• New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 4th day

New Zealand on top after setting England 481

The Report by George Dobell
March 25, 2013 « Green would turn down Prem offer | Chartbeat test »
England 204 and 90 for 4 (Cook 43, Williamson 2-5) need another 391 runs v New Zealand 443 and 241 for 6 dec (Fulton 110, McCullum 67*)
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Peter Fulton cut loose as New Zealand's lead grew © Getty Images
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New Zealand are on course for an historic series victory against England after dominating the fourth day of the final Test in Auckland. Peter Fulton's second century of the match took New Zealand out of reach, but it was the bowlers who hammered nails into the coffin of England's hopes to salvage a draw. England will resume on the final day with just six wickets in hand and all three of their most obdurate batsmen gone.

Fulton, who came into the game having not scored a century in a Test career that began in 2006, pulverised the England attack on the fourth day in a devastating partnership with his captain, Brendon McCullum, that did not so much close the door on England's hopes as slam it in their faces.

Fulton's heroics have earned New Zealand an outstanding opportunity to claim just the second home series win in their history against England. The first was in 1983-84. New Zealand have not won a series against any of the top eight Test nations - nations other than Bangladesh or Zimbabwe - since they defeated West Indies in 2006.

Here they set England 481 to win the third Test and, with it, the series. New Zealand finally declared on 241 for 6 in their second innings having plundered runs with ease against a dispirited attack.

The manner with which Fulton brought up his second century of the match - a straight six thumped back over the head of Stuart Broad - spoke volumes for the balance of power in this encounter: New Zealand, roundly dismissed as no-hopers before the series, established dominance over an England team that arrived in the country full of confidence, having just beaten India in India.

New Zealand, resuming 274 ahead at the start of play on the fourth day, extended their advantage by another 206 runs in just 34.2 overs. Fulton, batting with more confidence than at any time in his Test career following his maiden century in the first innings, drove powerfully through mid-on and three times took a step or two down the pitch to thump Monty Panesar for six back over the bowler's head. As his confidence grew, he gave himself room to drive Anderson over extra cover for six more.

He became one of just four New Zealand players to have scored one in each innings of the same Test. Glenn Turner (against Australia in 1973-74), Geoff Howarth (against England in 1977-78) and Andrew Jones (against Sri Lanka in 1991) are the others to have done so.

His fifth-wicket partnership with his captain, Brendon McCullum, was worth 117 runs, scored in just 16.5 overs, as New Zealand progressed with an ease that made a mockery of the gap between these two teams in the Test rankings.

Fulton enjoyed one moment of fortune. When he had 31, he mistimed his attempted on drive off Stuart Broad but saw James Anderson, at a shortish midwicket, spill a sharp but far from impossible chance. New Zealand would have been 65 for 4 had it been taken.

England produced an oddly diffident performance in the field. Their attempt to pitch the ball fuller in search of swing that remained elusive too often resulted in over-pitched deliveries that Fulton drove through mid-on. At other times the England bowlers drifted on to Fulton's legs, allowing him to pick up runs with an ease that defined the match situation.

The introduction of Panesar brought some relief for England. His third delivery induced Dean Brownlie to attempt to clear the field. Ian Bell, running back from mid-on, made a desperately tough chance appear straightforward.

But that only brought McCullum to the crease. He square drove his first delivery, a wide, over-pitched ball from Steven Finn, to the point boundary and soon pulled Anderson, looking more jaded by the moment, and Finn for sixes.

Panesar bore the brunt of the assault, though, His attempt to stem the flow by bowling over the wicket and into the rough outside the right-handers' leg stump was negated when McCullum took him for successive boundaries, a powerful pull followed by a precise sweep, and drove him for another six. Panesar conceded 52 in five overs at one point. It was brutal batting.

Whatever Alastair Cook envisaged when he won the toss and inserted New Zealand on the first day, it was surely not a situation where his side had to bat for four-and-a-half sessions to save the game. There were no realistic hopes of victory: England have never chased more than the 332 they made against Australia in Melbourne in 1928-29 to win a Test and no team has ever made more than the 418 West Indies made against Australia in Antigua in 2002-03. The highest successful chase on this ground is 348, made by West Indies in 1968-69, though since the introduction of drop-in pitches just over a decade ago, no side has managed more than the 166 scored, admittedly for the loss of just one wicket, in 2005.

Nor is this the England team that enjoyed such success a couple of years ago. Not only is there no Kevin Pietersen, but there are fewer lower-order allrounders such as Graeme Swann or Tim Bresnan. Two of the middle-order, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow, came into this game with only eight Test caps between them and the days when Stuart Broad could be considered an allrounder seem long ago.

Tim Southee soon made inroads into England's second innings. Nick Compton, feeling for a fine delivery that pitched on off stump and left him, edged a catch behind the stumps before Jonathan Trott squandered his display of resistance by chasing a wide one from the impressively sharp Neil Wagner, bowling left-arm around the wicket.

But the hammer blow was inflicted by part-time off-spinner Kane Williamson. Cook, on one, had survived a chance to BJ Watling when he felt for one angled across him from Southee. But when he edged a drive off Williamson, Brownlie, close in at gully, clung on to a sharp chance.

With Finn, the nightwatchman, also falling to an outstanding close catch before the close, New Zealand were on the brink of a memorable success. It meant that a series that started with many England supporters presuming an easy victory looks set to finish with their team engaged in a desperate - and surely vain - struggle to salvage a draw.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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