Black Caps force England to walk the plank

MARK GEENTY IN AUCKLAND
Last updated 05:00 26/03/2013
Third Test: New Zealand v England
JOHN SELKIRK/Fairfax NZ Zoom
Frustrated Black Caps show their emotions as test victory slips away.

Coming in off the long run

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As England's Captain Cook threw his head back in horror, hauled anchor and sailed off into the sunset, New Zealand's cricketers finally dared to dream on Eden Park.

Now so close to scratching a 14-year itch, they'll feel robbed if they don't claim six more England wickets today to win the third test and clinch a deserved 1-0 series victory.

"If we don't finish the job off now then I think it'll be pretty tough to swallow," said likely man of the match Peter Fulton, who scored back-to-back centuries.

England resume this morning, with fine weather forecast in Auckland, on a jittery 90-4 in pursuit of a mammoth 481 to win.

With Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott gone, the second new ball 28 overs away and the soft underbelly of the tourists' middle order exposed without Kevin Pietersen, there should be jubilant scenes by mid-afternoon to wrap up Eden Park's first test in seven years.

Combative gloveman Matt Prior looms as the big scalp later today, while Ian Bell resumes eight not out after 89 balls of defiance.

New Zealand Cricket senses history, too. Tickets are half-price, from $20 at the gate, with under-16s free, as they have a chance to witness the Black Caps' first series win over England since 1999.

Hobart and Colombo aside, test success has been so fleeting that New Zealand's most recent series victory against a top-eight nation was against West Indies in March, 2006.

Cook's wicket was the clincher in the afternoon shadows yesterday. With a test average of 49, his broad bat has defied better attacks on trickier pitches, and reaped centuries in three successive tests in India before Christmas.

New Zealand's shoulders were slumping and the ball wasn't swinging or turning, bar the occasional one from the footmarks for Bruce Martin. Neil Wagner had claimed the big wicket of Trott but that looked New Zealand's lot for the day.

Skipper Brendon McCullum, who will emerge from this series with huge credit for his batting and leadership, threw the ball to Kane Williamson.

Cook had batted three hours for 43 but, five overs before stumps, couldn't resist a drive at the offspin and Dean Brownlie grabbed a sharp chance at second slip. It made up for B J Watling's miss of Cook on one to a one-handed dive, which seemed costly.

"We all know he [Cook] can bat for a long period and apart from early on he hadn't looked like giving us a sniff. That was a massive wicket and an amazing catch by Deano," Fulton said.

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In stark contrast to earlier when nine English fielders ringed the boundary, nine New Zealand fielders circled the bat.

Nightwatchman Steven Finn drove at Williamson and Tim Southee juggled then held a screamer at silly mid-off, to end another rollicking day before a crowd of 4583.

England have never been in this test and their body language yesterday was that of a beaten team, even if they are ranked the world No 2 with a series victory in India to their credit.

Having been caught on the hop by flatter than expected pitches and a more competitive New Zealand side, they're poised to depart with one of their more embarrassing series defeats in recent memory.

Batting coach Graham Gooch faced the music from the English press.

"I think it's a great reality check that you can't take any team lightly and you can't play people on what it says on the ranking or a piece of paper. You have to play good cricket on the field to compete.

And certainly in two out of the three matches so far, New Zealand have been in the ascendancy," Gooch said.

Resuming on a shaky 35-3, Fulton put the foot down and McCullum added the icing.

The pair put on 117 in 17 overs against a ragged England attack; Fulton becoming the fourth New Zealand batsman to score centuries in both test innings after offering a chance on 31.

McCullum blasted an unbeaten 67 off 53 balls and declared 45 minutes after lunch, leaving his bowlers 143 overs to dismiss England and clinch their big moment.

- The Dominion Post

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