This is a Test match being played with one eye on the weather chart, as if trying to keep apace with Duckworth-Lewis in an ODI.
Such considerations can dictate not just the tempo and general urgency of a game, but the strategy as well. For two days both teams had been mindful of the prediction that the residue left over from cyclone Sandra is due to hit the North Island sometime on Sunday, bringing heavy rain perhaps in the afternoon, with further light rain on the final day, and so the chances of a full match are not good.
But then comes the conundrum. Suppose you play the game with urgency, suffer the consequences with the bat and then find yourselves on the back end of a match that suffers no interruptions at all. It has happened.
Somehow England have managed to find some sort of balance. Having been put in to bat, they said that they too would have bowled first. This they would have done in the belief not so much that there was undue help there, but that they had the firepower to dismiss New Zealand and then be able to dictate proceedings accordingly. Batting first though, they felt the need to consolidate first, which they did through Nick Compton and Jonathan Trott on the opening day and then attempted to force the pace more on the second.
In this they were only partially successful, taking the score from 267 for two to 465 before they were all out on the stroke of tea. But accelerating on a pitch that was largely excellent for batting was not as straightforward as it seemed, particularly against the left arm spin of Bruce Martin, who toiled away into a biffing Wellington wind with considerable skill and managed to find a little turn even on a second day pitch.
He finished with 4 for 130 from 48 overs, and deserved more. Indeed he might have taken a five-wicket haul had the faintest smudge of a white hotspot not appeared on Matt Prior's blade as he chose to review an lbw decision while sweeping. Prior had 46 at the time and went on to drag the game away from New Zealand in typical buccaneering style with 82 from 99 balls, his sixth half century in 14 innings, before, having been well supported by Steve Finn in an eighth wicket stand of 84, he was well caught at short third man connecting well enough with a reverse sweep.
There were runs too for Kevin Pietersen, who had hovered like a shadow over New Zealand all night. In a grafting effort at less than one run every two deliveries he made 73 before skying to deep mid off.
It was a working total but the crux of the day and possibly the match would come in the course of the next 33 overs that were allotted England before the close. Wickets and the pressure would be on New Zealand to avoid the follow-on: if they could see the day out then a draw would become increasingly likely. This was a different pitch to the first day however. The New Zealand bowlers, despite the fact that taking into account the second innings in Dunedin they ended up sending down almost 317 overs without batting themselves, found more life than before and Martin was excellent.
There was cloud cover now and the wind had dropped. England came in brutally hard. The analysts' pitch map may show that there was an overindulgence of the short ball from Finn and Stuart Broad. However there is a tactic – let us call it the Perth Protocol – in which the well-directed bouncer and the delivery that is back of a good length are used not simply as a softener, nor even as a potential wicket-taker (although that would be bonus) but to push the batsman back in the crease so that hemmed in, he feels duty bound to have a go at anything pitched temptingly up for the drive.
It came close to gaining Rutherford's wicket in Finn's first over and did so in reverse in Anderson's third when Peter Fulton, rendered strokeless, wafted at something dropped alternatively short and was caught at first slip. But Rutherford, having generally swayed nicely away from the bouncers, duly hurled his bat at wider full length ball, like a salmon going at a fly, and Cook took his second sharp catch at first slip.
Historically Broad is a bowler who, when the force is with him, can get on a roll of wicket-taking that at the time has an inevitability about it. In came Ross Taylor, to his usual rousing welcome, to face Broad in what must have been borderline light.
Now comes the game within a game. Will he expect the short ball? Length? Bluff or counter-bluff? Broad went full and straight, Taylor's blade came down a fraction crooked, the ball shaped slightly away, and the offstump of New Zealand's premier batsman was pegged back. It was a wicked delivery to get first up. Dean Brownlie, faced with four slips and two gullies, survived the hat-trick and, along with Kane Williamson, batting with authority for 32, also to the close at 66 for three, 399 adrift.
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