Angus Fraser: At last, England set for series victory
England 253 & 467-7d v New Zealand 168 & 222-5
Tuesday 25 March 2008
England finished the fourth day of the third Test requiring just five wickets to win their first overseas series since Michael Vaughan's side memorably defeated South Africa in January 2005. For New Zealand, on the day that Stephen Fleming waved goodbye to international cricket, the equation is slightly more demanding. Set the highly improbable target of 553 by England, the Black Caps, on 222-5, still need the small matter of 331 runs to complete the greatest run chase in the history of Test cricket.
New Zealand made England work far harder for their wickets than they did in their first innings on another delightful day in Napier. Monty Panesar was England's chief wicket-taker with three hard earned victims, whilst Stuart Broad gave a further example of his potential by taking 2-26 in an impressive 11 over spell between tea and the close of play.
New Zealand's highlights came from Matthew Bell, who scored a much needed half-century, and Fleming who finished his distinguished Test career with 66. Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum were unbeaten at the close but New Zealand do not have a lot of batting to come after Daniel Vettori, the next man in.
Whilst Bell and Fleming were together, adding 99 runs between lunch and tea, the New Zealand supporters at McLean Park were still hoping their side could perform the Herculean feat of batting out the 168 overs that remained in the game following England's declaration before lunch.
But Panesar ended those dreams immediately after the tea interval when he dismissed Bell and Fleming within 13 balls. Bell was the first to go when he pulled the third ball after the interval straight to Stuart Broad at deep backward square leg. The opener had been a model of concentration during the afternoon session scoring just 37 runs in two hours of cricket.
Bell began his innings on a pair and with his Test future in the balance, and his first scoring shot was a cut at James Anderson that flew over the slips for four. And it was the same shot, played in a more controlled manner that brought him four consecutive boundaries off the same bowler. His innings showed that he is a capable batsman but he will nervously await the announcement of New Zealand's Test squad for the coming tour of England.
Fleming was given a guard of honour by the England team following the dismissal of Jamie How, who was trapped plumb in front by Panesar with the ninth ball after lunch. The crowd showed their appreciation for one of New Zealand's greatest sportsmen too, rising to their feet and applauding the Black Caps most successful captain all the way to the middle. On Fleming's arrival in the middle Vaughan shook him warmly by the hand.
As in the first innings Fleming was in wonderful touch, striking the ball sweetly through the off side. Fleming's 46th Test half-century was brought up with a beautiful extra cover drive off Panesar but once again he failed to go on to reach three figures. Only seven batsmen have scored more Test half-centuries than Fleming but each has 20 or more hundreds against their name. Fleming's career ended when he tried to dab Panesar down to third man but the ball trimmed the outside edge of his bat and was cleanly taken by Tim Ambrose behind the stumps.
The crowd and the England players stood and applauded one last time as Fleming departed, and after removing his helmet he acknowledged the warm ovation awarded him. His wife, Kelly, sat in the stands, could be seen wiping a tear or two from her eyes.
With the door open Broad pounced, thundering in to a strong wind the 21 year-old bowled with aggression and hostility. The benign pitch offered him little assistance but he unsettled Matthew Sinclair and Grant Elliott with a barrage of short balls. The tactic brought him deserved success when Sinclair gloved a short ball straight up in the air to Ambrose and Elliott spliced a pull to Ian Bell at short leg.
McCullum offered two chances in the final over of the day when Kevin Pietersen dropped a catch at fine gully and Panesar failed to get his hands on a chance a more athletic player could have snaffled. James Anderson, armed with the second new ball, was the unlucky bowler on both occasions.
England batted for a further 34 minutes on the fourth morning, adding 51 runs to their overnight score if 416-5. But only four of runs came the way of Andrew Strauss who failed to post the first double hundred of his career. With quick runs being required Strauss had to be positive and he perished on 177 attempting to hit Jeetan Patel down the ground for six. Bell took a good catch running round from deepish mid-off.
Ambrose fell three balls later when, working to leg, he chipped a simple catch back to Vettori, the bowler. Still England batted on, allowing Broad to play a few lusty blows. Vettori and Patel were hit through the covers for four and Vaughan finally declared when Broad heaved Patel down the ground for a straight six to give his side a lead of 552.
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