Whatever happens now, this series has hardly gone according to plan for England. They came to New Zealand as the hottest favourites since Usain Bolt took 100 metres gold in London and have struggled to leave the starting blocks.
It is possible that they may score quickly enough in the rest of this decisive Third Test to overhaul their opponents' total and leave on Wednesday morning with the victory that was inevitable all along. But it is highly improbable.
By the end of the second day the tourists had reached 50 for 2, 393 runs behind. They had the worst of the day again, they have had the worst of the match. Speed of scoring will be of the essence for the rest of this Test (though Nick Compton has scored 12 from 72 balls), and the recent history of Test cricket is full of late twists and compelling finishes.
With those caveats in mind, the teams are heading for a drawn match and a drawn series. The pattern of this match has followed that of the past fortnight, the home side playing for all they are worth above expectation and the tourists slightly jaded and not performing as anticipated.
The pitches in all three matches have conspired against entertaining cricket. This final surface, of the drop-in variety, rather suggests that it was planned after all. It could have been quick or at least have had some carry, instead of which it has been as innocuous as its two predecessors at Dunedin and, less culpably, Wellington.
No doubt New Zealand wanted to make it as difficult as possible for their vaunted guests. So low have New Zealand sunk in Test terms that a scoreline of 0-0 would be a triumph. A series victory would be in the realms of dreamland, as would have been even a level series involving their winning one of the matches.
But if three draws would regain some respectability after years of moderate results and an old-fashioned drubbing by South Africa in January, it does not equate to a renaissance of Test cricket. The crowds for the first two days at Eden Park, buttressed by a considerable English presence, have been disappointing. It is seven years since the last Test match on this ground; nobody should be saddened if it were another seven years, or longer, to the next.
Yet if the surfaces have been unrewarding both for batsmen and bowlers, it is also true that rain in the first two matches ensured the draw. The whole first day was lost at the University Oval, the whole of the last at Basin Reserve, without which one side or the other would have won, probably New Zealand in the first, England in the second.
Nonetheless, the progress of the series was predicated by England's miserable performance when the rubber finally got under way on the second day earlier in the month. They were all out for 167 in 55 overs, and if they could not put their finger on the reason for another slow start overseas it bespoke something that might not have been complacency but was the subliminal expectation of easy victory. History shows, by and large, that the Kiwis do not fold easily when Poms are in town. Alastair Cook might have taken that into consideration when he asked them to bat in the Third Test.
Equally, recent precedent was on his side. England have far more chance these days of winning matches batting second than they do batting first. The potency of their attack, their ability to post imposing totals and the relative blandness of surfaces globally have caused the shift in conventional wisdom.
A New Zealand score of 250 for 1 on the first day of the Third Test suggested, however, that there were alternative methods. England had much more success yesterday, taking the remaining nine wickets they needed by shortly after tea.
Steve Finn finished with 6 for 125, his fourth five-wicket haul in Tests, though he was by no means at his most incisive. Two of his wickets were to catches behind down the leg side, the first from Matt Prior a quite stunning pouch to put an end to Peter Fulton's vigil. Fulton had taken his overnight 124 to 136, having faced another 69 balls, when he made his first mistake for almost a day. The first nine in New Zealand's order all reached double figures, seven of them more than 20, which shows their collective spirit.
England kept at it and were granted rewards for perseverance. But there was no spark, nobody who took the innings by the scruff as Stuart Broad had done in Wellington a week earlier.
Their bowling was put into some perspective when it became apparent that the Kiwis were gaining more movement. Not that it accounted for Cook, who was yet another victim to a glance down the leg side, a dismissal that tends to combine misfortune and carelessness.
Trent Boult, the left-arm swing bowler, was the claimant, as he was when he had Jonathan Trott lbw pinned to the crease with one that curved back. It showed what aggressive left-arm swing can do, and the subsequent review was based on hope more then expectation. England were left with plenty to do and much to ponder.
England won toss
NEW ZEALAND – First innings (overnight 250-1)
Runs 6s 4s Bls
P G Fulton c Prior b Finn 136 3 15 346
K S Williamson c Prior b Anderson 91 0 15 199
L R P Taylor c & b Panesar 19 1 2 34
D G Brownlie c Compton b Anderson 36 0 6 91
*B B McCullum c Prior b Trott 38 0 6 62
†B J Watling c Prior b Finn 21 0 3 60
T G Southee c Prior b Finn 44 2 4 33
B P Martin c Trott b Finn 10 0 2 10
N Wagner not out 2 0 0 3
T A Boult c Compton b Finn 0 0 0 1
Extras (b4, lb4, nb1) 9
Total (152.3 overs) 443
Fall (cont): 2-260, 3-289, 4-297, 5-365, 6-373, 7-424, 8-436, 9-443.
Bowling: J M Anderson 30-8-79-2; S C J Broad 30-6-94-0; S T Finn 37.3-8-125-6; M S Panesar 47-17-123-1; I J L Trott 6-3-9-1; J E Root 2-1-5-0.
ENGLAND – First innings
Runs 6s 4s Bls
*A N Cook c Watling b Boult 4 0 1 7
N R D Compton not out 12 0 2 72
I J L Trott lbw b Boult 27 0 4 44
I R Bell not out 6 0 1 27
Extras (w1) 1
Total (for 2, 25 overs) 50
Fall: 1-8, 2-44.
Still to bat: J E Root, J M Bairstow, †M J Prior, S C J Broad, S T Finn, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
Bowling: T A Boult 10-4-26-2; T G Southee 6-4-12-0; N Wagner 2-0-6-0; B P Martin 7-4-6-0.
Umpires: P R Reiffel and R J Tucker (Aus).
TV Umpire: S J Davis (Aus).
Match referee: R S Mahanama (SL).Reuse content