That 3-0 series win we predicted is looking distinctly less likely now.
In truth, the vast majority of the day saw a decent performance from England, with Steve Finn the main beneficiary (despite not bowling all that well). Unfortunately they were still playing catchup from that horrible first day, meaning that New Zealand still reached a more than serviceable total thanks to some lower order swinging. Add in the two late wickets and suddenly an England win looks like the third most likely result. It’s a far cry from the comfortable win for the tourists that we’ve been predicting in every single match so far. We should probably stop making predictions, to be honest.
Most of the time, the best way to get wickets is with the standard ‘bowling a good length around off stump’ plan. Today, it seemed a much better plan was to bowl down the legside and wait for the batsman to glance it straight through to the keeper. To see one legside strangle in a Test is unusual, to see three in a day just bizarre. Still, not as bizarre as that time we saw a bloke balancing six KFC buckets on his head at once while dancing. And not inside each other, actually top to tail. God, we miss the KFC Big Bash.
Whoever it is that does the PA music at grounds in New Zealand – we’ll assume it’s one person going from match to match – is clearly an underpaid comic genius. After the lovely use of ‘He Ain’t Heavy, He’s My Brother’ for when Nathan McCullum replaced Brendon in one of the limited overs matches, today saw a replacement bat being brought out to the accompaniment of the Batman theme.
Like we often say, genius is doing the obvious. Like two years of non-stop jokes about Samit Patel’s weight or this masterpiece in subtlety.
England are in something of a pickle now. They need to score quickly, in order to try and get ahead of New Zealand and set up the difficult third innings. Unfortunately they also need to be quite sensible, as being bowled out for less than 300 will end their victory hopes. So there’s a difficult stick/twist decision to make. Plus Nick Compton, love him though we do, doesn’t seem to have many gears to go through in terms of his run-rate. The best bet may be him to anchor one end while Ian Bell, for whom this is an important innings, and the two novices, Root and Bairstow, try to be more positive. Matt Prior will obviously look to get on with things as he usually does.
For New Zealand, they’ll see this as a fantastic opportunity, being just one wicket away from a very callow middle order. If they can restrict England to around 300 then the game is theirs to win or, more likely, draw. Of course, this is New Zealand and calamitous sessions are never far away. We’ve yet to see one this series – will tomorrow be the day?
We predict not.