Prior the hero as England save the day
Wicketkeeper makes century in nail-biting Auckland finale
Matt Prior defends the final ball of the third test match to secure a draw for England against New Zealand at Eden Park in Auckland. Photograph: Anthony Devlin/PA
In the most nail-biting end to a series, England defied the odds and batted out the last day of the final Test in Auckland to share the series with New Zealand. It was only the fourth time that a team was able to survive a full final day having lost four wickets the previous day. The result means that England retain their position as the second-ranked Test side in the world, behind South Africa.
It could not have been a closer contest, with the last pair of Matt Prior and Monty Panesar batting out the final three overs, the fourth time in as many years that England have saved Test matches when within one wicket of defeat. They finished on 315 for 9.
England's hero was the wicketkeeper-batsman Matt Prior, who remained unbeaten on 110, his seventh Test century, having deflected the ball onto his stumps without dislodging the bails when 28. But Ian Bell batted for almost six hours for 75 before he was dismissed in the last over before tea, and Stuart Broad almost two and a half hours over six runs, during which it took him 62 deliveries in the course of 103 minutes to register his first score.
The final scenes allowed Panesar a reprise of his famous defiance in the first Ashes Test in Cardiff in 2009, but it was not something that the England captain Alastair Cook felt able to watch. When Broad and Jimmy Anderson were both out in the space of three balls with fewer than four overs remaining, Cook took himself off into a corner and instead had a commentary relayed to him.
“I was pretty good for the majority of it," Cook said. "I watched 95 per cent of it – the last 18 balls I didn't watch, but I was having a running commentary. I sat in one place the whole day. Then we lost Broady, and I thought that position had run out of luck – so I thought I'd move."
Cook paid special tribute to Prior, who is now only one century short of the eight made by Les Ames, England's most successful wicketkeeper-batsman.
"His knock was just outstanding," said Cook. "Working together with Broad and Bell ... it was a great effort by the senior players, standing up and delivering. We've proven to be quite a tough side to beat, which we're going to need over the coming months.
"Ideally, obviously, you don't want to be in that situation. But when you find yourself behind the eight ball, the character we've shown today and at other times in this series – and in India as well – can only be a good thing."
Despite all the euphoria though it has been a disappointing end to a tour in which England won series in both limited overs formats and had also been expected to add the three-Test rubber.
"Certainly, we came here to win it," Cook said, "so we're disappointed we haven't done that.
"We haven't played as well as we needed to win a Test series. That's the bottom line. We fought hard but haven't played as well as you need to beat anyone in international cricket. We've got to find out the reasons why that is and get back on that horse and get our standards higher."