Rain was the only winner in Wellington, washing out most of the fourth day and all of the final one as England pressed for victory against New Zealand. This means that the two sides go into the final match in Auckland with everything to play for, the series poised as it is at 0-0.
The visitors will have in the back of their minds the fact that a defeat in New Zealand’s largest city will mean that they have lost a series to the side ranked eighth in the world. They will also, I am sure, have been reminded of 2002, when they lost in Auckland on a pitch so damp that after five days of cricket, it resembled a piece of bleached orange peel, so pitted had it become by the ball landing on it.
There was plenty in their Wellington performance to restore confidence, though. Kevin Pietersen at last made some runs, Jonathan Trott was back to his old dogged self and Nick Compton enhanced his Ashes claims with a second hundred in successive innings. With the ball, Stuart Broad – as predicted here – bounced back to form with six first innings wickets, whilst James Anderson edges ever closer to that magical 300 Test wicket mark.
Captain Alastair Cook proclaimed after the game that England’s attack was back to its best, so don’t expect any changes there. With the batting line-up settled as well it seems that England will, barring injuries, go into this game unchanged for the third match in succession.
The same is not necessarily true of the hosts. Coach Mike Hesson said that, after Wellington, his bowlers were ‘hanging by a thread’. In the modern era such comments have to be taken with a pinch of salt, such is the love of mind games, but everything points to a recall for medium-fast bowler Doug Bracewell in Auckland. It will be interesting to see who he replaces, with only Neil Wagner sure to play in the City of Sails.
New Zealand have twice won both tosses in this series and each time they have asked England to bat. It worked for them in Dunedin but backfired in Wellington, where they misread the pitch. Knowing what happened in 2002, the might be wary of batting last on the Auckland pitch. If they do go against routine and bat first, look for Kane Williamson to be the anchor of the innings, as he has been in both Tests so far. He has played the role well, if in a manner well short of Trott’s class, so look to him to be New Zealand’s leading batsman at betting odds of 9/2 with Bet365.
On the England side, Cook has been uncharacteristically careless in both first innings to date, gifting his wicket away on both occasions. As a result, at 5/1 with Stan James he is slightly longer odds than he usually would be to make a century in this game.
As to the result, the draw is looking the favoured option for our sports picks at 12/5 with Paddy Power. This, as in the other two games, is more to do with the weather than the relative strengths of the two teams. New Zealand is, as one commentator put it at the weekend, a long thin island nation with a large sea on one side and an even larger ocean on the other, making the weather at this time of year rather hard to predict.