When New Zealand last beat England in 1999, it led to Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain taking a rather deep introspective look at top-level cricket in this country. If Brendon McCullum’s side had managed to take the final wickets needed to achieve victory in Auckland on day five, you can guarantee that serious questions would have been asked about the legitimacy of England’s number two ranking in the world but, thankfully, they didn’t. That was partly due to magnificent performances of Ian Bell (75), Matt Prior, who scored 110 not out, and Stuart Broad’s belligerence, after he faced 61 balls to get off the mark, before scoring six runs. The effort was up there with Cardiff in the Ashes in 2009 and Cape Town in 2010. Even Monty Panesar got in the act, facing five balls and attempting a quick single but somehow getting his legs tangled before just about making his ground. The tourists’ rearguard action was not without luck but that was to be expected with seemingly insurmountable challenge set before them at the beginning of day five. Prior’s pull just evaded Neil Wagner, a leg-before decision was reversed after review, and then the closest one of them all came when the ball hit the stumps but miraculously the bails remained intact. A spiralling bouncer from the South African-born seamer was too good for Prior but not good enough to break the stumps. It was sporting theatre at its best.
Injured Kevin Pietersen tweeted about the values of Test cricket after hearing the breaking news from the other side of the world. He wrote: “This morning proves yet again, the value of Test cricket.. NOTHING beats it! Separates the men from the boys.”. With the IPL starting in just over a week, Tuesday’s toing and froing encapsulated why Test cricket is the best form of the game. Particularly, when you consider New Zealand ranked eighth in this form of the game (and a population of 4.5 million) were all over for England for all five days but somehow Alastair Cook’s side survived. The odds were stacked against the Black Caps before the series had started after being thrashed by South Africa last year. So it was understandable that many felt they would struggle against England too. But they have belied their standing in world cricket to stand toe-to-toe with their adversaries.
Apart from Prior, who has stood up more often than not since coming back into Test fold in 2008, England will be heartened by the performances of Bell and Broad. Both have had their mental fortitude questioned in certain quarters in recent months. Broad is still trying banish memories of his nightmare India tour, while Bell, who came into the series in good form, has clearly struggled to kick-on over the last three weeks. Although the pair were not at the crease when England secured a remarkable draw (nor did they bat together), their individual performances went a long way to completing this incredible feat. Bell faced a marathon 271 balls for his 71 runs. It was an innings that his critics would have thought was beyond him but he was resolute in defence, yet still showed glimpses of his deft cover-drive too. Broad, meanwhile, has been bereft of form with the bat. His last knock of note came in the UAE against Pakistan last year. And, despite, the seamer trumpeting his claims that he could be a genuine Test all-rounder, his recent form will have left him disappointed. But Broad produced just two scoring shots in his 77-ball vigil at the crease illustrating another facet to his batting that had been unseen, until now.