Third Test Match


Toss: England. Test debut: M. J. Horne.

England successfully chased a target in excess of 300 for only the second time in their Test history; they won with 12.2 overs to spare, confirming their first overseas series triumph since their last visit to New Zealand, in 1991-92. Although a 2-0 scoreline accurately reflected the balance of power, it could have finished 1-1 but for an outstanding performance from England's captain Atherton. He carried his bat for 94 in the first innings, then took his team to within sight of victory by scoring 118; in all, he spent 12 hours and 24 minutes at the crease. If anything could upstage his undefeated 185 in Johnnesburg 14 months earlier, this was it - another heroic effort but, this time, in a winning cause. Although disappointed, New Zealand regained some pride; they would win Tests in the future after playing worse cricket than this.

England went into the match unchanged, something they had not managed for 33 Tests. New Zealand gave a first cap to Otago batsman Matt Horne, summoned fast bowler Davis for his second, two and a half years after his debut at Nottingham, and hastily recalled Parore (initially dropped after Wellington) to keep wicket when Germon withdrew with a groin strain. Stephen Fleming took over the captaincy, becoming his country's youngest Test captain at 23 years 319 days.

A well-grassed pitch persuaded Atherton to field first but, as at Auckland, the first-day dividends were modest; New Zealand reached 229 with half their wickets left. The off-spinner Croft demanded most respect, and took three of the wickets, including that of Fleming, who spoiled three and a half hours of sound example-setting by being stumped. New Zealand's other casualty, in more ways than one, was the newcomer Horne. Hit on the left hand by Gough, he soldiered on for another 30 runs before guiding the same bowler to slip; an X-ray revealed a broken bone. Croft went on to his first five-wicket haul in Tests but solid half-centuries from Parore and Cairns had given the home side a useful platform.

With a degree of confidence bordering on arrogance, England set out to cruise past New Zealand's total of 346. Instead, they nosedived to 104 for five, with only Atherton showing sufficient care. All had fallen to attacking strokes, most of them undermined by limited footwork, and the story continued next morning when Cork tried to pull Davis's fifth ball from well outside off stump and was caught behind. Croft gave decent support, but the rest followed all too quickly - leaving Atherton high and dry in the 90s and New Zealand 118 ahead.

Here, at last, was an opportunity for the home team to dominate, or, alternatively, for England to show they could attack from a position of weakness. And, after Cork and Gough began the process, the spinners, Croft and Tufnell, turned this day upside down by reducing New Zealand to 95 for six by close of play. England had some good fortune: Fleming appeared unlucky to lose a pad-bat decision, and Young stood in disbelief when umpire Hair ruled that Knight had got his hand underneath a prod to silly point. Young needed to be given out twice, although he claimed not to have seen the first signal. TV replays failed to prove whether the catch had carried but the batsman was fortunate that referee Peter Burge too no action, after listening to his explanation and given his unblemished record.

Cairns and Vettori added 71 for the eighth wicket, however, and England faced a tantalising target of 305. A pitch still playing perfectly well offered them hope, even if history did not. But Vettori posed numerous problems by bowling his left-arm spin over the wicket and into footmarks outside the right-hander's leg stump. Knight succumbed, dragging a drive to mid-on, and Stewart, who scratched out 17 in nearly two hours, gave a catch to short leg when Vettori briefly tried his luck around the wicket. Next morning, England had some luck when a ball from Vettori jammed between the bat and pad of Caddick, the night-watchman. As it fell, Fleming grabbed it off the batsman's boot, but umpire Hair ruled not out under Law 23. Caddick gave important help to Atherton, who was in his element. He had seen out the fourth day and stayed for much of the fifth, completing his 11th Test century (and fourth against New Zealand), and looked set to finish the job until sheer fatigue, after 399 minutes of total concentration, saw him caught behind off Astle. Hussain, his partner during a vital stand of 80, followed him back in the next over, taken off pad and glove, and Vettori gave New Zealand further hope by adding Thorpe. Vettori was hugely impressive: he took four wickets and conceded only 97 in a marathon of 57 overs. He might just have been a winner, but a partnership of 76 between Crawley and Cork made sure Atherton's marvellous efforts would not be wasted.

Man of the Match: M. A. Atherton.

Close of play: First day, New Zealand 229-5 (A. C. Parore 38*, C. L. Cairns 10*); Second day, England 145-5 (M. A. Atherton 66*, D. G. Cork 16*); Third day, New Zealand 95-6 (C. L. Cairns 5*, M. J. Horne 4*); Fourth day, England 118-2 (M. A. Atherton 65*, A. R. Caddick 0*).

© John Wisden & Co