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Black Caps on verge of unexpected series win

Geoff Parkes Columnist

By Geoff Parkes, Geoff Parkes is a Roar Expert

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    New Zealand’s much beleaguered cricketers stand on the cusp of an unexpected series win against England, requiring just six more wickets on the final day of the third Test in Auckland.

    Not that victory is at all assured – England have capable batsmen still to come and the drop-in pitch, while showing normal fifth day wear and tear, is by no means a Dehli dirtbox.

    But whatever happens today, a side for which series wins against the top echelon of nations is a rarity has shown plenty to suggest that many brighter days are ahead for New Zealand Cricket.

    Although the debacle of 45 all out against South Africa in Cape Town is still a recent memory, in my preview of this series I suggested that the Black Caps would be far more competitive at home against England, and so it has proved.

    There are four key reasons for this.

    Firstly, the performance against South Africa wasn’t as bad as it looked.

    This was the world’s best attack at the top of their game, having a day out in favourable conditions.

    They had similarly decimated Australia the year before and would do the same to Pakistan a few weeks later.

    Secondly, New Zealand’s achilles heel has been at opening bat.

    It’s fortunes in this series rested on fixing a situation where prior to this series over half of its most recent 50 opening stands hadn’t exceeded double figures.

    With Martin Guptill injured, a new combination of debutant Hamish Rutherford and the experienced Peter Fulton were tried – Rutherford making 246 runs at 49.2, and Fulton 347 at 69.4, including three centuries between them.

    On top of their runs, they have brought a better balance to the side.

    Brendan McCullum must now surely understand that being the world’s premier number seven bat is far more enticing than playing an unnatural game trying to see off the new ball.

    Thirdly I suggested that the New Zealand attack would perform much better in local conditions and would benefit from the return of Tim Southee from injury.

    While Southee hasn’t landed a bag of wickets, he has tested all the batsmen and showed increasing accuracy and consistency.

    Trent Boult, Neil Wagner and debut spinner Bruce Martin have all enjoyed wicket tacking spells, meaning Doug Bracewell has been unable to force his way back into the line-up.

    He will surely think long and hard before hosting another house party in the week before a Test match.

    Martin’s consistency fell away yesterday and he will need to step up today if New Zealand are to finish the game off. Not that it mattered as Kane Williamson stepped up, ‘Big Show’ style, to sensationally snare two late wickets with his part time off-spin.

    What has impressed most about the bowling performance over the series is that an obvious bowling plan is apparent and has been mostly adhered to. Wickets have been hard to come by on unhelpful pitches but the bowlers have stayed patient and worked hard.

    With Dan Vettori, Bracewell, and promising left arm quick Mitchell McClenaghan to return from injury there is real competition for bowling places – something that New Zealand has not experienced in recent memory.

    The fourth factor is the integration of Ross Taylor back into the team. This team is now undeniably Hesson’s and McCullum’s, with everyone pulling in the same direction. It is to Taylor’s credit that he has shelved his own ego for the greater good.

    There is no doubt that this will have not gone wryly unnoticed by Mickey Arthur and Michael Clarke as they strive to impose their standards on their team.

    The surprising variable has been the quality of the opposition. England turned up on day one in Dunedin clearly mentally unprepared for Test cricket and were lucky to come away with a weather influenced draw.

    Wellington was a far more assured performance with both bat and ball, and the result was reversed – the rain this time preventing an England win.

    So to Auckland and basically a resetting of the clock – a one-off contest for the series win on a pitch with a little more life in it than the first two.

    In retrospect Alistair Cook blew the toss, inserting New Zealand who finished the day at 250/1, effectively taking an England win out of the equation.

    It was slow going by Fulton and Williamson but it was assured and mature. This was a contrast to recent series marked by batsmen too hasty to throw their innings away with overly extravagant shots.

    Day three, however, was a surprising capitulation.

    No matter how well New Zealand bowled this was not a 204 all out pitch. Despite a nervous last session with the bat, New Zealand was never going to blow a 239 first innings lead in batting England out of the game.

    Fulton and McCullum’s superb counter attack yesterday morning cemented this advantage and thus set the scene for the bowlers.

    Ten wickets in five-and-a-half sessions for the series win.

    What Australia will take out of this series is that Swann is an important factor in this England team.

    Panesar has tried hard but has lacked penetration, and offers nothing like the threat of the Indian spin attack.

    Steve Finn was almost unplayable in the limited overs games, but failed to find sideways movement in all of the Tests.

    He and Broad remain quality bowlers but if Jimmy Anderson can be seen off by patient and hard working batsmen, then there will be runs to be had.

    Cook, Trott, Bell, Pietersen and Root have all underwhelmed with the bat, but one suspects that they still have plenty of runs left in them for the Ashes series.

    One also suspects that New Zealand have snuck under England’s guard, showing tenacity and consistency in their performance.

    Whatever the fallout from India, I doubt England will make the same mistake against Australia.

    But for now, this isn’t about Australia, or even England for that matter.

    If New Zealand hold their nerve they will win. 90 overs for six wickets.

    If they don’t they will be frustrated at the missed opportunity but still come away very satisfied about dominating a good side. Not just in a one-off game like Hobart was, but across a whole series.

    As a viewer, the shame is that this is only a three-Test series.

    But if McCullum and his bowlers can put in one more last effort they will happily pull stumps and send England home with plenty of soul searching to do.

    Geoff Parkes
    Geoff Parkes

    Geoff is a Melbourne-based sports fanatic and writer who started contributing to The Roar in 2012 under the pen name Allanthus. His first book, A World in Union Conflict; The Global Battle For Rugby Supremacy, was released in December 2017 to critical acclaim. For details on the book visit www.geoffparkes.com. Meanwhile, his twin goals of achieving a single figure golf handicap and owning a fast racehorse remain tantalisingly out of reach.

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    The Crowd Says (19)

    • March 26th 2013 @ 6:36am
      Tenash said | March 26th 2013 @ 6:36am | ! Report

      hey Allanthus putting this feat as unexpected, is frankly a huge understatement.

      Cause it would be nothing short of HISTORIC !!
      And not just for NZ cricket but NZ Sport as a whole.

      They had absolutely no right to win this series except for the fact that its cricket, a game of glorius uncertainties.
      It never ceases to amaze me!

    • March 26th 2013 @ 6:59am
      Riccardo said | March 26th 2013 @ 6:59am | ! Report

      Morning Allanthus.

      A great read and I have been waiting for the Black Caps’ heriocs to garner some attention on these pages.

      The other factor that you have touched on before but not in this prose is the return of Ryder to New Zealand’s middle order, if that turns out to be the case. He has some attitude and I’m not sure he’ll ever be the “squeaky clean” our politcally correct society requires these days but what he does bring is a clean-hitting eye that reminds me of perhaps my favourite player, Sehwag. Add him to those you have already proffered and we have genuine competition for places in a team that is starting to believe.

      I believe McCullum’s decision not to enforce the follow-on today will be vindicated by a momentous victory but the real value is the resurgence of a much-maligned Test unit who have been outstanding for much of this series and deserve their plaudits, none more so than 2 metre Peter, a player I have chastised as he comes and goes from the national squad and who has made me eat my words… and I’m delighted to do so.

      While the English have the talent in the dressing room to bat out the draw (for they will not be chasing) the Black Caps have their tails up and will aggressively pursue the victory that brings the series with it. I was at Eden Park on Friday and the Monty was getting some turn on the first day. If Williamson and Martin can get it right in tandem backed up by McCullum crowding the bat… well, the cake should ice itself.

      What amazes me Allanthus, in our tall poppy syndrome kingdom back here is that we still have negative commentary directed at the team and their propensity to capitulate. No one is more pilloried in the sport commentary than Hesson. I despise the way he handled Taylor’s demotion but also supsect he was the hatchet man for a guileless and reticent NZC; anyway further energy expended in tis direction is pointless.

      The fact of the matter is that Hesson and McCullum are proving me and everone else wrong. I thought it would be Wright who gave this team cohesion and belief and I do still wonder if NZC missed a trick with his departure. However, inspired selections, robust planning and aggressive Captaincy have us on the verge of something quite special.

      Emotional.

      • Columnist

        March 26th 2013 @ 7:43am
        Geoff Parkes said | March 26th 2013 @ 7:43am | ! Report

        Hi Riccardo

        Your emotion comes through loud and clear, let’s hope that it is rewarded today.
        I must say that I’m a little guarded about it, these things are never over until they’re over. Bell can quite happily bat all day, Root is clearly a very good player, and Prior is in great form – perhaps the crucial period will be just after lunch with the 2nd new ball.

        On balance though NZ can and should pull this off – Cook was a massive breakthrough late last night.

        As for Ryder, I know you’re a fan, as am I of his raw talent. But Hesson and McCullum have drawn a line in he sand and it is up to Jesse to find his way over it, and to adhere to team principles, fitness protocols etc to stay there. I really hope he does but I’m not sure I’d be betting my house on it just yet.

    • March 26th 2013 @ 7:46am
      jus de couchon said | March 26th 2013 @ 7:46am | ! Report

      Nine times out of ten England should have beaten this ordinary NZ cricket team. Its not over yet either.

      • March 26th 2013 @ 8:00am
        Riccardo said | March 26th 2013 @ 8:00am | ! Report

        Possibly so Jus.

        And one could argue that the return leg in England will be more defining.

        It’s definitley not over yet but I’m going out on a limb as I have already stated and backing my lads to bring home this series. They have been the better team throughout.

        You know England beat India in India prior to this series? Remind me how the Australians have gone over there again…

    • Columnist

      March 26th 2013 @ 10:40am
      Geoff Parkes said | March 26th 2013 @ 10:40am | ! Report

      Well…. What an incredible few minutes just before lunch!! Boult finally breaking through to get Root LBW, then having Bairstow LBW as well but no appeal because all the field assumed it was bat first -which hotspot proved otherwise. McCullum was off the field, wonder if that made a difference?

      Then, final over, both batsmen dropped in the cordon, Brownlie then Williamson, both very catchable, although they do seem to be standing a touch close.

      I did say in the article that for NZ to win they needed to hold their nerve. They just bottled it there for a few crazy minutes and it might cost them the win….

      • March 26th 2013 @ 12:33pm
        Riccardo said | March 26th 2013 @ 12:33pm | ! Report

        I was watching that last over mate and nearly lost my own lunch!

        BOTH Bell’s and Bairstowe’s chances were regulation and may come back to bite them if they can’t get through Bell and Prior.

        As you mentioned in your article Martin’s bowling has not asked enough questions and the reality is that his contribution may be critical to the cause.

        Prior’s just been bounced and gloved it over his head, bounced on the pitch and glanced the stumps; bails didn’t even tremble

        The portents are not good…!

        • Roar Guru

          March 26th 2013 @ 12:37pm
          JGK said | March 26th 2013 @ 12:37pm | ! Report

          The Gods are smiling on England here.

          Hopefully it is just a prelude to a last over hattrick for NZ to win.

          • March 26th 2013 @ 1:16pm
            Riccardo said | March 26th 2013 @ 1:16pm | ! Report

            God, I hope you’re right mate.

            We may have spurned what limited opportunities have been offered to us.

            And then, as I write this Wagner just got Bell. 3 to get in the last session!

            You little beauty!

          • Columnist

            March 26th 2013 @ 1:18pm
            Geoff Parkes said | March 26th 2013 @ 1:18pm | ! Report

            Don’t despair chaps, Bell finally gone, nice sharp catch from Southee, looks like he’s a natural in the slip cordon.

            Three wickets… one session… beautifully poised. Would love to see it come down to Monty needing to bat out the last few overs.

            • Roar Guru

              March 26th 2013 @ 2:00pm
              JGK said | March 26th 2013 @ 2:00pm | ! Report

              Looks like the Poms might hold on here.

              • Columnist

                March 26th 2013 @ 2:21pm
                Geoff Parkes said | March 26th 2013 @ 2:21pm | ! Report

                It’s gripping stuff isn’t it?

                Prior obviously the key. I can’t believe he survived off Wagner. NZ Cricket need to switch to lighter bails….

              • March 26th 2013 @ 2:32pm
                Riccardo said | March 26th 2013 @ 2:32pm | ! Report

                I fear you may be right mate.

                Those two dropped catches off Boult prior to lunch are proving to be the turning point but it is the lack of penetration by our premium spinner on day five that is a glaring weakness for me.

                Martin has not done enough and it may be that his success this series is more down to erroneous shots by attacking batsmen rather than the inducing of false defensive shots.

                While hindsight is 20/20 I have advocated the continued exposure of young Todd Astle, the leg-spinner. He remains error prone but his deliveries have bite and more importantly, loop and drift and will be a handful when he gets it right.

                England are to be congratulated on their stoicism, and likewise the Black Caps for their temerity.

                It may be a draw but the Black Caps walk away with the plaudits for me.

                That this series bodes well for the future of this still struggling team is not insignificant and again, I congratulate Hesson and McCullum for their selections and captaincy in particular.

              • Columnist

                March 26th 2013 @ 2:47pm
                Geoff Parkes said | March 26th 2013 @ 2:47pm | ! Report

                I think that’s about right Riccardo. Win or draw, this is a major step up for the Black Caps and should be a benchmark they don’t step back from.

                Agree about Martin, he’s been value in his debut series, but probably not a guy to be ripping a good side out with the crunch on. Astle is certainly worth persevering with, they need a long term, quality spinner to complement this pace attack.

                Martin deserved a try but is not a long term solution anyway, Patel has had enough chances, and while nobody is showing Vettori the door too soon, his days are obviously numbered.

    • Roar Guru

      March 26th 2013 @ 2:51pm
      JGK said | March 26th 2013 @ 2:51pm | ! Report

      Stoopid Kiwis – can’t they do anything right.

      • March 26th 2013 @ 4:48pm
        Riccardo said | March 26th 2013 @ 4:48pm | ! Report

        Disagree mate.

        There are areas you can level your criticism at but Allanthus below is right; some credit must go to Bell, Broad and Prior in particular.

        This hard fought loss should provide a platform for continued improvement for this often beleaguered Kiwi side.

        This fixture represented what is great about Test Cricket. The fact that a five day contest came down to the final over on the last day shows this format is alive and well.

        Long live Test Cricket indeed…

    • March 26th 2013 @ 4:14pm
      Allanthus said | March 26th 2013 @ 4:14pm | ! Report

      Well played Matt Prior. Fantastic stuff all round.

      Long live test cricket….

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