England set for winner takes all battle in Auckland

Second Test ends in draw after final day washout

Groundsmen push water off covers on the final day of the second  Test between New Zealand and England in Wellington. Photograph:  David Gray/Reuters

Groundsmen push water off covers on the final day of the second Test between New Zealand and England in Wellington. Photograph: David Gray/Reuters


England had to accept the inevitable at the Basin Reserve in Wellington today, and will head to Auckland tomorrow for a winner-takes-all final Test against New Zealand.

Captain Alastair Cook was backed into a corner by Cyclone Sandra, and had no option but to enforce the follow-on two days ago; yet he still ended up with a soggy stalemate in the second Test after just 35 overs were possible yesterday, and then a long-predicted washout settled the issue today.

This was a near mirror image of the draw in Dunedin last week. There, rain wiped out the first day before England suffered an inexplicable first-innings collapse and then battled back with centuries from openers Cook and Nick Compton second time round.

Here, rain held off until the last two days after Compton and this time Jonathan Trott piled up centuries and then, following their 254 all out at the first attempt, it was the hosts’ turn to show resilience.

The upshot is a potential decider at Eden Park, starting on Friday, and both captains appear satisfied with that knife-edge scenario.

“It’s now a one-match Test series,” said Cook. “Let’s hope we’re set fair for five days, and we can actually get a result.

“Both sides will just want to play five days in a one-off match and the best side will win.”

Cook acknowledged England have so far got no more and no less than they have deserved.

“In Dunedin, we were behind the eight-ball because we didn’t bat very well for two sessions,” he said. Then we did well to fight and hold on to that game.

“In this game, we played some really good cricket...but the weather didn’t allow us to win. I don’t think we’ve been too far off.”

His opposite number Brendon McCullum expressed a similarly rational view, and was enthused too by the enduring possibility of a rare series win against England.

“We dictated the first Test; England held on and showed some fighting qualities — and we held on and showed fighting qualities in this one,” he said.

“Both teams will be reasonably comfortable that it’s 0-0 and it’s all to play for. We see it as a great opportunity to clinch a series win against England, which is something we’d all hold very fondly.”

For England, anything but victory will be an anti-climax after their historic success in India before Christmas; for New Zealand, even another draw would be seen as a step forward after their crushing defeat away to world number ones South Africa at the start of the year.

“We have made some improvements from previous series, but we know the third Test is what we will be decided on,” said McCullum.

“It would obviously be as good as you could get. We’ve had some great moments in Test cricket in the last 20 years, but from my career it would be right up there.”

He has led from the front with half-centuries in each Test, following three in succession in the limited-overs series defeat beforehand.

England were also unable to find a way past Kane Williamson in New Zealand’s second innings, the number three finishing unbeaten on 55. But after Stuart Broad ’s six for 51 to bowl New Zealand out initially in reply to 465, Cook has seen an improvement.

“I think it was outstanding in that first innings to bowl New Zealand out for 250,” he said. “On that wicket, that was a great effort.

“The guys were back to their best, putting New Zealand under a lot of pressure and not letting them get away from us. That is one of our hallmarks.”

Both Broad and James Anderson, the latter apparently bowling with pain in his back and heel, earned their captain’s praise.

“Although Jimmy Anderson didn’t get the wickets, he bowled 30 overs into that wind, pretty much – an outstanding effort,” Cook said.

“It was great to see Broady back in the wickets, and bowling as well as I think he has done.”

Cook does not anticipate Anderson’s ailments will hamper him for the final Test.

He said: “They’re just niggles, a bit of wear and tear from bowling 30 overs, and as he keeps reminding me, only seven with the wind.

“Stuff like that goes unnoticed. When you’re watching on TV, you don’t feel how strong the wind is. But you only have to stand at slip, thinking he’s got to run into that and he never really complained, not on the pitch anyway.”

It was Broad who really put England in with a chance of winning at one stage, though, revisiting his knack of taking a lot of wickets quickly.

“He’s always had the ability to do that,” said Cook. “In the Ashes 2009 – it might have been his first ‘five-for’ — he did it there.

“It was great to see him delivering again like that. I think that’s his seventh ‘five-for’. He’s certainly back to his best, and he ran in as well as I’ve seen him for a while.

“I think he’s fully confident now with his heel, and it’s great to have a senior bowler back.”