Angus Fraser: England on course for victory

New Zealand v England, 2nd Test, Wellington, Day 3
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The Independent Online

Ryan Sidebottom put England on course to win the second Test and level the three match series when he dismissed Jacob Oram with the penultimate ball of the fourth day.

Oram and Brendon McCullum were compiling a threatening partnership as New Zealand attempted to chase down a world record fourth innings score of 438 when Oram drove loosely at Sidebottom and edged a catch to Kevin Pietersen fielding in the position of fifth slip.

New Zealand would have felt slightly aggrieved by the wicket. The light was pretty iffy and England had just taken the second new ball. Indeed, at the end of Sidebottom's over the umpires offered New Zealand the light, which they accepted, and the players left the Basin Reserve with the hosts on 242-6, still 198 runs short of their target.

England would probably have wrapped the game up on the fourth day had their fielding been as good as it was in Hamilton during the first Test. There they took every chance that came their way. Last night, however, they missed seven wicket-taking opportunities. In all five catches of varying difficulty were grassed, and a stumping and run out were missed. The errors are unlikely to prove costly here but on another occasion they would be the difference between winning and losing.

Sidebottom claimed the most wickets but Stuart Broad, in just his second Test, was the pick of the bowlers. Broad, brought in at the expense of Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison, bowled with hostility, intelligence and skill. Fitness providing he could be in the England side for quite some time to come.

So could James Anderson, and fears that the left ankle injury he sustained on Saturday evening would prevent him from contributing vanished when he walked out to bat at the start of play to scamper singles and twos as England increased their lead by a further 16 runs to 437. Anderson took the second over as New Zealand set about creating history - the highest successful run chase in Test cricket is 418 - but the chances of this happening received an immediate setback when Ryan Sidebottom had Jamie How caught at short leg for eight.

Stuart Broad replaced Sidebottom and produced the best spell of his fledgling Test career either side of the lunch interval. Broad bowled an immaculate line to Matthew Bell and Stephen Fleming in 12 consecutive overs, troubling both. The 21 year-old deserved his second Test wicket well before it came. In one over Bell edged him twice short of slip, and then watched Paul Collingwood grass a straightforward catch at second slip.

But Broad got his man a couple of overs later when Bell pushed at a leg-cutter and edged a low catch to Tim Ambrose behind the stumps. Matthew Sinclair, in his desire to get off the mark, then nearly ran Stephen Fleming out. Fleming, batting for the final time at his home ground, would have been a yard out had Michael Vaughan's underarm throw hit the stumps.

Fleming was not happy with Sinclair's actions. Normally batsmen meet to have a mid-wicket chat after a mix up like that but both players remained at the end they were at. The event seemed to unsettle Fleming who padded up to a nip-backer from Broad that clipped the top of his off stump.

Another large crowd rose to their feet to show their appreciation for one of New Zealand's finest sportsmen. A disappointed Fleming shyly made his way off, almost embarrassed by the attention, before finally raising his bat and acknowledging the applause of the crowd.

With New Zealand still 368 runs short of victory Sinclair and Ross Taylor decided to be positive and took the game to England. Broad finished his spell with the excellent figures of 2-25 and Taylor slapped Sidebottom, his replacement, for two boundaries through mid on.

England's fielding throughout the day was poor and catches were dropped in consecutive overs. Alastair Cook grassed a hard chance off Sidebottom diving to his left at a fine gully when the batsman was on 27. Kevin Pietersen then shelled a sitter at mid-off off the bowling of Monty Panesar. Taylor, on 26, came down the pitch to England's left arm spinner hoping to repeat a feat he performed whilst playing for Wellington, when he hit a slow bowler for an enormous six over the RA Vance Stand here, but he sliced the heave in Pietersen's direction.

Pietersen gathered himself under the ball and attempted to catch it Australian style, with his fingers pointing to the sky, but he fluffed it and the ball hit turf. Tea soon followed with the hosts on 145-3.

Sinclair's good fortune did not continue. In the second over after the break the right hander wafted weakly at a short of a length ball from Anderson and chipped a simple catch to Ian Bell at extra cover.

Vaughan immediately removed Anderson from the attack, replacing him with Sidebottom who has troubled Oram throughout the entire tour. But it was Taylor who Sidebottom dismissed, trapping the right hander in front with an inswinger.

McCullum batted with usual vigour, finishing unbeaten on 43 and he and his captain, Daniel Vettori, will need to score heavily tonight if New Zealand are to get anywhere near their target.