Monday, March 25, 2013

Auckland Test: New Zealand in driver’s seat

AUCKLAND, March 25, 2013 AP

England will have to survive 90 overs with only six second-innings wickets intact on the final day of the third cricket test to avoid losing a test series in New Zealand for the first time in 30 years.

England went to stumps Monday at 90-4 with Ian Bell 8 not out after New Zealand, leading by 239 runs on the first innings, declared its second innings at 241-6 and gave the tourists the almost impossible task of scoring a world record 481 to win the match.

The largest total achieved by any team in a successful fourth innings run-chase was the West Indies' 415 against Australia 10 years ago. Only England, for a draw, and New Zealand, in defeat, has scored more than 450 in the fourth innings of a test.

"We're under a lot of pressure in the last day but we've still got players who have been picked to play test cricket," England batting Coach Graham Gooch said in a radio interview. "They've got good test records; we've got some good young players and two experienced batsmen to come so we have to believe we can save the game."

New Zealand's hopes of claiming its first home series victory over England since 1983-84 rose sharply when it dismissed Nick Compton (2) in the second over of the innings. It peaked again when Jonathan Trott (37) was dismissed in the 24th over to leave England 60-2.

The bitterest blow for England was when Alastair Cook (43) and Steve Finn (0) fell just before stumps.

Cook, who had curbed ever attacking instinct in his three hour vigil, hitting only four fours, drove at part-time spinner Kane Williamson less than four overs from stumps and was caught at slip by Dean Brownlie.

Finn, the doughty night-watchman, who batted six hours to clinch the draw in the first test at Dunedin, couldn't repeat that achievement and was dismissed without scoring to bring the day to an end. England lost its third and fourth wicket with the total at 90 during a series of seven maiden overs.

Left-arm seamer Neil Wagner nicked out Trott then Williamson removed the England captain and the night-watchman with sharp slip catches. Brownlie held a stunning catch close in at second slip to dismiss Cook and Southee, never a slip fieldsman, made a similarly fine grab to oust Finn.

New Zealand will now enter the final day of the match and series in sight of an historic series victory, its first over England since 1999 when it won a four-test series in England. The tourists, in contrast, must battle for survival, relying on Bell out of form in this series and the 22-year-olds Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, who face the largest challenges of their short test careers.

The drop-in pitch at Eden Park has been sound, if a little slow, on the first four days, providing little assistance for fast bowlers and only occasional turn for spinners out of the scuff marks that are now inevitable.

New Zealand made 443 in its first innings after being sent in to bat and there were few excuses for England's dismissal for 204 in reply. Left-arm fast bowler Trent Boult took 6-68 as both he and Tim Southee, New Zealand's new ball pair, found that fraction of swing that beat the bat and contributed to four lbw decisions.

Opener Peter Fulton then became only the fourth New Zealander to score centuries in each innings of a test match as the home team added 106 to its overnight total Monday to reach a position at which it could declare with no fear of defeat.

Fulton followed his maiden test century of 136 in New Zealand's first innings with 110 from 165 balls in the second, at first steadying the home side after it plunged to 8-3, then lashing out in a partnership of 117 with Brendon McCullum (67 not out) to hasten the declaration.

England has home and away Ashes series against a struggling Australian team starting in July, but Gooch said that wouldn't come into consideration until after the New Zealand series.

"I think we only want to play out the three sessions tomorrow. We can't look forward to the summer now," he said. "What we have to do is make sure that every player that has got something to contribute tomorrow, his mind is right on the job ... and if the ball is there to score off you score off it, and if it's not, you don't.

"I know that's simplifying it but that's what they need to do. You fight and compete every ball, that's all you can ask."
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