• New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 3rd day

Third Test swings towards NZ after England slump

The Report by George Dobell
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New Zealand 443 and 35 for 3 (Broad 2-7) lead England 204 (Prior 73, Boult 6-68) by 274 runs
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Apart from losing wickets, England struggled for fluency: Nick Compton's 13 occupied two minutes short of two hours © Getty Images
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A fine display of swing bowling from Trent Boult may have struck the decisive blow for New Zealand in an encounter against England full of twists and turns.

Boult, the left-arm fast-medium bowler, claimed 6 for 68 - his first five-wicket haul in Test cricket - as England were dismissed for 204 in their first innings. That gave New Zealand a first innings lead of 239 but, eschewing the chance to enforce the follow-on, they extended their lead to 274 before stumps.

Those second innings runs came at quite a cost, though. New Zealand, perhaps suffering from acrophobia as they realised the dominance of their position, stumbled to 8 for 3 at one stage in their second innings as England revived their slim hopes of forcing a win. Peter Fulton and Dean Brownlie saw New Zealand to the close without further loss, but New Zealand's lack of progress raised questions about the wisdom of not enforcing the follow-on.

Still, Boult's performance had earned his side an excellent chance of securing a rare Test series win over England. New Zealand remain the side in the stronger position, and with the pitch showing just a little sign of uneven bounce, it may not be easy to bat upon on the last day. No side has ever scored 350 in the fourth innings to win on this ground - though West Indies chased down 345 to win in 1969 - and, since they introduced drop-in pitches at Eden Park just over a decade ago, no side has ever chased more than the 166 Australia managed in 2005. Besides, without Kevin Pietersen, England appear a far more diffident side.

For a team dismissed as no-hopers by some commentators coming into the series, this has been an impressive performance by New Zealand. They are currently rated No. 8 in the Test rankings, but they have looked the better side for significant portions of this encounter and now have an excellent opportunity to embarrass the No. 2 rated team. New Zealand have previously only beaten England at home in one Test series, in 1983-84, and away in two, in 1986 and in 1999.

The pitch showed no signs of deterioration for most of the day. It is simply that New Zealand's seamers bowled a little fuller, a little straighter and gained a little more swing than England had on the first couple of days. In short, New Zealand bowled better than England's much-vaunted attack. Bruce Martin, who came into this series largely unknown outside New Zealand, generated turn and bounce that Monty Panesar, his left-arm counterpart, could not and, as a result, looked a far more threatening proposition.

Even in New Zealand's second innings, England could find minimal swing. New Zealand lost their wickets more to nerves than swing and Boult, bowling with decent pace, maintaining a tight line and managing to swing some back into the right-hand batsmen and angle some across them, was the most dangerous bowler on. He was able to find movement that even James Anderson could not.

It was during the first session of the day that New Zealand hammered a nail into England's hopes. Generating swing, they claimed three lbw decisions in the session to leave England teetering on 72 for 5 at one stage.

Tim Southee made the breakthrough in the third over of the morning. Having generally swung the ball away from the right-handed batsmen, natural variation resulted in one going straight on and striking Nick Compton on the pad. While the umpire, Paul Reiffel, declined the original appeal on the grounds that the ball may well have hit the bat before hitting the pad, New Zealand were quick to call for a review that showed that the ball had made first contact with the pad.

Ian Bell went in similar fashion. Bell, who had come close to running himself out in the second over of the day, diving to regain his ground after committing to an unnecessarily risky second run, was also undone by one that went straight on from Southee. Perhaps intimidated by the aggressive field utilised by New Zealand captain, Brendon McCullum - there were times when New Zealand's seamers had five slips - Bell looked unwilling to commit to playing at the ball and was caught in the crease when struck on the pad. He conferred with his batting partner, Joe Root, before deciding not to utilise the Decision Review System. It was a wise decision.

Boult, who had claimed the two wickets to fall the previous evening, claimed the final wicket of the session, beating Jonny Bairstow's tentative forward prod with one that pitched on middle stump and swung back just enough to beat the stroke. Again, the original appeal was declined but New Zealand utilised the DRS and were rewarded for their confidence. If Bairstow had looked somewhat out of form, it was hardly a surprise: this was his first innings in first-class cricket since the Mumbai Test in November and only his second since the Lord's Test in August.

Only two men offered meaningful resistance for England. Matt Prior and Joe Root added 101 runs for the sixth wicket, with Prior counterattacking fluently and Root defending with obduracy that would have had his Yorkshire predecessor Geoff Boycott smiling in satisfaction.

Whereas his colleagues prodded timidly - Compton's 13 runs occupied only two minutes fewer than two hours and England scored 42 runs in 29 overs before lunch - Prior skipped down the pitch to drive Martin through the off side and when given any width from the seamers, freed his arms to drive through the covers.

His strength was his undoing, however. Offered some width from Neil Wagner, Prior attempted to drive on the up but could only slice a thick edge to point.

Dean Brownlie could be forgiven for breathing a sigh of relief. Brownlie, at slip, had reprieved Prior on 24 when the batsman had pushed hard at one outside off stump from the deserving Southee and edged low to Brownlie's right. Had the chance been taken, England would have been 111 for 6.

Prior's dismissal precipitated a swift decline. England lost their last five wickets for just 31 runs as Boult, armed with the new ball, returned to mop up the tail. Stuart Broad, now little more than a happy slogger, thrashed 14 in three balls but, in attempting to force the next delivery, sliced a catch to short extra cover before Steven Finn prodded at one angled across him. Anderson edged a beauty that left him, and Root, left with only Panesar for company, attempted to thrash a good length ball over midwicket and lost his off stump.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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