New Zealand’s momentum, picked up from a convincing one-day series victory and first Test win in Hamilton, came to a screeching halt on Monday with a crushing 126-run defeat to England in the second Test.
Chasing 438 to win the match, New Zealand flirted with pulling off the impossible when they reached 242 for five late on the fourth day but were eventually dismissed for 311 with Brendon McCullum top-scoring with a swashbuckling 85.
Of particular concern heading into the series-deciding third match in Napier, however, is the form of New Zealand’s top order.
Too often in recent Tests the specialist batsmen have got starts, but failed to capitalise — a pattern repeated in their second innings at the Basin Reserve with the batsmen getting into the 30s before they threw away their wickets with loose shots.
Two prime examples of which were Stephen Fleming and Mathew Sinclair, who has been under pressure to retain his place.
Fleming, seeking to finish his Test career in Napier with an average of 40, failed to play a shot to be bowled for 31 just when his side needed a big innings from him to give his aggressive lower order a platform to launch an assault.
Sinclair appeared to be finding the form that has brought him two Test double centuries, before he got to 39 and popped an easy catch to Ian Bell in the covers.
”The top five didn’t get the runs we required,” captain Daniel Vettori told reporters.
”But I thought Mathew batted well in the second innings. I enjoyed how positive he was and trying to get on with the job and that was exciting to see.
”In saying that you still need to keep getting the runs to keep getting selected.”
New Zealand, who already have a small player pool to choose from and have been gutted by the recent retirements of several Test batsmen, kept faith with the same side for the third match.
England, however, will head into the decider full of confidence, after being thrashed by 189 runs in the first Test.
After acting on a Michael Vaughan ”gut feeling” and dropping strike bowlers Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard, the new pace trio of Ryan Sidebottom, James Anderson and Stuart Broad all contributed at various times throughout the match.
Anderson took five wickets in the first innings, while Broad took two in one over in the second and Sidebottom ended with five in the second and Vaughan said they would take that momentum into Napier.
”We’ll do exactly the same over the next week,” he replied when asked whether England would change anything in their preparation.
”We’ll celebrate properly and then make sure we get our heads on and train very hard leading into that game in Napier. It sets the series up brilliantly now.
”We hope we can play an even better game than we have done here, there are areas we need to work on and improve and if we do that I’m sure we can put New Zealand under some more pressure.” – Reuters