Auckland: England captain Alastair Cook found himself pacing around the dressing room as the three-match Test series against New Zealand drew to a gripping climax at Eden Park on Tuesday. He changed seats when Stuart Broad was the eighth man to be dismissed, having decided that "the luck" had run out of that perch, so he needed somewhere else to watch the final few overs.
Cook, however, gave up on that when James Anderson lasted just two deliveries, instead relying on a running commentary from fitness coach Huw Bevan and team-mate Jonathan Trott. When last man Monty Panesar mistimed his dive trying to get off strike, Cook said there were a few "ooh-aahs", followed by a string of expletives, from the amateur commentators. Then, like the rest of the 6,754 spectators at Eden Park, laughter.
And finally, when Matt Prior blocked the last ball from Trent Boult to save the match and series, with England on 315 for 9, relief. "Yeah it was quite a nerve-racking day when you can't do anything about it," Cook told reporters. "Ideally you don't want to be in that situation but the character we have shown today can only be a good thing. We have proven to be quite a tough side to beat, which we will need in the coming months."
Locked 0-0 after two rain-affected draws, Tuesday's final day of the series promised so much. New Zealand had not beaten a major cricketing nation since they overcame West Indies 2-0 at home in 2006 and the England series had been attractive advertisement for the longer form of the game that ebbed and flowed throughout. Auckland's New Zealand Herald newspaper, the country's largest, had put the match on the front page with the caption "We can do it" emblazoned across a photo of Tim Southee being congratulated by captain Brendon McCullum with the knowledge that just six wickets were needed to wrap up the win.
Truancy officers would have done a roaring trade at Eden Park as fathers and grandfathers took advantage of the offer of free entry for children, hoping to create a shared experience of a rare test success against the England team. Tension gradually ratcheted up throughout the day as Ian Bell and Joe Root battled through the first 105 minutes and neighbours began to look nervously at each other wondering if England may get to the break without losing a wicket.
'Friendly' text messages began to fly between expat Englishmen and New Zealanders about whether the tourists would survive, not just the session but the entire day.
The second new ball, however, gave the hosts renewed hope. Paceman Boult steamed in and with a delivery that nipped back from middle stump, he had Root trapped in front for 29. In his next over, the final one before lunch, Bell was dropped by Dean Brownlie at fourth slip before Jonny Bairstow was spilled by Kane Williamson in the gully two balls later.
The match was crackling with tension with Bairstow's dismissal after the break as New Zealand's bowlers, knowing the Bell-Prior partnership was the one to break, charged in, seeking that one delivery that would tip the game in their favour. Southee hit Prior on the pads twice in one over. One appeal was turned down, the next was successful, but the England wicketkeeper immediately asked for a review, knowing that he had nicked the ball into his legs first.
Less than 10 minutes later, Prior mistimed a pull shot from a Southee bouncer and Neil Wagner turned at mid-on, bolted 20 metres in a desperate attempt to make the catch that would place the hosts under huge pressure. His diving effort fell just short, however. Wagner then hit Prior in the helmet and the ball dropped down the face of the stumps, bounced and spun back and nestled at the foot of the wickets but failed to dislodge the bails.
The left-armer ultimately had the final say when a tired-looking Bell fell in the final over before tea and New Zealand's players celebrated as if they had won the match.
Play after the tea break only heightened the drama. Every ball that zipped past the bat was greeted with an almighty "Oooooohhh" from the crowd, while cries of "Catch it!" from the field and deliveries thudding into pads periodically brought them to their feet. Prior, as is his style, counterpunched, while Broad simply stayed put, taking 102 minutes to get off the mark.
The introduction of part-time spinner Williamson, however, changed the match when he had Broad and Anderson caught by Ross Taylor at slip in the same over, sending Panesar out to join Prior for the final 19 deliveries. Panesar almost chopped his first delivery onto the stumps, fell over himself trying to give the strike back to Prior and played and missed at two deliveries before he managed to push a single off Boult to leave his partner to face the final three deliveries.
On the third, Prior blocked it away raised his arms and the travelling Barmy Army rose to their feet in jubilation.
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