Without taking too much away from Astle and Morrison, this was another England performance that defied explanation. Perhaps only agent Mulder of X-Files fame could hope to offer a plausible reason as to why England were unable to press home what had appeared to be certain victory.
At that stage, it was a result so copper-bottomed that even Steve Rixon, the New Zealand coach, admitted that he had been "resigned to defeat". However, although miracles in cricket do happen, they seem to happen a lot more against England, as the denizens of Bulawayo can recently testify.
For Michael Atherton, it was possibly the longest afternoon of his captaincy, and you could sense his final desolation as early expectations of victory seeped away and grim desperation took hold.
As draws go, it was probably as close to providing the ringing hollowness of defeat as you could get without actually losing. Atherton and his team have become increasingly used to this feeling of late.
A dejected England captain felt that his side had not been guilty of complacency, and had done all that was possible to force victory upon what had ended up as a very "dead" pitch.
"We were never looking further than the next ball," he said. "If you do that you can get in trouble in this game, which is never over until you've won it."
Nevertheless, Atherton, having seen his opponents virtually self-destruct before lunch, was guilty of expecting the rest of the team to follow suit. When they did not, he seemed more intent on stemming the last pair's flow of runs than getting them out and, tellingly, Dominic Cork bowled just nine overs on the day.
Atherton tried everything but attack. This over-cautious approach has cost his team a priceless 1-0 lead in this three-match series.
It is perhaps unfair to blame England's inability to force the win solely upon the failings of the final afternoon's play, where the tensions of such a hair-trigger situation would probably not have arisen had New Zealand's early order played with even a hint of the determination later shown by Astle and Morrison.
In fact, when the day began everything was proceeding in a calm, orderly fashion until Adam Parore decided to call his captain, Lee Germon, through for a risky single to short cover. Nasser Hussain, fielding at cover, pounced on the opportunity and his direct hit left the New Zealand skipper a yard short of his ground.
If running out the captain is the biggest sin in the game, getting out stumped immediately afterwards while having an almighty slog is almost as bad. In the space of three overs Parore had done both, the second sin being committed after Phil Tufnell had enticed him to chance his arm by hitting over the top. It was Tufnell, too, who struck two runs later when he had the left-handed Justin Vaughan leg before to one that spun viciously from out of the rough.
England's purple morning was then completed by Alan Mullally, who, having had a poor game thus far, proceeded to exceed earlier expectations with an accurate spell that removed both the dangerous Chris Cairns, who chopped- on, and Dipak Patel, leg before to a yorker; out for his second nought of the match.
At that point even Atherton was contemplating what ought to have been England's first Test win abroad for two years. This feat was last achieved in Adelaide, since when his record as England captain abroad has brought two wins from 18 Tests.
After lunch, a stand of 37 between Astle and Simon Doull meant that England were committed to batting again, though Doull's dismissal for 26, to an inswinging yorker from Darren Gough, and Morrison's subsequent appearance wearing sunglasses suggested that it should not be for too long.
At that point, England and Atherton's game plan could have been considered faultless. In fact all the mistakes made on the previous four days would have been consigned to David Lloyd's waste paper bin. These included the appalling bowling on the first morning, the wasteful run-out of John Crawley, and Cork's dilatory batting on the fourth day when he scored one run in an hour.
Instead the match will live in folklore, just as will Atherton's epic deeds in Johannesburg. Indeed for Astle no praise is too high. With two Test hundreds against the West Indies, he is not the big-shot charlatan some have dubbed him. He hits the ball hard, but his selection of which balls not to strike was as spot on as the shots he chose to hit.
Occasionally, Astle faltered, once being missed by Nick Knight off a sharp chance at silly point and twice edging just short of slip. Having identified that the pitch had lost much of its bounce, England will regret not having had their slip cordon two yards closer.
However, what must have really rubbed the salt in was the realisation that Astle did not even bother to farm the strike, and both he and Morrison had faced 133 balls each in their unbroken stand of 106.
England may have left Auckland with their undefeated record intact, but they alone will know the true price of conceding the draw.
The all-time Test record for a 10th-wicket stand is 151 by Brian Hastings (110) and Richard Collinge (68 not out) for New Zealand against Pakistan at Auckland in 1972-73
The highest 10th-wicket partnership in New Zealand cricket is 184 held by Roger Blunt (338 not out) and W Hawksworth (21) for Otago v Canterbury at Christchurch in 1931-32.
The highest 10th-wicket partnership for England is held by Reginald Foster (287) and Wilfred Rhodes (40 not out), who put on 130 against Australia in Sydney 1903-4
The highest 10th-wicket partnership in English county cricket is 235 by Frank Woolley (185) and Arthur Fielder (112 not out) for Kent against Worcestershire at Stourbridge in 1909
The 10th-wicket stand of 154 between N A McDonald and K C Martin for Natal B against Griqualand West at Kimberley in 1965-66 was Martin's only innings in first-class cricket
LAST STRAW Yesterday's failure to win means that in the last 10 years England have managed just five Test victories on their travels overseas.
1996-97 in New Zealand
First Test (Auckland): Match drawn.
1996-97 in Zimbabwe
Won 0 Lost 0 Drawn 2
1995-96 in South Africa
Won 0 Lost 1 Drawn 4
1994-95 in Australia
Won 1 Lost 3 Drawn 1
1993-94 in West Indies
Won 1 Lost 3 Drawn 1
1992-1993 in India
Won 0 Lost 3 Drawn 0
1992-93 in Sri Lanka
Won 0 Lost 1 Drawn 0
1991-92 in New Zealand
Won 2 Lost 0 Drawn 1
1990-91 in Australia
Won 0 Lost 3 Drawn 2
1989-90 in West Indies
Won 1 Lost 2 Drawn 1
1987-88 in Pakistan
Won 0 Lost 1 Drawn 2
1987-88 in Australia
Bicentennial Test - Drawn 1
1987-88 in New Zealand.
Won 0 Lost 0 Drawn 3
Tests: P41, W5, D19, L17
Series: P12, W1, D3, L8
LAST EDITIONS The timing of the final day's play in Auckland was such that British newspapers were able to report much of the action in their later editions. However, as their headlines show, the final result was not quite what they were expecting:
"England are inspired by Hussain's hit"
"England move to brink of victory"
"Kiwis face defeat as wickets tumble"
"Tufnell double spins dominant England towards success"
"Tufnell and Mullally set England on victory road"
"Hussain swoops to put Kiwis on rack"
"England on the brink"
"Tuffers sets up victory charge"
"England give 'em a Tuffing"
Final day; England won toss
NEW ZEALAND - First Innings 390 (S P Fleming 129, B A Pocock 70, C L Cairns 67; D Gough 4-91).
ENGLAND - First Innings 521 (A J Stewart 173, G P Thorpe 119, M A Atherton 83, D G Cork 59).
NEW ZEALAND - Second Innings
(Overnight: 56 for 3)
A C Parore st Stewart b Tufnell 33
138 min, 107 balls, 4 fours
*L K Germon run out (Hussain) 13
52 min, 36 balls, 3 fours
N J Astle not out 102
280 min, 214 balls, 13 fours
J T C Vaughan lbw b Tufnell 2
15 min, 10 balls
C L Cairns b Mullally 7
24 min, 23 balls, 1 four
D N Patel lbw b Mullally 0
22 min, 15 balls
S B Doull b Gough 26
38 min, 40 balls, 4 fours
D K Morrison not out 14
166 min, 133 balls
Extras (lb11, nb8) 19
Total (for 9 dec, 447 min, 114 overs) 248
Fall: 1-17 (Young), 2-28 (Pocock), 3-47 (Fleming), 4-88 (Germon), 5-90 (Parore), 6-92 (Vaughan), 7-101 (Cairns), 8-105 (Patel), 9-142 (Doull).
Bowling: Cork 16-3-45-1 (nb1) (7-3-17-1, 3-0-9-0, 3-0-11-0, 3-0-8-0); Mullally 26-11-47-2 (nb3) (7-4-5-0, 15-7-33-2, 2-0-4-0, 2-0-5-0); White 10-2-26-0 (nb1) (3-1-6-0, 3-1-5-0, 4-0-15-0); Gough 22-3-66-2 (nb4) (12- 2-32-1, 6-1-19-1, 2-0-7-0, 2-0-8-0); Tufnell 40-18-53-3 (nb2) (28-11-41- 3, 3-2-1-0, 6-4-5-0, 3-1-6-0).
Progress: Overnight: 56-3 (Parore 16, Germon 4) 29 overs. 100: 211 min, 51.4 overs. Lunch: 105-8 (Astle 7) 60 overs. 150: 300 min, 75.2 overs. New ball: 81.2 overs, 170-9. 200: 371 min, 94.1 overs. Tea: 207-9 (Astle 64, Morrison 13) 99 overs. Play called off: 4.56pm after 6 of final 15 overs had been bowled.
Astle's 50: 184 min, 132 balls, 5 fours. 100: 279 mins, 214 balls, 13 fours.
Umpires: S A Bucknor and R S Dunne. TV replay umpire: D B Cowie. Match referee: P J P Burge.
Joint men of the match: N J Astle and A J Stewart. Adjudicator: Sir Richard Hadlee.Reuse content