Feb 28 – In a barely believable last day at Basin Reserve, last man James Anderson was caught by the side of Neil Wagner’s leg as England needed two to win.
Anderson had joined number 10 Jack Leach with seven required, after Leach added 36 for the ninth wicket with Ben Foakes, who was caught at fine leg for 35.
Anderson fended off a vicious bouncer from Wagner, then sensationally hit the next ball for four.
Leach dismissed Tim Southee, setting the stage for Anderson, but Wagner’s fourth wicket left England 256 all-out and caused a deafening roar from the Basin Reserve crowd.
Needing 258 to win the match and series, England fell calamitously to 80-5, then after a stand of 121 between Joe Root and Ben Stokes experienced another 3-14 collapse.
Foakes, Leach and Anderson nearly got the better of them, but eventually England lost a Test after enforcing the continuation for the first time, the fourth such defeat in Test history.
It ends a six-match winning streak and denies them a seventh successive win, a feat last achieved by England in 2004.
For New Zealand, their first win after following gives them a 1-1 tie in the series and protects an unbeaten home run dating back to 2017.
England’s next test is against Ireland at Lord’s on June 1 before their bid to win back the Ashes begins on June 16.
An almost entirely separate England team begin a series of white balls in Bangladesh on Wednesday.
The artists of England defeated at last
This was a stunning conclusion to a memorable Test, played to an enthusiastic crowd who were given free entry to the Basin Reserve.
England repeatedly state their commitment to making Test cricket entertaining, but this cannot have been in the script.
By the time Captain Stokes enforced follow-on on the third morning, New Zealand were 226 behind and England dominated.
What followed was a magnificent return from the Kiwi, with Kane Williamson making a classy century. The Blacks Caps’ total of 483 was the fourth-highest achieved by a team that followed against England.
Starting the fifth day at 48–1, England were favorites in a field that remained good for batting until a chaotic four-wicket collapse for 27, the nadir of which was Harry Brook running out of the ball.
Root’s counter-attack and Stokes’ stoicism – he took 116 of his 33 balls – seemed to have regained control, before the pendulum swung back.
Foakes hooked just above Michael Bracewell into the middle of the deep wicket as 12 and New Zealand’s short ball plan became increasingly irregular.
The goal scored down, the anticipation built and, when Foakes finally made a mistake, seeing the 40-year-old Anderson walking into the crease was pure theatrics.
It looked as though he would score the winning runs for the first time in his distinguished Test career, but instead England suffered only the second one-run defeat in Test history.
This loss will not derail England’s preparations for the Summer Ashes. His style is established and they transform from the team that was riding a 17 Test win streak at this time last year.
Indeed, the biggest concern to come out of this Test is Stokes’ fitness, with the all-rounder often limping, bowling just two overs in the match.
Leach and Anderson denied
As the prolific Brook ran out, miles away from his ground after Root pushed into the slips and took off, Root held his head in his hands.
It came after nightwatchman Ollie Robinson missed a Southee shot, Ben Duckett overcame a cut from Matt Henry for 33 and the restless Ollie Pope did the same to Wagner for 14.
England was in tatters, New Zealand riotous and the Basin Reserve humming.
But Root began to make amends for his part in Brook’s breakaway by launching a searing attack, targeting the Bracewell exit for particular punishment.
What made the action even more compelling was Stokes’ grim determination as he batted with one leg.
Going from being the hard-working man in the early innings, Stokes took just one run from his first 19 balls, and then scored mostly with edging through or over slips.
Root’s half-century came with a bang. In the first 50 runs that he added with Stokes, the captain’s contribution was just five.
Wagner’s signature short ball plan seemed to be New Zealand’s last hope. It worked.
Stokes’ ugly strike ended with a top edge to square leg, while Root missed a jerk and missed his second century of the match.
Stuart Broad guided a goalkeeper from Henry to the third man and England were stunned.
But Foakes is unflappable and Leach has shape for match-winning partnerships, having backed Stokes to the famous Ashes win at Headingley in 2019.
Although Foakes’s decision to regularly turn away runs seemed questionable, he ensured that Leach only once faced more than two balls in the over as he slowly drifted away from goal.
Foakes had the match on his hands only to go for one more hook, leaving Anderson to write another chapter in his storied career.
Anderson was upset that a short Wagner delivery was not called wide and on the next ball the brilliant Wagner had the last word to put Leach one out for 31 balls.
“Everyone got their money’s worth, it was amazing”
England captain Ben Stokes: “That game as a whole, in terms of what Test cricket is about, was just amazing.
“The emotions we were going through upstairs and I’m sure the Kiwi guys were too. It was amazing to be involved. Everyone got their money’s worth today.”
“It’s disappointing to end up with a loss here after a great winter, but winning four out of five is great for this team.
“We have a few months off before Ashes kicks off, so we hope we can get back to doing what we love to do.”
New Zealand’s Kane Williamson, who was named man of the match: “It doesn’t feel good 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. For us as a team we’ve been struggling in the Test format for a while so it was nice to cross the line on this one.”
“We had to fight very hard to reverse some of that momentum. England are playing some amazing cricket at the moment and we were up against it before this match.”
“Finding a way to fight our way back and cross the line is a really nice feeling.”