A group of broken-hearted bowlers will dust themselves off for one final hurrah in Auckland, as New Zealand hope for third time lucky this summer in a series decider against England.
Both sides toiled to a standstill trying to take 20 opposition wickets in Dunedin and Wellington.
Now they reconvene at 0-0 at Eden Park on Friday, with the bouncier drop-in pitch and kindergarten-sized straight boundaries, with New Zealand somehow still in contention for an upset series victory in the third test.
They've fluffed their lines in the big games this past month. In Wellington for the third Twenty20, England cantered home by 10 wickets, then in Auckland, Steven Finn, James Anderson and Stuart Broad finished the job in the deciding ODI by skittling the hosts for 185.
"I thought England stood up excellently in both those games and we were a little bit off which was disappointing when you've got a series on the line," New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum said.
"There's a few nuances within the team setup which have changed things. A five-day game is different from a one-off day as well. We head into that final game with a live chance of claiming a series win."
McCullum defended the pitches seen in Dunedin and Wellington. And he admitted he'd like less seam and bounce in Auckland.
"The wickets we've had so far would have seen results [without rain]. I'd like a wicket that's similar to those last two."
Eden Park hasn't hosted a test since 2006, when New Zealand beat West Indies by 27 runs. The past six tests there have produced results and New Zealand claimed the big scalps of England in 2002 and South Africa in 2004.
Yesterday's final day was a washout at the Basin Reserve, after only 35 overs on day four. It was a lucky escape for New Zealand, following on, although Kane Williamson (55) and Ross Taylor (41) were unbeaten and safely holding the England bowlers.
England's spearhead Anderson is battling niggles in his heel and back, while New Zealand's pacemen probably aren't the freshest either. The hosts name their 13 today, with the former incumbent Doug Bracewell a contender after recovering from a cut foot, which could be tested for Central Districts tomorrow.
But if Tim Southee, Trent Boult and Neil Wagner emerge unscathed from heavy workloads in Dunedin and Wellington, they should get the nod with spinner Bruce Martin, who's been a revelation and must be challenging Southee for the No 8 batting spot.
McCullum said the rare luxury of playing an unchanged 11 three tests in a row would be ideal. "We've performed pretty well so far and the three [pace] bowlers have done a really good job at different stages. That's a tough discussion we've got to have, what we do with our bowling lineup."
England captain Alastair Cook said 0-0 was a fair scoreline heading into the decider. He hoped Eden Park offered similar bounce to the ODI as his quicks yearn for some pace in the pitches. "Yeah, in an ideal world you would. It makes for slightly more exciting cricket."
But the skipper, whose 2m-tall paceman Broad was the standout of the Basin test, insisted he'd be satisfied to go home with a drawn series despite their lofty perch as world No 2.
"If you get five days good weather in a test match it's normally good enough to get a result. [Chasing the game] is the worst thing you can do. If you're chasing from ball one you leave yourself very exposed. You need to earn the right to get yourself into position to win the game."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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