Don Cameron is a writer based in New Zealand
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At Hamilton, March 5, 6, 7, 8, 9, 2008. New Zealand won by 189 runs. Toss: New Zealand. Test debut: T. R. Ambrose.
This was only New Zealand's eighth Test victory over England, and one of their most convincing, on and off the field. A hot, dry summer promised a dry pitch, and New Zealand, gambling on the choice of two front-line spin bowlers in Vettori and Patel, won the necessary toss on a wicket only likely to confuse batsmen on the fifth day.
They stitched together an imposing first innings of 470, as Taylor provided the solid backing with his maiden Test century. England evidently decided the slow-paced pitch would not produce a victory, spent from 3 p.m. on the second day to 1.36 p.m. on the fourth slowly extracting 348 runs from 173 overs, and left New Zealand to make a ticklish declaration if they were to convert three and a half days of control into victory.
Instead England, in the person of Sidebottom, turned the game upside down on the fourth afternoon. In 12 balls, Sidebottom ripped the heart from New Zealand's second innings, taking four wickets for five runs including a hat-trick, for brilliant overnight figures of 14-4-37-5. New Zealand needed a bold 66 from Fleming, the former captain approaching the end of his Test career, to scramble to 147 for eight, a lead of 269; England were happy with the prospect of chasing a quite unexpected (and unworthy, given their earlier passive performance) win on the last day.
As the walls tumbled down, some of the New Zealand players - and many of their long-suffering supporters - may have become resigned to visions of glory turning to the dross of defeat.
But then came the masterstroke. Fleming was chosen to speak at the press conference at the end of the fourth day. Instead of being disappointed, and hoping only for a scrambled draw on the morrow, he was very much on the front foot, firing out volleys of confident claims that New Zealand were still within reach of victory - and pointed out that Sidebottom's slaughter had actually helped their cause. Rather than England needing, say, 360 on the last day, the target most likely would be close to, and perhaps under, 300 at three an over. This, proclaimed Fleming, ensured a great finish to the Test, with both sides having a winning chance. He felt sure England would compete strongly for the victory. The local newspapers took up the prospect of an England win, and by the time Vettori declared on the fifth morning, at 177 for nine, the bait was a target of 300 runs from 81 overs.
England's victory charge began merrily, with Cook hitting three fours in the first two overs. Then Mills, not often regarded as a dangerous Test-level bowler, especially on such a soporific pitch, torpedoed Cook, Vaughan, Strauss and Pietersen - four wickets in 25 balls containing two singles - and their hopes were dead in the water. Ian Bell appeared as if he could bat for ever (54 not out in a tick under three hours), but his team-mates were quickly cut down and the buoyant New Zealanders celebrated an emphatic triumph with 26 overs to spare.
With every justification. They had been superior in most of the 14 sessions under miraculously consistent sunshine. Despite Sidebottom's performance, England could claim superiority only in catching - Cook held three superb catches in each innings in the third-slip/gully area, while Hoggard and Strauss took magnificent catches at deep midwicket. New Zealand, however, could point to Taylor's century, which was composed compared with his usual hay-making strokes to midwicket in one-day games; How, who was equally sound opening the match with 92; and Fleming, Vettori and McCullum, who played innings of comfort and command. Mills, with four wickets at the death, and Martin, with five for 93 overall, were almost as penetrating and persistent as Sidebottom, who claimed ten for 139 in a lone and valiant effort to keep New Zealand at bay. England's old guard, Hoggard and Harmison, managed two for 272 between them over two innings.
After the spiteful nonsense that had marred the Australia-India series across the Tasman, and the turmoil caused by Indian Twenty20 leagues, this game in the modest surroundings of Seddon Park may have seemed a minor, even nondescript affair. To the 23,500 spectators (perhaps half imported from England) it was a sheer joy - Test cricket restored to its legendary grace and traditional style, a match played under the sun, with old-fashioned gentlemanliness and never a hint of the churlish behaviour, the inquests and inquiries and bitterness, that have besmirched recent international cricket.
Man of the Match: D. L. Vettori. Attendance: 23,500.
Close of play: First day, New Zealand 282-6 (Taylor 54, Vettori 4); Second day, England 87-2 (Vaughan 44, Strauss 1); Third day, England 286-6 (Collingwood 41, Ambrose 23); Fourth day, New Zealand 147-8 (Vettori 13, Patel 6).