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At Auckland, March 22-26, 2013. Drawn. Toss: England.
And so a three-Test series boiled down to a simple equation: six balls from Boult, to be faced, initially at least, by Panesar, England's often hapless No. 11. New Zealand had beaten England in a series on home soil only once, in 1983-84. It was hard to imagine they would get a better chance to double their tally.
This was now New Zealand's 143rd over in the field, but Boult skipped in as a new-ball bowler should, further evidence of the zeal with which his side had played throughout a series they had begun in discord and disharmony. Panesar, who had joined Prior with 19 balls to go on an increasingly pulsating final evening, played and missed at the first delivery; left the second, which passed harmlessly wide of off stump; and, from the third, a full toss driven down the ground, ran for his life.
Most No. 11s would now have stood motionless at the non-striker's end. But Panesar, perhaps caught up in the panic that had enveloped England four overs from the close - when they had lost Broad and Anderson in three balls to Williamson's off-spin - inexplicably continued to back up, as if he fancied the responsibility of saving the game all by himself.
Prior sent him back and, after four and a half hours of batting which had expertly balanced the demands of defence with his own attacking instincts, nonchalantly defended the final three balls, before turning to the England dressing-room, arms raised in triumph. Unlikely as it had seemed from the third day onwards, when England had conceded a first innings deficit of 239, the match had been saved - and with it the series. Prior's own hundred, his seventh in Tests, felt almost incidental.
His triumphalism was understandable, although those new to cricket might have found it curious, since New Zealand had outplayed England for most of the match. Ultimately, though, they had not been quite good enough. They dropped crucial catches: two by Brownlie at slip - Prior in the first innings, Bell in the second - cost vital swathes of time. And Martin's inability to locate a consistent length with his left-arm spin on the final day disadvantaged them. As the part-timer Williamson showed, a slow bowler on top of his game ought to have caused more problems.
They also came up against a side that, while well below their best, were prepared to scrap and fight in the best traditions of England teams. Prior's resistance took the headlines, but Bell's skill and determination in a little under six hours, until he was dismissed on the stroke of tea, were equally valuable. Broad, too, played a crucial part: his first run did not come until 102 minutes into a 137-minute stay. It was the longest anyone had ever spent on nought in a Test, edging Geoff Allott's 101 minutes for New Zealand against South Africa on the same ground in 1998-99. Allott, who was out without scoring, faced 77 balls (Broad got off the mark from his 62nd delivery), but the England wicketkeeper John Murray, incommoded by a shoulder injury, spent 79 balls on nought at Sydney in 1962-63, eventually making three not out.
There are those who criticised both McCullum's decision not to enforce the follow-on, and the timing of his declaration. But if the closure, setting England 481 in a minimum of 143 overs, was on the conservative side, then Eden Park's drop-in pitch remained good; as for the follow-on, there were sound cricketing reasons either way. In the end, New Zealand had their chances and did not take them. It would be churlish to place the blame for that at McCullum's door, especially as his inspirational leadership had been a principal reason behind their renaissance.
Both captains had difficult decisions. Cook had won the toss and, under clear blue skies and on a pristine strip, chose to bowl - a move that looked bad as New Zealand eased to 250 for one at stumps. But their own failure to bowl England out in the fourth innings applied some retrospective wisdom to Cook's call: the pitch might not have done as much, or been as quick, as England had expected, but nor did it deteriorate. And McCullum would have bowled first too. But when it transpired that there was little of anything for England's bowlers on the first day - no swing, no seam movement, no spin for Panesar - all that was left was perseverance, and plenty of it. It was the perfect opportunity for Fulton to book a ticket for the return series in England, which he did with a doughty 136, his maiden Test hundred, celebrated with old-fashioned decorum. No one minded much that he clearly favoured the leg side - and it ought to have been within England's scope to limit his options.
Williamson fell for a pleasant 91 on the second morning, when England fought back, but Southee's late swiping zoomed New Zealand past 400. Finn's six wickets equalled his Test best, but also flattered him a little as he cleaned up the lower order with four in 14 balls. More representative were Prior's five catches. Two of them - a flying horizontal effort off Fulton down the leg side, and one up to the stumps to end McCullum's stay, off Trott of all people - were outstanding.
Crucially, New Zealand then found the swing on the second evening that had eluded England. This was puzzling, since Anderson was by reputation and record the best swing bowler on either side. But it was Boult who now showed him the way. Stocky, lively and indefatigable, he sent back Cook, caught behind, and Trott, leg-before in the classic manner, to underline New Zealand's control. Trott's decision to review a plumb appeal hinted at desperation.
Boult finished England's first innings with a career-best six for 68, although Southee had been equally dangerous, starting the rot on the third morning with an immaculate line to win leg-before decisions against Compton and Bell. The absence of Kevin Pietersen with a knee problem meant Bairstow's return to the middle order - and an unusually callow look to England's top six. And without a sixth-wicket stand of 101 between Root and the ever-resourceful Prior, England would not have managed even 204.
McCullum's captaincy was typically busy, and his decision to bat again instead of enforcing the follow-on based on a desire to ensure England would go in last on a pitch that had yielded only one wicket on the first day, but 22 on the second and third. It was not unreasonable to assume the trend would continue. But it was now England who - belatedly and briefly - found their cutting edge. In eight overs, New Zealand were eight for three, as Broad and Anderson ran amok. Had Fulton and Brownlie not steered New Zealand to the close, England might even have sniffed an unlikely win.
On the fourth morning Fulton showed he was more than the plodding journeyman of general description. A remarkable transformation ensued, as he despatched England's bowlers to all parts of this curiously shaped ground, driving the quicker bowlers with venom, and taking advantage of the short straight boundaries to hit Panesar out of the attack. His first four overs had been maidens; his next five cost 52.
McCullum, having initially played second fiddle, joined in the fun soon enough, scoring 67 in 53 balls to push his team to a mid-afternoon declaration. But it was Fulton, dropped by Anderson at short midwicket on 31, who earned the spotlight: only three New Zealanders - Glenn Turner, Geoff Howarth and Andrew Jones - had previously scored twin hundreds in a Test. When Fulton drove Broad back over his head for six to bring up his second century of the match (and his Test career), it was a moment to treasure for a player who had been wondering whether he would ever make it at the highest level. He was almost two months past his 34th birthday; only Zin Harris, in 1961-62, had scored a maiden hundred for New Zealand at a greater age.
As Fulton and McCullum crashed 117 together in 17 overs, English tempers frayed, although the fielding held up under pressure, with good outfield catches from Bell and Compton. At one point Cook had nine fielders on the boundary. Later in the day, as if to underline the difference between the sides, New Zealand could post eight fielders around the bat. After all that, and with England embarking on their nominal run-chase, Cook did well to make 43 as the fourth evening drew to a close. But when he joined Compton and Trott in the pavilion, brilliantly caught in the gully off Williamson, and was followed shortly afterwards by the nightwatchman Finn, snared off the final ball of the day, England looked done for.
Among all the cricketing reasons for their eventual survival 24 hours later was another which should not be ignored. Three hours into the final day, Wagner sent a bouncer rearing towards Prior's throat. He attempted to protect himself, but the ball hit bat handle, then helmet, before arcing towards the stumps. It landed behind Prior, and bounced, hard, on to middle stump. After hitting the ground, the ball then rolled back into the stumps once more. Miraculously, the bails remained in their grooves throughout. Prior, who had 28 at the time, shrugged his shoulders: pure, dumb luck.
Close of play: first day, New Zealand 250-1 (Fulton 124, Williamson 83); second day, England 50-2 (Compton 12, Bell 6); third day, New Zealand 35-3 (Fulton 14, Brownlie 13); fourth day, England 90-4 (Bell 8).