England completed their first overseas series victory for more than three years after lunch on the final day of the third Test when Ryan Sidebottom bowled Chris Martin. It was fitting that Sidebottom claimed the final wicket. Without his outstanding input the series may have followed a different course. For Michael Vaughan and the England team the 121-run win will taste very sweet. Another series defeat, which seemed a distinct possibility after the heavy loss in the first Test in Hamilton, would have led to the England captain's future, along with that of several members of his side, being questioned.
Victory over a modest yet competitive New Zealand team does not mean that everything is suddenly rosy in England's garden. Far from it. Without the excellence of Sidebottom, who claimed 24 wickets in the series England would have been in real trouble, and three centuries on a flat pitch against friendly bowling does not indicate that the batsmen have suddenly solved all their issues. There is still an enormous amount of improvement needed if England are to enter the 2009 Ashes with a realistic chance of regaining the little urn.
Monty Panesar was England's star of the morning taking career best figures of 6 for 126. The left-arm spinner has had a quiet series but he came to his captain's aid when he needed him most, dismissing Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum, New Zealand's unbeaten overnight batsmen, in the space of four balls.
The wickets came only after the pair had given England an early morning scare. New Zealand began the final day of the series with five wickets in hand and still requiring 331 to win. In such a situation survival should be the main objective of the batting side, yet Taylor and McCullum went after England's bowlers with gusto. Sidebottom, with the effects of a heavy workload finally taking their toll, was smashed for 31 in three overs.
Stuart Broad continued to run in hard from the other end but the exertions of the previous day, when he bowled 11 consecutive overs in an excellent spell that brought him two wickets after tea, had knocked some of the vigour out of him, too. Panesar began badly, dropping short and being cut for four by Taylor. The stroke brought up the 100 partnership between the pair.
But with the final ball of his second over, the ninth of the day, Panesar produced a beauty that pitched on middle stump held its line and found the outside edge of Taylor's bat. Paul Collingwood, fielding at slip, did the rest clutching on to a sharp catch.
McCullum can only bat one way – aggressively. Such an approach makes him a dangerous and hugely entertaining batsman but it gives the opposition chances too, as had been the case on the fourth evening when Kevin Pietersen and Panesar failed to grasp chances he offered to them off the luckless James Anderson.
McCullum's good fortune ran out four balls later when, after cutting Panesar for another four, he attempted to work a straight ball from the spinner through the leg side and missed it. England and Panesar celebrated, and understandably so, the wicket all but ensured England victory. Jeetan Patel offered his captain Daniel Vettori support, playing a couple of pleasant drives in his 18. But he too fell to Panesar, when he swept the spinner to backward square leg, where Broad took an excellent diving catch.
Vettori chose to play a few shots and to have some fun, and why not? With two non-batters remaining the game had gone. Vettori's fun ended just before lunch when he stepped inside the line of a bouncer and hooked at Anderson. The ball flicked the edge of his bat and flew through to Tim Ambrose, giving Anderson his first wicket of the Test.
Martin, arguably Test cricket's worst batsman, and Tim Southee somehow survived to the interval, with Southee slogging the final ball of the session, bowled by Anderson, over deep square-leg for six. After lunch he continued to bat with similar bravado smashing Panesar for 24 in an over and completing a maiden half-century with his seventh towering six. He finished unbeaten on 77, quite a performance for a 19-year-old on debut.
It was Panesar who claimed the initial breakthroughs on the fourth day after England had finally declared, setting New Zealand the unthinkable target of 553.
Jamie How was Panesar's first victim, lbw, but it was the quick dismissal of Matthew Bell and Stephen Fleming that proved crucial. The pair batted through the afternoon session, giving New Zealand fans hope of a possible draw.
But those dreams ended when Bell, on 69, top-edged a pull at Panesar to deep square-leg and Fleming edged a catch through to Ambrose. Fleming, New Zealand's finest captain and highest run scorer, accepted that his Test career finished as it should have. For more than two hours the elegant left-hander had masterfully dealt with everything England's bowlers bowled at him, moving effortlessly past 50 and, seemingly, on to a valedictory Test century.
But then, as on 45 previous occasions, when he had reached 66 his innings ended. Fleming did not want to look up on seeing the catch taken. He did want his final innings in a New Zealand shirt to end, but when Daryl Harper raised his finger he had to make the long, and on this occasion emotional walk back to the dressing-room.
"I walked off frustrated as I have 50 or 60 times in my career," admitted Fleming. "But after a short while I had a wry smile at myself because it was probably a fitting way to go. Had I scored a hundred it would have been an anomaly. Instead it was another fifty, and there we go.
"I don't know why I have got out so many times between 50 and 100, if I had a dollar for every time I had been asked that question I'd have between 40 and 50 too. I am only just satisfied with what I have done. As a batsman I will always feel that I underachieved because I couldn't convert. Sometimes I was the master of my own failings, at other times it was just not meant to be."
In Test cricket only seven players have scored more half centuries than Fleming but each of them have posted 20 or more Test hundreds. In 111 Tests Fleming struck just nine. As his country's most successful captain and holder of several other records he has a great deal to be proud of but the small number of three figure scores does not do justice to the talent of the man.Reuse content