The first two tests were resigned to draws after weather forced New Zealand, and then England, into accepting a stalemate where they would otherwise have cantered to victory.

Prior commitment | England captain Alastair Cook embraces Matt Prior after his century against New Zealand. (Image | The Telegraph)

Prior commitment | England captain Alastair Cook embraces Matt Prior after his century against New Zealand. (Image | The Telegraph)

As a result, the series came down to the third and final test on an exceptionally flat pitch at Eden Park in Auckland.

Surely England, so recently victorious in India and sitting second in the ICC world rankings, could beat a New Zealand side down in eighth that have only beaten Bangladesh and Zimbabwe since 2006?

Apparently not. However, this was not a smash-and-grab raid. In fact, it was a fairly emphatic victory for New Zealand. Or at least, that was the conclusion ahead of the final day: instead, England dramatically fought back.

Victory looked assured for the Black Caps after they dominated England over the previous four days. The visitors were left teetering towards defeat at the start of the day with a paltry score of 90-4, but somehow pulled off a dramatic last-wicket stand to force the draw.

England got off to a poor start, as Alistair Cook‘s decision to field first appeared to backfire, with the surface suiting the batsmen.

New Zealand posted 443 in their first innings, with their opponents seemingly unable to gain any fluency, ending up all-out for 204, despite the flat pitch. Heroics on the fifth day changed much of the narrative, but England were simply outclassed on this tour.

Black Caps batter England

It was all action on day three, as Matt Prior did a fantastic job of bringing England back into contention with a flurry of boundaries through the mid-off, showing great team play with Joe Root.

Yet his wicket was weak and ill-timed, coming shortly before the new ball and tea. During a day that ebbed and flowed, Trent Boult wound up with 6-68, causing England to lose their final four wickets for a meagre four runs. But the drama did not stop there, as the Kiwis stumbled to 8-3 before ending the day at 35-3.

The dominance of New Zealand was particularly clear on day four, with Peter Fulton repeatedly hitting the ball down the ground and bringing up his century in the process.

Admittedly, it was a short wicket, but some of his strikes were colossal and played high into the stands. Indeed, hitting sixes seemed strangely easier than managing fours.

So brutal was the scoring rate that observing proceedings felt like watching a highlights programme. As Bob Willis said, England were truly “up to their necks in quicksand”.

Brendan McCullum declared with a lead of 480, which left England apparently defeated as they finished up with 90-4. At no point that day did they seem to believe that victory could ever be possible: indeed, or even salvaging a draw looked beyond them.

The two teams sat in diametrically opposing positions. The away side had nine men in the outfield in a vain attempt to hold back the tide, while New Zealand squeezed nine fielders around the bat.

Escape from Eden

This was a miraculous draw if ever there was one. It was always possible, but so very improbable.

Ian Bell and Joe Root looked solid in the morning session until the first delivery of the new ball collected the wicket of the latter shortly before lunch.

This appeared to spell the end of England’s fight for survival, especially with Jonny Bairstow out soon after.

Man on the runs | Prior holds his bat aloft after a superb performance aided England's fightback in Eden. (Image | Sky Sports)

Man on the runs | Prior holds his bat aloft after a superb performance aided England’s fightback at Eden Park. (Image | Sky Sports)

Enter Matt Prior. His century came over four and a half hours, seeing him bat the day out, but not without some luck and drama.

Firstly, he survived a review after being given LBW and quite ridiculously watched as the ball hit the stumps only for the bails not to come off. Miraculous indeed.

Stuart Broad made just six runs, taking a world-record 103 minutes to get a single run, but his two hours at the crease was massive for England.

The madness was capped as Monty Panesar‘s ill-timed dive left him crawling toward the crease as England clung onto their last wicket.

Still, his masterful two not-out took England over the line and brought about the sort of magnificent climax that only test cricket can deliver.

The series as a whole

England once again failed to win the opening test of a tour, having capitulated to a first-innings score of 167 in Dunedin. The test was only saved by a mixture of weather delays and the second-innings performance of nightwatchman Stephen Finn.

Preparation must be improved in future, with England having lost nine of their last 13 opening tour games, and only beaten Bangladesh.

If New Zealand dominated in Dunedin, then England equalled this with a great performance in Wellington.

Centuries for Nick Compton and Jonathon Trott, along with Stuart Broad’s 6-41, put England in control. However, the weather took its toll once again with a washout on day five.

Test three will be remembered for the heroic stand of Prior, and a nerve-jangling six deliveries to Monty Panesar.

It will stand alongside the likes of Cardiff in 2009, 1995 in Johannesburg or Kingston 1974. It was certainly heroic, but England must learn a lot from this series. New Zealand ought to have won, and one superb day cannot paper over the cracks.

Still, the return of Graham Swann and a revitalised Kevin Pietersen will surely help England improve in the summer. Moreover, however negatively England’s performance on this tour is viewed, they are in better shape than Australia.

There is a lot more to come from this team ahead of the exciting back-to-back Ashes series. I for one think that we will see it come together, but to do so, England must not be complacent in the slightest.

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