England secured their first overseas series victory in three years with a convincing 121-run win in Napier, even though they were delayed by a thrilling onslaught from New Zealand's impressive debutant, Tim Southee, who clubbed his country's fastest Test half century off 29 balls and finished on 77 off 40 deliveries with nine sixes. However, Monty Panesar was the final-day match-winner and ended with career-best 6 for 126 despite a late mauling from Southee.
It was an enjoyable end to a series that has been played in fine spirit. Southee's display gives New Zealand something to cling to after a summer that has seen their resources stretched to breaking point by various departures. For a while his mighty swinging after lunch rekindled memories of Nathan Astle's onslaught at Christchurch seven years ago. He took 41 off two Panesar overs on his way to a fifty, and then continued to swing hard when England went back to pace. But when he lost the strike in Ryan Sidebottom's comeback over he left Chris Martin five balls to face and it only took four as Sidebottom, England's outstanding bowler of series, fittingly finished the match by plucking out the off stump for his 24th wicket.
Although some of England's cricket has been far from impressive it's a commendable fightback after going 1-0 down after their humiliation in Hamilton. They also had to fight back from a disastrous start in this match when they slumped to 4 for 3 on the first morning. A number of players have rehabilitated themselves after lean spells, notably Andrew Strauss with his 177 and today it was the turn of Panesar, who continued his probing display from the fourth day even if he was clinging to his career-best at the end.
This was his seventh five-wicket haul and first for nine Tests dating back to his successful series against West Indies last year. He finished the Sri Lanka tour before Christmas with a few questions being raised over his effectiveness and this match-winning contribution is a timely boost. Panesar's role in the second innings was crucial because there was nothing in the surface for the quick bowlers.
New Zealand raced out of the blocks against the new ball as Michael Vaughan set attacking fields. Ross Taylor took three boundaries off Sidebottom's opening over and a slew of shots took him to fifty off 85 balls and carried him top of the series run chart. With New Zealand searching for someone to replace Stephen Fleming's runs, Taylor has a huge role to play. He also took a positive route against Panesar, but then one gripped a little and took the outside edge for Paul Collingwood to take a sharp low catch at slip.
The sixth-wicket stand was worth 104 with Brendon McCullum for once being overshadowed, providing 38 of the partnership, and after cutting a short ball from Panesar through point he was beaten on the back foot by a quicker delivery. Sidebottom and Stuart Broad looked tired after their earlier exertions , while Jeetan Patel showed there were few demons even for a limited batsman as he twice drove Sidebottom straight down the ground.
Patel and Daniel Vettori added a comfortable 48 in 14 overs with threat only coming from one end. Panesar broke through again when Patel swept firmly to backward square-leg and was well held by Broad diving low to his right. Vettori flayed away merrily while he could before providing James Anderson with his first wicket of a disappointing match when he gloved a pull. It came in rather curious circumstances as the previous delivery had been called dead ball to Anderson's annoyance, but he made the next delivery count.
With Martin the last man it looked as though England would be able to celebrate over lunch. Anderson struck him a nasty blow on the helmet with the first ball of the final over, but Martin then squeezed a single. Southee swung the last delivery before the break onto the midwicket stand roof, a prelude to what was to follow as 71 runs came off 6.5 overs. It was far too late to save this series, but Southee is part of the young brigade who will have a key role to play when these two teams meet up again, at Lord's, in six week's time.