of 147, as well as the highest Test innings at Napier, and batted stoically throughout the third day.

Though England already led by 501 at the start of day four, Vaughan proffered the opportunity of a double-century, but Strauss added only four to his overnight 173 - though he did pass his first-class best of 176 for Middlesex.

England's first innings had been rescued by a combative century from Pietersen. Having won the toss and predictably batted, they had suddenly found themselves four for three in the seventh over. Pietersen, like so many others in this series of shoddy batsmanship, needed the runs after ten Test innings without a fifty during England's winter in Sri Lanka and New Zealand. And he responded by playing more like the Pietersen best known to the cricketing world. Gone was a perceived desire for orthodoxy, back were the cocky flicks to leg.

Pietersen had to contend with an impressive first showing from 19-year-old opening bowler Tim Southee, the farmer's lad from Whangarei. His first-innings five for 55 was New Zealand's most productive bowling debut for 57 years. Later, with the bat, Southee also smote their fastest recorded Test fifty - off 29 balls. He finished with 77 not out from 40 balls with nine sixes in an entertaining and, at times, astonishing last- day frolic when the game was lost.

With a high, repeatable action, Southee swung the ball away from the right-hander, initially at a decent pace nearing 85mph. Understandably, the rigorous physical demands of Test cricket caught up with him, but his workload was not helped by the bemusing choice of another debutant, Grant Elliott, as first-change seamer. It was a task way beyond someone whose pace can be barely described as medium, but New Zealand were handicapped by the absence of the injured Oram and Mills, two of their leading bowlers in the earlier Tests.

England's third centurion of the match was Bell, recording his seventh Test hundred. His languid and technically astute 110 was probably the most attractive innings of the series, but it went little further to answering nagging questions about his productivity under the most intense pressure. Bell's stand of 187 with Strauss enabled Vaughan to set a target of 553 in a minimum of 168 overs.

New Zealand's Bell at last proved he could bat, with 69, helped by some tempting short stuff from Anderson. But Broad and Panesar proved a useful combination, sharing the five New Zealand wickets to fall on day four. Broad had a fine match, showing good pace to discomfort most of the home side's top order and batting with distinct class at No. 8: England's search for that spot appeared over.

The end did not come easily for England on the final day. Taylor emphasised his pedigree with 74 but fell to Panesar, who recorded Test-best figures of six for 126 despite some heavy punishment from Southee. Fittingly, it was left to Sidebottom to bowl Martin and ensure victory.

Man of the Match: R. J. Sidebottom. Attendance: 27,200. Man of the Series: R. J. Sidebottom.
Close of play: First day, England 240-7 (Broad 42, Sidebottom 3); Second day, England 91-2 (Strauss 42, Pietersen 7); Third day, England 416-5 (Strauss 173, Ambrose 28); Fourth day, New Zealand 222-5 (Taylor 34, McCullum 24).

© John Wisden & Co.