New Zealand v England: Talking points as tourists struggle on day four
New Zealand v England: Harry Kemble reflects on day four which saw the Black Caps move to the cusp of a famous series win
England on the brink
England are placed second in the Test rankings, while New Zealand slot in at eighth, but the Black Caps have belied their standing to leave the tourists staring down the barrel. Going into the final day, Alastair Cook’s men are scrambling for a draw – a far cry from the three-nil whitewash that many had predicted before the first Test almost three weeks ago. The Black Caps have played the more combative cricket in Auckland and certainly deserve to be on the verge of a famous victory, their first at home versus England since 1986. At the close of play, England were left on 90-4, with Nick Compton (2), Jonathan Trott (37), Cook (43) and night watchman Steven Finn back in the pavilion. There is faint hope of a draw with Ian Bell and three other recognised batsmen to come but it will be heralded as a rescue act of epic proportions if they can pull it off.
Cometh the hour, cometh Bell?
Bell is one of the most aesthetically pleasing strikers of a cricket ball in England’s line-up. He is, also, the most naturally gifted player since Mark Ramprakash to have played for England. But this is a somewhat backhanded compliment because for all the wonderfully timed cover drives, like with Ramprakash, fans are still waiting for consistency when his side have their backs against the wall. In 29 innings since his 235 at The Oval against India, Bell has scored just one hundred in Nagpur last year. A match that was arguably drifting to a draw before Bell arrived at the crease. Between those two centuries, there have been six 50s to keep the critics at bay, but these are not the showings of man approaching 31. He must start displaying the mettle expected of a batsman playing his 86th Test match. In this Test, Bell is currently on eight not out off 89 balls, and if he can continue in this vein on day five, he will hopefully go a long way to dismissing his critics once and for all.
The Auckland crowd or lack of it…
If Brendon McCullum’s side take the final six wickets on Tuesday, it will be New Zealand’s fourth-ever Test series victory over England. Yet, looking around Eden Park stands throughout this match you would think you were watching an academy cricket match played behind closed doors – not a side on the cusp of creating history. Eden Park is renowned for hosting enthralling rugby matches and was the scene of the All Blacks’ World Cup Final victory in 2011, played in front of a capacity crowd. But it has not hosted a cricket Test match since the West Indies toured in 2006 and it is unlikely to ever host a five-day match again due to the failure of the Auckland public to show up over the last four days – a clear vote that Eden Park should remain exclusively a rugby stadium. Having said that, international bowlers across the world will breathe a sigh of relief with the ground’s shortened boundaries making it a nightmare to set fields.
Test centuries are like waiting for the bus….
Peter Fulton must think Test centuries are like waiting for bus. You wait nine years to get one and then you get two in the same match. The 34-year-old batsman became the fourth Kiwi to score two hundreds in the same match after Glenn Turner, Geoff Howarth and Andrew Jones, and what a job he has done for his side. To go with his dogged first innings knock of 136 off 346 balls, he belted five sixes to hit 110 in the Black Caps’ second innings, as they went in search of quick runs to set England an improbable victory target of 481. At the start of the series, Fulton was expected to do little more than take the shine of the new ball in place of the injured Martin Guptill. Yet, the Canterbury batsman has defied his Test average of just 23 (before this match) to put England to the sword. His performances have secured him a place on the plane for May when the Black Caps tour England for the return two-Test series.