At Leeds, May 24-28. England won by 247 runs. Toss: England.
Sir Pelham Warner once described an England captain in a way that nowadays requires context to avoid misinterpretation. Of the Honourable Sir Stanley Jackson, who ranked among life's authentic all-rounders, Warner announced: "He was a good tosser." The patrician world in which Warner lived preserved his general state of ignorance about the real one, which meant he often sounded naive or came across as a bit buffoonish, like a cricketing Bertie Wooster. The short quotation reinforces that notion; though, of course, Warner meant it as a compliment - commemorating Jackson's feat of winning every coin-flip during the 1905 Ashes - and only a profound shift in common usage has turned it into a pejorative. Warner was tacitly making the broader point that successful leadership frequently depends on luck as much as strategy. On this basis - and if the dead harbour curiosity about the living - you can be sure that the conversation in the celestial pavilion between old Plum and Jacker fairly crackled along throughout this Test.
Headingley doesn't earn high marks for aesthetic charm. There is no grand sweep to architecture assembled piecemeal. But things tend to spark in the Yorkshire air, which makes a largely ugly ground a beautiful venue for a Test. Nearly always an oddity, a quirk, an exemplary performance or a controversy significantly colours what happens here and leaves a mark on the memory. There was the washout of the wind-whipped opening day, blanketed beneath the kind of lowering, black-angry sky that the sisters of Haworth put into their novels. There was a maiden Test century for Root, looking like one of Botticelli's cherubs and batting like a steely combination of Hutton and Sutcliffe. There was the stand of 124 between Root and Bairstow to swell the pride of White Rose partisans during England's first-innings 354.
There was Swann, consummate in the execution of his thoughtful craft, and on the honours board because of it. There was Anderson finally attaining wicket-parity with Fred Trueman - and doing so from the Kirkstall Lane End, which was Trueman's turf during his faraway pomp. There was the curiosity value early on of seeing Geoffrey Boycott, the Yorkshire president - and The Greatest Living Yorkshireman to boot - striding around with a small, rectangular name badge clipped, slightly askew, to the breast pocket of his jacket, as if among his own he might walk unrecognised. Well, as the locals often remark, there's nowt so strange as folk. There was also nowt so strange as England's tactics, a fact that defined the Test.
What the dry ink of the scorebook records as a whopping win - England beating New Zealand by 247 runs to seal the series 2-0 - was actually much more of a narrow squeak because of timidity, muddled thought, and anxious hand-wringing about three basic decisions: the question of the follow-on, the timing of the second-innings declaration, and the set of the field to make New Zealand's suffering as brief as possible. Brightly imaginative or innovative captaincy from Cook wasn't necessary. All he needed to show was a modicum of brio and a moderate level of ruthlessness. We saw instead an approach so tentative and over-cautious that you wondered how Cook reacts whenever his own shadow surprises him. As a consequence, he was a dark cloud and a spit of rain away from looking a darned fool.
The complete loss of the first day reduced the follow-on target to 150. New Zealand, bowled out for a pitiful 174, were 180 in arrears when Cook chose instead to bat again. Without the last-wicket stand of 52 between Wagner and Boult, who had the audacity to biff Swann for three sixes, New Zealand might as well have run up the white flag there and then. Modern thinking tends to discriminate against enforcing the follow-on. Fair enough. Cook could argue his corner cogently. Bowlers do benefit from recuperation, especially in an era of back-to-back Tests. The pitch will scuff and deteriorate further. The opposition's spirit can be snuffed out, making everything, especially resistance, appear futile. But you still need to navigate the route you've picked; Cook, alas, allowed England to meander and drift. The plan should have been straightforward: rattle up a lead of just over 400 - no sense in being greedy about it - before cavalry-charging a top order already psychologically bruised and tender. In any case, no team at Headingley have surpassed Bradman's 1948 Invincibles in chasing down 404; and New Zealand's three previous innings had totalled a miserable 449 runs in 135.1 overs. Really, this was about as easy as it gets.
Faffing about was the first mistake. Compton's scratching for a decent score was understandable. His touch and timing had withered, and his place was in jeopardy. Trott's go-slow, however, was emphatically not. England were rolling along serenely - 72 inside 20 overs - when Compton went back to the dressing-room, wearing the expression of a hound on its last visit to the vet. What came next, a paltry 44 runs in 21 overs before the close, was tedious to watch, and almost impossible to rationalise. Trott, as if thinking either the Test was timeless or he was Barnacle Bailey, eked 11 off 69 deliveries. Thinking about that makes you yawn. Thinking about his response to it makes you wince.
Even with satellite technology, the Met Office never seems much more reliable than those meteorologists from ancient times who swore it was possible to soothsay an entire summer's rainfall by examining the entrails of a chicken. But in this case every forecast for Headingley - from whizzy computers and deceased farm-fowl alike - was pretty dismal. The obvious conclusion was that England had to beat New Zealand before the weather beat them.
In a prickly reply to a question about this - he seemed to believe asking it in the first place counted as a breach of protocol - Trott said England shouldn't pay too much attention to the prospect of rain or allow it to dictate their actions. As an example of loyalty towards the captain, as well as an espousal of collective responsibility, it was laudable. As an example of logical thought, it was laughable. He was talking about Leeds in May, for goodness' sake.
At the beginning of day four, as though the switch working him had been flicked at last, Trott hit another 65 runs, and did so stylishly. Cook reached his 25th Test century - his seventh in 11 matches as captain, and the 100th in all Headingley Tests - compiled in imperious bursts, against an attack shorn of Boult, who bowled only two overs because of a strain in his right side. To see him go was surely a mighty relief to Cook, like waving goodbye to a troublesome house guest: Boult had claimed him twice on England's winter tour and twice more at Lord's barely a week earlier.
The England innings dragged on inexplicably after lunch, and the middle order were obliged to sacrifice themselves for superfluous runs. New Zealand were left hunting 468, a wild goose chase of a score. Even Bradman might have baulked at that - unless he was partnering Trumper. Cook seemed to believe both were padding up. New Zealand had only Rutherford, who made 42, and Taylor, who handled the cunning Swann and the uneven bounce as ably as possible, opting to play well back and across.
He did it in some pain too. A first-innings snorter from Finn had thumped into his right shoulder. An ice-pack was pressed against the welt midway through his second innings; Taylor grimaced hard, the way you would if table salt was rubbed into a fresh cut. He got 70 nonetheless, before Swann (as we all knew he would eventually) made the kill. Cook's meekness still remained the issue. A Yorkshireman invented the guillotine. A Yorkshire crowd expect to see it drop. They want leaders to be mean, like Shylock, rather than cerebral, like Sherlock. Cook was neither. With a mountainous heap of runs, there was no need to have more cover fielders than you had slips. Or a deep point. Or to isolate someone on the square-leg boundary. It was belt-and-braces defence, when the circumstances demanded attack and offered absolute protection from defeat. In achieving match figures of ten for 132 - the best by a spinner at Headingley since 1972, when Derek Underwood took ten for 82 against Australia on a pitch affected by the fusarium fungus - Swann bowled a majestically accurate line, ripping the ball in to the footmarks created by New Zealand's two left-armers. His field ought to have looked a bit like Underwood's did at The Oval in 1968, when a famous close-up photograph showed all 11 England players.
But Cook crowded the bat only after the sixth wicket went down, which was shortly before bad light carried the game into the final day. Sages on the old Western Terrace went home grumpy with Cook - and fearing the worst. He got away with it because the bad weather broke long enough to allow him sufficient time to take out the tail during two truncated sessions, stretching in total to an hour and 26 minutes and ending at 3.36pm in front of a few hundred hardy souls with Thermos flasks.
Cook was a lucky lad indeed. Perhaps, like Jackson, he's one of those chaps of infinite good fortune who is able to regularly second-guess the Fates, and feels safe gambling on his instincts. He even won the toss. No doubt Sir Pelham has a phrase he'd like to offer in congratulation about that particular triumph.
Man of the Match: G. P. Swann. Attendance: 29,465
Men of the Series: England - J. E. Root. New Zealand - T. G. Southee.
Close of play: first day, no play; second day, England 337-7 (Prior 38, Swann 21); third day, England 116-1 (Cook 88, Trott 11); fourth day, New Zealand 158-6 (McCullum 0, Southee 4).