Andrew Strauss provided the bedrock behind England's successful run-chase with a superbly controlled hundred
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A composed 12th Test hundred from Andrew Strauss guided England to a comfortable six-wicket win over New Zealand on the fourth day at Old Trafford, chasing down 294 - the highest fourth-innings run-chase at the ground - to take a 1-0 lead in the series. It marked a remarkable turnaround for England, overturning a 179-run first-innings deficit, which was the fifth highest by any team, while New Zealand have much to ponder, most notably their dismal collapse of 114 all out yesterday.
In truth, New Zealand didn't help themselves. Catches were spilled, overthrows gifted and the fielding was not nearly as alert as it should have been for a side who, at the start of the day, were marginal favourites. Remarkably, Daniel Vettori, who was such a threat yesterday when he ripped through England, went wicketless today on a pitch which lacked any of yesterday's demons. New Zealand did pick up three wickets - and should have had more, had Iain O'Brien not shelled two dollies - but England were always on course.
Strauss was the key. Solid and composed yesterday evening, he was compact and similarly collected today. Neat nudges square of the wicket were combined with a solid defence - though he did edge O'Brien down to third man after New Zealand had changed the ball after 31.2 overs. Vettori was disappointingly ineffective, not helped by his fielders. A tuck off his hip by Strauss should only have allowed one, had Kyle Mills been aware, and Vettori hinted that the pressure was beginning to take its toll on him too when, the next ball, he overstepped and Michael Vaughan clattered him through extra cover.
Vettori himself let through another Strauss drive at mid-off, audibly venting his disgust, before Brendon McCullum attempted to throw down the stumps in the next over to hand England an extra five. New Zealand were beginning to flap and Strauss brought up a fine fifty from 105 balls, his third in succession, and England's target crept below 150.
Vaughan, meanwhile, was less assured than Strauss and struggled against Jacob Oram, who recovered sufficiently from his sore shoulder - though he barely reached 70mph for much of the morning. Nevertheless, his medium-pace wobblers held up on the pitch to Vaughan who drove just short of Jamie How at cover, following it up with a crunching cover drive before a lifter was again squirted short of the cover fielder. Nothing was going New Zealand's way, until Martin was introduced half-an-hour before lunch.
Bowling at good pace and a much tighter line than O'Brien had earlier, Martin repeatedly found the outside edge of Vaughan's bat - one of which flew infuriatingly down to third man for four - but, on 48, Vaughan drove at a good-length ball to hand New Zealand their much-needed breakthrough. Enter England's crumbly middle-order, and Kevin Pietersen somehow survived a fizzing delivery from Vettori which brushed his pad and span over the stumps. It was that sort of morning for New Zealand, but England had made their own luck with the aggressive style of batting that they have so failed to demonstrate thus far in the series.
On several occasions Vettori has made Pietersen look hapless in this series, and his natural aggressive instincts again nearly cost him his wicket. Just after lunch, he skipped down the pitch to flick one through midwicket, the ball bobbling to short-leg who then shied at the stumps - only narrowly missing. However, a superbly timed off-drive in the next over got his feet moving before he thumped Vettori over the top for England's first six of the series.
Strauss marched on, approaching somewhere near his best with a free-flowing drive off Martin through the covers and a beautiful pick-up off Vettori as England's target sneaked to under 100. Befitting of such a calm, steadying innings, Strauss brought up his 12th Test hundred with a tuck off his hip for an easy single as New Zealand desperately sought inspiration. And they found it, at last, when Strauss edged O'Brien to Ross Taylor who grasped a superb catch low to his left at second slip.
Pietersen broke free briefly, flicking O'Brien through midwicket for four, but an ambitious call for two underestimated O'Brien's rocket throw from fine-leg. New Zealand had the faintest of sniffs, England still needing 46 with their two out-of-form batsmen, Paul Collingwood and Ian Bell, at the crease. Both should have been caught by O'Brien off his own bowling - especially Bell, who misread an excellent slower ball - and the fumbles summed up New Zealand's day rather aptly.
Nevertheless, the pair saw England home and Collingwood - who was completely at sea against Vettori - battled his way out of form with a couple of late fours to wrap things up just before tea. New Zealand resembled a side still in shock over yesterday's batting capitulation, and they have only a week to plot their revenge for Trent Bridge.
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo