• New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 2nd day

Finn haul brings England back in the hunt

The Report by George Dobell
March 23, 2013
England 50 for 2 (Boult 2-26) trail New Zealand 414 for 6 (Southee 35*, Watling 13*) by 393 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

James Anderson had Kane Williamson caught behind nine short of a hundred © Getty Images

If ever the doubters required an example of the virtues of the Decision Review System (DRS), they received it on the second day of the final Test of the series in Auckland. With the series level at 0-0 and the game poised delicately, umpire Paul Reiffel gave New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum out to the second ball he faced.

Quite why he gave McCullum out remains unclear: it might have lbw and it could have been caught behind. But the batsman immediately utilised the DRS and replays showed that he should not be dismissed on either account. He was reprieved and went on to contribute a fluent 38 that took the game just a little further out of the reach of England. Had DRS not been in use, New Zealand would have been 297 for 5 and England would have felt themselves right back in the game.

The incident was not atypical of the day as a whole. Each time that England thought they had clawed their way back into the game, New Zealand produced a little extra to regain the initiative. England could be justifiably proud of claiming the last nine New Zealand wickets to fall on the second day for a cost of another 193 runs but, by the close, New Zealand were still the side in the stronger position.

England still have a slim chance to win the series. But they will have to set new records if they are to do so. Never before have England won a game after seeing a side they have inserted score more than 409. It may provide some encouragement for them that the team they beat on that occasion, at Leeds in 2004, was also New Zealand but, with three days of this series to go, it is surely New Zealand who would be more disappointed to settle for a draw.

If England are to fight their way back into the game, they will have to do so with inexperienced players. Three men in England's top-order - Nick Compton, Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow - came into this match with just 14 Tests between them and the lower-order lack the all-round skill of Graeme Swann and Tim Bresnan due to injury. Most pertinently they are missing the magic of Kevin Pietersen. With him, miracles have not been uncommon. Without him, an England player may have to produce the innings of his life.

England dominated the morning session. Bowling with more discipline than the previous day, they conceded just 62 runs and, having been looking down the barrel of a huge total when New Zealand reached stumps on the first day on 250 for 1, reduced New Zealand to a less daunting 297 for 4 by lunch.

Batting was not straightforward in that first session. James Anderson, gaining just a little swing, found the edge of Kane Williamson's perfectly reasonable - if not fully committed - forward defensive stroke with a beauty that moved away just enough in the fifth over of the day, and England's ploy of plugging away outside Peter Fulton's off stump - an area of obvious weakness for him - resulted in the game drifting towards a stalemate. Fulton's policy of blocking on off stump and picking up runs when the bowlers stray on to his legs can work well if bowlers perform as loosely as they did on the first day. But against better quality bowling, it looks desperately limited. Resuming on his overnight score of 124, Fulton faced 69 deliveries in about 140 minutes in the morning and scored just 12 runs.

Perhaps Fulton scorelessness contributed to Ross Taylor's demise. While Taylor drove his seventh delivery, from Stuart Broad, for a flowing four through extra cover, he looked increasingly frustrated by his side's lack of progress. He utilised the short boundary to flick Monty Panesar for 10 in two deliveries - a six followed by a four - over midwicket but, attempting to flick another ball onto the leg side a couple of deliveries later, was beaten by one that held its own and gifted a leading edge back to the bowler.

If the ball that accounted for Fulton was unimpressive - a thigh-high delivery heading down the leg side from Steven Finn - the catch was exceptional. Matt Prior, leaping to his left, clung on to a superb one-handed chance that Fulton must have thought was heading to the boundary as he glanced it fine.

While McCullum and Dean Brownlie added 68 runs for the fifth wicket, England again thought they had struck back when McCullum was dismissed. With McCullum batting with a freedom that none of his top-order colleagues could match, England captain Alastair Cook turned to Trott as a last resort. The medium pacer responded with a teasing over that might have dismissed McCullum twice already before he was drawn into a drive at a wide ball that swing away gently, took the outside edge and was superbly caught by Prior standing up to the stumps.

England celebrated like men who knew they had caught a life line. But even then New Zealand were not finished. Tim Southee plundered 44 in 33 balls, pulling Stuart Broad for successive sixes and thrashed four fours - two drives, a cut and a pull - off Steven Finn as the bowler struggled with his length and the seventh-wicket partnership added 51 more runs.

Finn, who took the last four wickets in the space of 14 balls, finished with six wickets but would accept that he was somewhat flattered by his haul. Twice he benefitted from catches down the legside, with Watling falling in similar fashion to Fulton, and he also profited from the tailenders' attempts to thrash quick runs. It was Finn's first five-wicket haul in Test cricket since the first Ashes Test in Brisbane in November 2010 and his first in first-class cricket since a Division Two County Championship match against Kent in August 2011.

While New Zealand's total of 443 was more than respectable, it was not, perhaps, the daunting score that had looked possible when they reached stumps on the first day on 250 for 1.

But England's hopes of overhauling the total suffered an early blow when Cook, attempting a nudge to fine leg, became the third man on the day to be caught down the legside and Trott, falling to the off side and attempting to play a straight ball from the impressive Trent Boult through square leg, fell leg before. To compound the error, Trott squandered a DRS referral more in hope than expectation. Compton and Bell saw England to stumps without further loss, but a great deal more will be required from them on the third day if England are to leave New Zealand with a Test series victory.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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