Twenty-four hours earlier and New Zealand's vice-like grip on this test series was loosening with every Sunil Narine knuckleball. But the stars of the Taylor, Trent and Timmy show had one more command performance for the festive season.
After New Zealand's three big-game players seized the third cricket test for their country on a sunny Saturday, just 116 more runs with 10 wickets in hand beckon for a 2-0 series victory against West Indies today.
Having collected a career-best 6-91 in the first innings, Narine still needs to be quelled and nerves could be an issue in a lineup prone to jitters under pressure. But with few other bowling threats, Ross Taylor imperious, Kane Williamson reading the spin well and a tail with some wag, New Zealand's first series win against a top-eight opponent since 2006 should be banked around lunchtime.
After Taylor's 11th test century and third of the series left New Zealand trailing by 18, the old firm of Trent Boult and Tim Southee ripped into their work.
Wellington man of the match Boult knocked the top over, then Southee ripped through the tail, becoming the 12th New Zealander to reach 100 test wickets when he farewelled Veerasammy Permaul with a sandshoe crusher.
The West Indies' batting woes were complete, all out for 103 in 31.5 overs, leaving New Zealand two days and two overs to get 122. Boult ended the series with 20 wickets at 15.4, Southee 18 wickets at 18.1; the pair fast becoming the country's premier new ball duo of all time.
Even if the dry pitch offered Christmas cheer for the tourists, particularly Narine's mystery spin, the thing about Hamilton tests is a batting collapse is always around the corner. It's an unexplained Seddon Park phenomenon, but teams with decent pace attacks are always in the game.
Usually it's New Zealand folding in the third innings here; for 168 against South Africa in 2012, and 110 against Pakistan a year previous, both heavy defeats.
This West Indies team had shown their fondness for a collapse, too. After Boult's career-best 10-80 in Wellington, it didn't click for him or his bowling cohorts on a flat first day. But the series was there to be clinched.
Aided by a warm westerly breeze, Boult got it swerving and the touring batsmen were again found wanting against the full, swinging ball.
The left-armer suddenly had three wickets in 13 deliveries, including a cracking low catch by Southee at third slip. The slide was on and the mental scars from Wellington flooded back.
New Zealand's outfield catching has been patchy but their work in the cordon near faultless.
It needs to be when Shivnarine Chanderpaul offers a chance. The master left-hander, fresh from back-to-back not outs and his 29th test century, chased one from a fired up Neil Wagner and Williamson thrust out his right hand at gully. It was shades of Williamson's brilliant grab in New Zealand's Colombo test win over Sri Lanka 13 months ago, and signalled the beginning of the end for the tourists.
Earlier, Narine chipped away and his canny variations fizzed and caused the New Zealand batsmen some angst.
Skipper Brendon McCullum struggled again to pick Narine. Frustration boiled over and, attempting an ambitious cut against the spin, McCullum was snapped up by his opposite, Darren Sammy.
Taylor had one anxious moment when he nicked Narine into gloveman Denesh Ramdin's right pad on 83. Otherwise he offered more of the warm glow cricketing purists have basked in while watching Taylor this series, where he's batted for over 20 hours and scored 493 runs at an average of 246.5.
The slog sweep remains in the bin, and even when Taylor went aerial he was in complete control. He took 20 off a Darren Sammy over with rarely seen sixes over long off and long on, precision lofted drives.
But it wasn't enough to claim a first innings lead. Corey Anderson and BJ Watling both looked well set but perished to loose shots. A few hours later it didn't matter, as the touring batsmen cut a procession to the pavilion and another New Zealand cricketing drought was ready to break.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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