Angus Fraser: Sidebottom hat-trick stuns Black Caps

New Zealand v England, First Test, Hamilton, Day 4
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The Independent Online

Ryan Sidebottom became the eleventh England bowler to take a Test hat-trick in a remarkable spell of bowling that produced a sensational turnaround in the first Test.

For 11 consecutive sessions New Zealand had been in complete control of the match but in five crazy overs Michael Vaughan's side gave themselves a realistic, unexpected and some might say undeserved chance of completing one of the unlikeliest comebacks in Test cricket's rich and unpredictable history.

After dismissing England for 348, a total that gave New Zealand a first innings lead of 122, Jamie How and Stephen Fleming nonchalantly extended their advantage to 221 for the loss of one wicket. The only question on everyone's lips was how many would New Zealand score before they chose to declare.

But all that changed in five sensational overs, during which the Black Caps lost five wickets for 16 runs. Nobody could have predicted such mayhem was about to break out - the previous 329 overs of cricket had yielded just 21 wickets - and by the close of an emotionally exhausting day New Zealand had stuttered to 147-8, a total that gives them a lead of 269.

Daniel Vettori, the Black Caps captain, who is unbeaten on 13 will want the teams' last two wickets to add at least another 30 runs and occupy the crease for 10 to 15 overs, to leave England chasing more than 300 in 75-80 overs. The total would still be gettable but England would have to bat with far more purpose than they did in their first innings.

The major problem on this pitch is that batting aggressively, as New Zealand attempted to do here, brings danger and the question is will England be brave enough to risk defeat in search of victory. Much will depend on the start they get. If the openers can see off the new ball and score at three an over for the first 20 overs, anything is possible

It was in desperation that Vaughan turned to Sidebottom. Stephen Harmison had been flogged for 24 runs in four indifferent overs and Vaughan just wanted somebody to give him a modicum of control. Thoughts of winning the Test would not have entered the England captain's head.

In many ways it was Matthew Hoggard, who took a stunning diving catch on the deep mid-wicket boundary that instigated the collapse. How had moved confidently to 39 when he whipped a Sidebottom delivery over mid-wicket and as the ball travelled through the air the only concern for a sizeable crowd was whether it was going for four or six. But then Hoggard appeared from nowhere leaping high and to his left to take the best catch of his career.

Then came a sequence of events that Sidebottom will never forget. Against the final ball of Sidebottom's eighth over Fleming, who had batted beautiful for his 66, sliced a drive/cut to wide gully only to see Alastair Cook dive salmon like to his left to take a superb catch. Even now, with New Zealand's lead at 231, nobody would have predicted what was to follow.

The Black caps, confident that the game was theirs for the taking, then sent in Brendon McCullum to accelerate the scoring rate. Many believed the powerful hitter should have opened the batting but he heaved at the second ball he faced and top-edged a skier, which was well held by Andrew Strauss running back at mid-on.

The first ball of Sidebottom's next over was a poor one but it produced a crude shot from Matthew Sinclair and Cook took another astonishing catch. The delivery was full and wide and Sinclair slashed hard at it. The ball flew high to Cook's left and he leapt, arching backwards in the air, to cling on to another stunning catch.

England's catching has received plenty of criticism in the recent past but it has been absolutely magnificent in this Test. It is hard to believe an England side has ever caught better and without it they their thoughts would only be on drawing the match.

Sidebottom had not realised it but this was the second time in the day that he had the chance of taking a hat trick. In New Zealand's first innings he had taken the final two wickets with consecutive deliveries but he had forgotten about it and the hat trick ball had been nudged by Jamie How to fine leg for one.

This time Sidebottom was fully aware of what was at stake and he bowled the perfect ball. It was full and straight, swinging slightly in to Jacob Oram as he pushed tentatively forward. The ball hit him half way up the shin and would have gone on to middle stump. Every Englishman in the ground appealed and umpire Daryl Harper, after plenty of thought, raised his finger.

Sidebottom ran off through extra cover with his hair and his team-mates in his wake. It was a glorious scene as Vaughan's side engulfed their hero and nothing less than Sidebottom deserved. It was only a surprise that his parents, sat in the stands, did not run out to join in the ecstatic celebrations. The wicket left New Zealand in desperate trouble on 115-6 and with a lead of just 237.

It was the 36th hat trick in Test cricket and, ironically, the last three England players to complete the feat have all been Yorkshiremen. Darren Gough did it in Sydney against Australia in January 1995 and Hoggard secured his against the West Indies in Barbados in April 2004. When the triumvirate meet in the pavilion at Headingley in 20 years time comparisons and arguments of who's was the best are bound to take place.

With Sidebottom tiring Panesar then came in to his own. Clever flight lured Ross Taylor, on his 24th birthday, in to chipping a catch back to the bowler before Kyle Mills missed an attempted sweep and was correctly given out lbw.

Vettori and Jeetan Patel survived til the close and they have further work to do tomorrow morning with the bat, and then in the afternoon with the ball.

What a brilliant and unpredictable game Test cricket is.