x Abu Dhabi, UAEFriday 21 July 2017

England survive tense final day to snatch series draw against New Zealand

Matt Prior's unbeaten 110 and a six-hour last stand from Ian Bell saw England dig in to secure a draw at Eden Park and avoid their first Test series defeat against New Zealand in nearly 30 years.

England's Matt Prior celebrates saving the series against New Zealand at Eden Park.
England's Matt Prior celebrates saving the series against New Zealand at Eden Park.

Matt Prior dug in with a memorable century as England avoided their first Test series defeat in New Zealand for almost three decades with a tense draw at Eden Park.

Prior's unbeaten 110 guided the visitors to 315 for nine at stumps in the final Test in a tour-de-force rearguard performance which also featured a near six-hour 75 from Ian Bell, a triumph of self-denial as Stuart Broad batted an astonishing 61 balls before scoring his first run and then number 11 Monty Panesar helping to keep out the last 19 balls.

But it was England's wicketkeeper-batsman who simply would not yield, making the most of some early fortune in a 182-ball innings.

His stands of 78 with Bell and then 67 with a mostly scoreless Broad spanned 54 overs as the Kiwis, try as they might, just ran out of time and had to settle for a 0-0 series draw.

"We came here to win the series so we are disappointed we haven't done," Cook said afterwards. "We are disappointed that we have not played well enough to win the test series. That is the bottom line.

"We fought hard, especially in Dunedin coming back from behind there. Wellington we played a bit better. Here we haven't played as well as you need to do it in international cricket."

The result at least ensured England retained the number two ranking in the world by the cut off date set by the International Cricket Council of April 1.

After England had begun this morning on 90 for four, it was hard to imagine how they might eke out their final six wickets for three sessions - with a theoretical victory target of 481 long since relegated to an irrelevance.

Bell began the process by grinding out half-century stands first with Joe Root and then Prior.

But when he lost his previously epic concentration on the stroke of tea, an attempted drive at Neil Wagner ending in an edge to third slip, England's mission was once again highly improbable.

Bell's determination stretched to strokeless extremes as he and Root marked time against the old ball - and having first taken guard when Jonathan Trott was out last night, he eventually fell to the 271st delivery he faced.

Before then, Trent Boult needed just one attempt with the second new ball to break Bell's partnership of 60 with Root minutes from lunch.

The young Yorkshireman departed with uncanny echoes of several of his teammates' first-innings dismissals, lbw pushing forward to an inswinger.

Jonny Bairstow was then gone cheaply in early afternoon, putting the onus on Bell and Prior as the last pair of specialist batsmen.

Prior in particular needed some luck to help stop Alastair Cook's team becoming only the second from England to lose here.

On a pitch still showing no signs of wear, today's first challenge fell to Bell and Root - who had a calm authority about them for more than an hour-and-a-half at the start of another glorious day.

Root appeared keen to rotate the strike, but Bell remained in block-and-leave mode almost throughout.

When Boult accounted for Root, both Bell and Bairstow needed help from the fielders to survive even until lunch.

Bell was dropped at fourth slip by Dean Brownlie on 40, and then Bairstow put down at gully by Kane Williamson two balls later, in the last over of the session from Boult.

Bairstow could not take advantage, edging Tim Southee to slip in back-foot defence three overs into the afternoon - and Prior then had a series of scares against the same bowler.

He accounted for one of New Zealand's DRS chances, used up with no edge to vindicate a caught-behind appeal, and then survived by the same recourse himself when he did get bat on ball this time before initially being given out lbw by Rod Tucker.

Prior was still on only 20 when he then mis-pulled Southee from high on the bat and saw the ball drop just out of Wagner's reach as he raced towards midwicket from mid-on.

Prior's next scrape, eight runs later, was an uncanny defiance of physics.

A very good short ball from Wagner dropped down off his bat handle on to the bottom of the stumps - but somehow did not dislodge the bails.

It was a moment in which it could easily be construed fate was on England's side, a premise which gathered credence and held firm for the remainder of a surprising match.

An inside-edge past leg-stump for four off Southee was to make Prior England's top-scorer in both innings.

Broad also survived a comical muddle to a yorker from Boult, reviewing Paul Reiffel's lbw decision while on his knees in the crease - after dropping his bat and being hit in the throat by the handle, through his helmet grille.

The crucial consolation was that DRS demonstrated Broad, still on nought of course, had hit the ball and therefore managed to overturn the decision.

Brendon McCullum, limping into position because of a hamstring injury whenever he chose to make a change in a packed attacking field, tried everything he knew.

But Broad and Prior, who completed his hundred with a pull off Wagner for his 18th four, had every answer until the hard-working number nine edged Williamson (four for 44) to slip - and then James Anderson went in an action replay two balls later.

It fell to Prior therefore, in company with Panesar for the final three overs, to keep England unbeaten in a series many predicted they would win at a canter to set themselves up for their double Ashes year.

"[I've got] mixed emotions," McCullum admitted afterwards.

"I'm incredibly proud of our boys.  We pretty much tried everything. We came up against some of the best players going around at the moment. Today they were outstanding. We tried everything but came up just short. It was a wonderful Test match.

"We're certainly trending in the right direction, That's very pleasing."

McCullum singled out the performance of Peter Fulton who, having had a period out of the side, scored a century in each innings to set up New Zealand's ultimately fruitless victory push.

"Outstanding," he said. "I'm absolutely delighted for Peter.

"It's a lovely story - a guy who had a crack at Test cricket, found himself on the outside for a while, and for him to play as well as he did was a great story."

 

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