Black Caps keep their eyes on the ball

BEN STANLEY
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2013

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It's an obvious statement, but sometimes test cricket can be a funny old game. One team can hold momentum for the length of the day, lose it briefly, and in due course, lose control of a match, or even series.

Until a sublime in-swinger by Black Caps seamer Trent Boult trapped Jonathan Trott with an hour left to play, it looked as if England had claimed the spoils from the second day of the third and final test at Eden Park last night.

In a gritty performance with the ball in hand, the English bowling attack, led ably by Steve Finn, dismissed New Zealand for 443 - a figure that should be seen as a failure for the Black Caps given the base laid by Peter Fulton and Kane Williamson the day before.

Yet the two key wickets of Alistair Cook (4) and Trott (27) in the final session by Boult, leaving the English 50 for 2, means the test is evenly poised heading into day three. The missed opportunity by New Zealand at the batting crease should not be ignored, however.

The morning wicket of Williamson, who was caught behind by Matt Prior off James Anderson just nine short of his fifth test century, started an underwhelming day for New Zealand with willow in hand.

Including Williamson's wicket, New Zealand lost 9 wickets for just 193 runs off 62.3 overs - all, funnily enough, in catches.

The hosts, who saw Friday's hero Fulton depart for 136, needed one of their middle order bats - in Ross Taylor, Dean Brownlie and Brendon McCullum - to fire and guide their tail through to an imposing total in excess of 500.

All three made starts, of 19, 36 and 38 respectively, but failed - though Williamson is still confident the Black Caps total will prove a competitive one.

"We set out to put a strong first innings performance together," he said.

"I guess from the position we were in at one point, we were looking at a few more but I think we're happy with our total."

They really shouldn't be, given their chance to score something bigger. Credit must go to the English bowlers however, particularly Finn.

The lanky Middlesex seamer bowled with accuracy and verve throughout the day, troubling every Black Caps batsmen who faced him. Indeed, it was Finn who crippled New Zealand after tea, claiming four wickets in just over three overs, as the Black Caps went from 424 for 6 to 443 all out.

"I felt as though I bowled better in this game than I did in the previous two games," he said.

"My lengths have been better, I've been fuller, making the batsmen come forward more often than I have in the last previous games."

Accolades too should go to wicket keeper Prior, who managed five catches in the New Zealand innings, including the spectacular snaffles of BJ Watling (21) and McCullum.

New Zealand's day started at a snail's pace, with 62 runs coming from the first session for the loss of Williamson and Taylor. Given the deck, the New Zealand top order really needed to make more of their chances while the Auckland sun was shining.

A neat cut through point by McCullum was the pick of the New Zealand shots in the afternoon, while Tim Southee smashed two towering sixes, over deep square leg and mid-wicket, off consecutive Stuart Broad deliveries in his typically fiery 44 (off 33 balls).

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The wicket of Cook was the start New Zealand wanted early in the English innings, though with Trott and Nick Compton, who ended 12 not out, at the crease, it seemed the tourists would comfortably make it through to stumps not too badly harmed.

Yet Boult, who was moving the ball tremendously late on, would have other ideas, meaning the test, and series, remains in the balance heading into day three.

While admitting the two late wickets were a shame, Finn still believes England have still got it all to play for today.

"Obviously we would have preferred to go into this evening none down," Finn said

"To lose two wickets, yeah, maybe slightly disappointing but I don't think it's a disaster by any stretch of the imagination.

"We're going to have to come back tomorrow, and play diligently as New Zealand did in the first day and we're going to have to fight to get ourselves into a good position."

- Sunday News

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