At Dunedin (University Oval), March 6-10, 2013. Drawn. Toss: New Zealand. Test debuts: B. P. Martin, H. D. Rutherford.
To suggest New Zealand had never started a Test match amid such turmoil might have been stretching a point. But, even by their standards, this wasn't a bad effort. Miffed at losing the captaincy, Taylor was still feeling his way back into the squad after his selfimposed exile, with coach Mike Hesson - the man responsible for his demotion - now cast as public enemy No. 1, and New Zealand's board close behind. Throw in the withdrawal of seamer Doug Bracewell, forced out of the build-up with a cut foot - suffered while cleaning up after a party - and the portents could hardly have been gloomier.
Five days later, it was hard to recall what all the fuss had been about. Not only had New Zealand secured a draw against the team ranked second in the world, but they should have gone one up, as they had on England's previous visit, in 2007-08. It said something, too, that the main emotion of both captains at the end of the game was one of relief: Cook because England had been able to stave off a chastening defeat; McCullum because New Zealand had finally put together a competitive performance.
Suddenly, the series felt alive. England's defeat in the warm-up game at Queenstown had been blithely depicted as a blip, not an omen. And while it would be unfair to say they headed into this match with a swagger, they nevertheless gave off the air of a team who expected to dictate terms. Their first innings was a case in point. After England had been forced to sit out the first day as the drought affecting the region broke in untimely fashion, their batsmen were architects of their own misfortune on the second. Inserted on a slow pitch holding no fears, and against an attack deemed largely harmless, England collapsed for 167.
If Compton and Pietersen could be absolved of some blame, the same could scarcely be said for the rest. After Compton had played on in the game's third over, Cook slapped a long-hop from Wagner to point, Bell drove airily to short extra, and Root jabbed a widish ball from Boult to third slip. Prior was out cutting, Trott sweeping; Broad, back in the side in place of the injured Tim Bresnan, after being dropped in India, and Finn both holed out in the deep. It was as if England's previous Test innings - a 154-over monument to self denial at Nagpur in December - had never happened.
New Zealand's bowlers deserved credit for their discipline, though even they must have been surprised by England's approach. Wagner's inswinger to undo Pietersen first ball was the delivery of the match, but his other three wickets were free gifts. The 32-year-old debutant slow left-armer Bruce Martin was another beneficiary of England's largesse: his four-wicket bag included three heaves across the line and Prior's miscued cut.
By stumps, Hesson may have been feeling better about life: the selections of Martin and Wagner had paid off, as had his new opening batting partnership, which eased to 131 by the close. Picked for his first Test since December 2009 after a stellar domestic season with Canterbury, Fulton was unbeaten on 46, and the following morning would complete his first Test fifty in nearly seven years. And on his home ground Hamish Rutherford - another debutant - was 77 not out and quietly restoring a measure of family pride: in the Caribbean in 1984-85 his father, Ken, had begun his own Test career with a pair, kicking off a horror series that brought him 12 runs in seven innings.
The third day belonged to Rutherford. Carving powerfully through the off side, and twice in an over lifting Panesar for six, he overhauled England's total all by himself, after putting on 158 with Fulton, New Zealand's best for the first wicket in nine years. He finished with the highest score by a Test debutant for almost a decade, and he beat a record that had stood since the dawn of cricketing time, passing Charles Bannerman's undefeated 165 in the very first Test, at Melbourne in 1876-77, to make the highest score against England in the first innings on debut. In all, he faced only 217 deliveries. It needed Anderson's first offering with the second new ball to see the back of him.
England had their moments but, on a docile surface, disappointingly few. Panesar slipped an arm-ball through Williamson's attempted cut, and Anderson snuffed out promising starts from Taylor and Brownlie. But this merely hastened the arrival of the inform McCullum, who looked in the mood before the rain returned, with New Zealand in complete control at 402 for seven. Armed with a lead of 235 on the fourth morning, McCullum cracked three sixes before departing for 74 from 59 balls and, after the dismissal of Martin, enjoyed the rare luxury of a declaration. To widespread disbelief, New Zealand led by 293. England were batting to save the game.
In two series already on the tour, they had bounced back successfully. Now their resolve stiffened once more. Cook and Compton defied New Zealand's attack until shortly before the fourth-day close in a stand of 231 - England's highest opening partnership since Andrew Strauss and Marcus Trescothick put on 273 at Durban in 2004-05, and their eighth-highest in all. Cook nicked Boult just before stumps, having completed his 24th Test century and his sixth in seven as captain; two balls after his departure, Compton worked Southee to midwicket for the single that brought up his first. Watched by his father, Richard, he celebrated with gusto, and later admitted: "Reaching the century was the biggest relief of my life." Denis and Nick Compton now joined Vic Richardson and the Chappells, Ian and Greg, as the only grandfathers and grandsons to score Test hundreds.
England began the final day still trailing by 59. But the wicket was playing few tricks, New Zealand's bowlers had been blunted, and the skies were clear. After nearly seven hours, Compton's resistance was ended by Wagner, but Finn was busy knuckling down for one of Test cricket's more unlikely rearguards. Assuming the nightwatchman's role from Anderson, he used his long reach and a newly honed defensive technique to demoralise the bowling.
Finn had made a Test-best 20 in the first innings, batting almost an hour - another personal best. Now he lasted for four and three-quarter hours while compiling a maiden first-class fifty, at one stage playing out 49 dot-balls in succession. With Trott resolute at the other end, England's only wobble came when Finn fell in the second over after tea and Root was run out moments later by Southee's direct hit from cover. But Bell and Prior batted out the last 16 overs to ensure Finn's work would not be wasted. And McCullum, once Finn's team-mate at Otago, wryly observed: "I've seen his batting before. He's certainly worked on it." England were simply grateful, and Finn finished the game with a promise of four crates of wine - two each from Cook and Anderson. Not for the last time in the series, England were toasting a great escape. Close of play: first day, no play; second day, New Zealand 131-0 (Fulton 46, Rutherford 77); third day, New Zealand 402-7 (McCullum 44, Martin 17); fourth day, England 234-1 (Compton 102, Finn 0).