By Nick Hoult, Cricket Correspondent, at Basin Reserve
It was not a victorious end to a great winter but it was unforgettable. England are entertainers but flawed too and that is why they are English sport’s box office team at the moment.
They go home from New Zealand with credit in the bank despite defeat after one of the finest Test matches ever seen.
To lose by one run after enforcing the follow on does more to preserve the status of Test cricket as the ultimate form of the game than cantering home to victory. It was only the second time a team has won a Test match by a solitary run and three results were on the cards – a win for either side and a tie – as last pair James Anderson and Jack Leach tried to eke out the final seven runs needed when they came together.
The fact they failed may be a good moment in the long run, a time when the management presses pause on their win at all costs mentality and the players learn that sometimes you need to dial it down to get Bazball over the line.
The result was the ultimate definition of how Brendon McCullum views the game: do your best to win, if you lose playing the right way, then fine.
It would not be tolerated quite as easily if this had been the fifth Test at the Oval this summer and the Ashes on the line but England have achieved so much, and progressed so far since the misery of 12 months ago, that if they were going to lose then this kind of scenario can be forgiven.
Those at the Basin Reserve will never forget what they witnessed on day five: England bowled out for 256 with last man Anderson caught down the leg side with two needed to win, one to level the scores. Ben Foakes with 35 off 57 balls, adding 36 for the ninth wicket with Jack Leach, almost delivered victory but Neil Wagner’s spell of three for 38 from nine overs of bumpers knocked England over.
New Zealand became only the fourth team in history – the first in more than 20 years – to win after following on, levelling the series as these two sides produced yet another taut finale. The tension was almost as unbearable as the 2019 World Cup final and after what happened that day, even the most ardent England fan will not begrudge New Zealand their moment.
The resolve they showed in the face of defeat following on 229 behind and staring at a 2-0 series loss was Test cricket at its very best, fought over almost five days of gripping, absorbing drama.
Fortunes ebbed and flowed like a current in Wellington Harbour as England at various points had the game in their grasp. New Zealand too appeared to be cruising when England lost four wickets in the first hour and were 80 for five when Harry Brook was run out without facing.
But Joe Root provided the poise and class while Ben Stokes grimaced and limped his way through one of those gritty, unglamorous innings he specialises in when England are backed into a tight corner.
England’s senior core were seeing them home. Stokes held his knee several times and hobbled to the dressing room at lunch with his team 168 for five needing another 90 to win.
The target was trimmed to 57 but Stokes never looked convincing, swishing wildly at short balls and trying to up the scoring and get it over with.
Tim Southee, the New Zealand captain, brought back Neil Wagner, who had been belted around in the series so far, for another blast of bumpers. A competitor, who never gives up, Wagner seemed to gain an extra yard of pace with the Test on the line.
He bounced Stokes from round the wicket, the England captain hooked it in the air, losing his top hand on the bat, to plop a catch to square leg.
In his next over and with Root eyeing his first ever twin hundreds in Tests, Wagner banged another ball in short. Root went after it, trying to hit it too hard and skewed a catch to midwicket. He threw his bat to the ground in disgust. England had lost two for one run.
The nighthawk Stuart Broad flayed around but did not add much leaving Foakes and Leach the task of 43 to win with two wickets left.
Foakes was almost caught behind off the first bouncer he faced from Wagner but gradually settled into a nice rhythm, picking off a few bad balls, turning down singles to protect Leach and chip off the runs.
New Zealand were jumpy now. Foakes became calmer as the innings wore on. Leach was reprising his Headingley 2019 role with Stokes, playing sleeping partner, staying in and looking fairly assured until Foakes holed out to fine leg to set up that unforgettable finale.
New Zealand beat England by one run: As it happened
Brendon McCullum speaks
It would have been nice to win the Test and the series. But right at the start of this campaign we said we wanted to entertain and bring fans into the game, to bring more relevance to Test cricket, and even on the wring side of it, I thought we did that today. Credit to New Zealand, they were epic in defence of that total but we played our part.
I was actually quite calm. We had played so well during the Test. Whether we win or lose, I know we will get judged on that, but what we’re trying to do is play a style of cricket and try to entertain people around the world. When it gets as tense as it got, it’s a little in the laps of the gods and it wasn’t meant to be for us.
Even after we lost, walking into the dressing room there were still smiles on faces because we kind of achieved a small part of what it’s about – to make Test cricket exciting. But obviously it’s still disappointing to lose.
Stokes’ post-match encore
With bouncer plans, you have to make a decision about what to go to. As soon as Waggie came on I saw it as an opportunity to take 20 runs.
[My knee?] Like I always say, better than bad…
It’s disappointing to end on a loss but four out of five away from home is something we will take great pride in. Now we have a few months off before we get back to what we love doing
Ben Stokes speaks
That game is what Test cricket is about, the emotions we were going through and the Kiwi boys as well. Everyone’s got their money’s worth today. We knew that at some point Tim would have to roll the dice. For Joe and myself, that was the opportunity to pounce, and sometimes things don’t happen how you want them to.
Kane Williamson speaks
Doesn’t quite feel right to be standing here, after a game of cricket like that and the contributions we’ve seen from both teams throughout.
A fantastic game of cricket to be a part of and, for us as a team, we’ve been fighting away in the Test format for a while so it’s nice to get across the line on this one.
This England team is playing incredible cricket at the moment and we’re up against it, coming into this game. So to fight away and compete and ultimately just get across the line is, is a really nice feeling.
Harry Brook is named player of the series, Kane Williamson man of the match.
New Zealand were relentless
And though people will carp at the strokes played by Ben Stokes and Joe Root, the frantic batting of Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope, Root’s call that did for Brook, there has to be a moment, as cricket lovers who care about the game and its future rather than anything too tribal, when we say, “What a game!’ and if you can’t enjoy that, you have no soul.
NZ were magnificent. Wagner rolled back the years, Henry fought back from a back spasm, Southee kept his discipline and control.
I saw it well and lucky it went in. I’m pretty happy. When Foakesy hit it over Beastie’s [Bracewell’s] head I thought they would do it but we fight to the bitter end.
NZ win their first ever Test after following on
And do so by one run, joining England at the SCG in 1894, again at Headingley in 1981 and India at Eden Gardens in 2001,