Finn digs in to deny Black Caps
Steven Finn was the unexpected batting star of the final day in Dunedin as England capitalised on a lifeless wicket to secure an opening-Test draw with New Zealand.
Finn, called into action as a nightwatchman on the fourth evening at the conclusion of a valuable 231-run stand between Alastair Cook and Nick Compton, comfortably exceeded expectations - and his previous highest first-class score of 32 - with a dogged 56 spanning 203 balls and 286 minutes.
England, 293 behind on first innings, were accordingly able to reach 421 for six from 170 overs before Cook and opposite number Brendon McCullum shook hands at the beginning of the last hour.
Left-arm paceman Neil Wagner did his best to deny the tourists with a tireless performance that featured the scalps of Compton, for 117, Jonathan Trott, who contributed a fluent 52, and Kevin Pietersen for the second time in the match.
When Finn and Joe Root departed in successive overs after tea, there was renewed hope for New Zealand. However, England ultimately made it to safety with a degree of comfort, aided by a remarkably benign surface that offered minimal assistance to the spirited home attack.
Even with the flatness of the pitch taken into account, Finn’s attritional rearguard was most impressive.
After receiving a life on two when Dean Brownlie spilled a difficult low chance to his left at third slip, he heavily punished New Zealand with a doughty demonstration of focus and defensive solidity.
Finn went 72 minutes without scoring a run at one stage but kept his cool to play the most significant hand on day five.
In truth, England always looked likely to complete their rescue mission after losing just one wicket in the morning session.
Somewhat surprisingly, it was Compton - and not his junior partner - who departed, lbw to Wagner when leaning over to the off side.
While benefiting from the occasional streaky edge, Finn appeared largely comfortable in a stand of 90 with Trott that saw England’s usual number three score freely.
Trott proved typically strong through his favoured midwicket region, but fell 45 minutes after lunch when Wagner leapt high into the air to accept a fine return catch off the batsman’s leading edge.
The indefatigable Finn outlasted another partner as Pietersen was caught behind off Wagner for 12.
A brief wobble followed early in the evening, with Finn trapped in front on the slog-sweep by Bruce Martin and Root run out without scoring, but Ian Bell and Matt Prior held firm to finish unbeaten on 26 and 23 respectively.
Wagner, Tim Southee and Trent Boult continued to show great heart as the end approached, with the former still sending down bouncers in his 43rd and final over.
The workload of New Zealand’s seam trio could yet be an issue, with such a short turnaround between this match and the second Test in Wellington starting on Thursday (9pm Wednesday in the UK).
Live Text Commentary
3:46am - STUMPS - Eng 421/6; Bell 26, Prior 23 - MATCH DRAWN - That’s all folks! England have done enough to salvage a draw after being surprisingly dismissed for a below-par 167 on day two. Alastair Cook and Nick Compton did the bulk of the work second time around with a magnificent partnership of 231, but it was nightwatchman Steven Finn who surprisingly emerged as the key batsman today, surviving 203 balls for a dogged 56.
3:36am - REVIEW - New Zealand call for a review after an appeal for caught-behind against Prior is turned down by umpire Asad Rauf. I'm afraid that was pretty desperate as the ball was nowhere near the bat! Prior survives.
3:31am – There are three overs to come before this game can be ended as a draw. That looks extremely likely now, as Bell and Prior have blunted New Zealand’s tiring attack with comfort.
3:22am – It might not be too long before we see handshakes out in the middle. New Zealand cannot find a way past this experienced pairing and need to strike quickly to keep the game alive. Tim Southee and Trent Boult continue to give it their all – the effort from the home seamers has been very impressive indeed.
3:10am - Bell and Prior hold firm against the fresh pill. England are almost there, but need to keep their focus.
3:01am - An uppish cover drive from Prior brings three and a more convincing stroke through the same region gives England’s wicketkeeper-batsman his second four. The third new ball is now available, with England 117 ahead.
2:54am - You really have to admire Wagner’s stamina. The left-armer has just completed his 40th over of the innings but is still charging in and asking questions of the touring batsmen. Prior pulls for four to get off the mark having been discomforted by an earlier short ball.
2:47am - England have Bell and Matt Prior at the crease now – not a bad seventh-wicket pairing! Sensing his final chance to push for victory, Brendon McCullum calls back Neil Wagner – the pick of New Zealand’s attack today.
2:40am - WICKET! Root run out (Southee) 0; Eng 390/6 - Uh oh – this game isn’t over yet! Joe Root is run out after being called through by Ian Bell for a quick single to cover that was never really there. England are six down with 31 overs still to come.
2:35am - WICKET! Finn lbw Martin 56; Eng 386/5 - Spin from both ends at the start of the final session – and an end to the Steven Finn Show at last! Bruce Martin has England’s hero lbw on the slog-sweep for a valiant 56 spanning almost five hours.
2:11am - TEA - Eng 382/4; Finn 56, Bell 10 - Is Finn going to bat the entire day? You certainly wouldn’t bet against it now. This has been an incredible rearguard. We still have 34 overs scheduled and England are 89 ahead.
2:05am – Finn picks up his first run for an hour and 12 minutes with a single off Southee and sees the funny side as ironic cheers come from the crowd!
1:57am - Ian Bell is Finn’s fourth partner of the day and collects a first four when cracking Wagner behind point. Remarkably, Finn has now gone more than an hour without adding to his 53, but England won’t mind at all.
1:44am - It is to Finn’s immense credit that he has remained so relaxed despite the recent departures of Trott and Pietersen. The giant nightwatchman may have exceeded all expectations today, but he is aware that there is still a job to do. It has been some time since Finn last scored a run, but he continues to dig in superbly.
1:36am - There are 43 overs remaining in the day and England, who have six second-innings wickets still in hand, lead by 74.
1:31am - WICKET! Pietersen c Watling b Wagner 12; Eng 367/4 - England have to be a little careful here. Pietersen is caught behind via an inside edge to give Wagner his third scalp.
1:28am - After his first-innings duck, Pietersen will view this as a great opportunity to spend some time in the middle ahead of the Wellington Test. He has yet to find his usual level of fluency, but has moved to 12 without any real alarm. Finn continues to resist and this must be incredibly frustrating for Brendon McCullum.
1:17am - There are plenty of catchers in place for new batsman Pietersen, which is no surprise as New Zealand have nothing to lose in this situation. Wagner serves up a loose delivery outside off and Pietersen plays aggressively through cover-point for his first boundary.
1:11am - The wicket of Trott has unsurprisingly given the hosts a lift, but there is no reason for England to panic. Alastair Cook’s side take drinks on 361 for three, leading by 68 and with overs running out for New Zealand.
1:02am - Following a maiden from Southee to Finn, Pietersen avoids the dreaded king pair by flicking a leg-side delivery from Wagner through square-leg for two.
12:55am - WICKET! Trott c & b Wagner 52; Eng 355/3 - New Zealand - and Wagner in particular - are not giving up just yet. The hard-working seamer leaps to accept a leading edge from the previously untroubled Trott. Out comes Kevin Pietersen, who is on a king pair!
12:53am - FIFTY! Finn (142b 5x4 0x6) - New Zealand have further reason to curse the benign pitch as an edge from Finn falls well short of the slips. A nick through the same region off Neil Wagner then takes Finn to his maiden first-class fifty. He has a grin on his face - and I’m sure many England fans are smiling too!
12:41am - Boult gets one to spit at Trott, who does well to keep the ball down as he defends in haste. Finn moves to 46 and then connects sweetly with a cover drive off Southee, but Hamish Rutherford’s diving stop prevents the nightwatchman from reaching 50, for now at least.
12:32am - FIFTY! Trott (78b 8x4 0x6) - This is getting a little repetitive. Trott prospers through midwicket once again to bring up a classy half-century. Over to you, Finny...
12:25am - There is yet more solid defence from Steven Finn in a probing maiden from the economical Trent Boult. Trott, aided by some pretty sloppy fielding on the boundary, picks up another four via midwicket to overtake his partner.
12:15am - Jonathan Trott continues where he left off before lunch, easing Tim Southee through his favoured midwicket region for a sixth four.
11:31pm - LUNCH - Eng 329/2; Finn 42, Trott 37 - Come on then, be honest – how many of you thought Finn would bat through the morning session?? He has done just that and will resume after lunch needing eight more for a maiden first-class fifty. With Trott in fine form and the pitch virtually lifeless, England are now well placed to save the match.
11:20pm – Trott puts a foot wrong for the first time today and is relieved to see a nick off Southee drop short of wicketkeeper BJ Watling.
11:16pm - MISSED CHANCE - It is understandable that Finn will offer the odd chance here and there. He edges Martin between Ross Taylor and Brendon McCullum, who perhaps should have done a little better when stretching out a left hand at second slip.
11:13pm - The fifty partnership arrives prior to Finn leaving a delivery from Southee that almost came back enough to clip off stump.
11:05pm - Trott was England’s top-scorer in the first innings and looks to be in superb touch. He has raced to 27 with minimal fuss and appears determined to cash in on this placid surface. Wagner gives Finn the hurry-up with a bouncer, but the nightwatchman will not be shifted!
10:54pm - New Zealand have been kept in the field for a long time now in this innings - 113 overs. That could be a problem for the hosts given the short gap between this match and the second Test in Wellington, which starts on Thursday (Wednesday evening in the UK).
10:49pm - England move into the lead and beyond 300. This is now Finn’s highest first-class score and he is showing increased ambition.
10:38pm - Careful Finny – don’t get too confident! He is almost stumped aiming a booming drive at Martin. A powerful slog-sweep later in the over adds three more to his total and he may just be starting to dream of a half-century here.
10:35pm - An increasingly assured Finn thumps Wagner through the covers for three and the next ball is clipped to the midwicket rope by Trott. England are just four behind now.
10:29pm - Finn is doing a grand job for his side and has equalled the Test-best 20 he made in the first innings. After bowling too wide to Trott on day two, New Zealand have been a little straight to him today.
10:18pm - It’s a confident start from Trott, who follows successive leg-side twos off Wagner with a straight-driven four against the spin of Martin. Drinks are taken with England 18 behind on 275 for two.
10:09pm - WICKET! Compton lbw Wagner 117; Eng 265/2 - Out of nowhere, New Zealand claim the wicket they really wanted. Compton falls over to the off side a little and is lbw to Wagner to end a wonderful innings. In comes Jonathan Trott.
10:05pm - Many of Compton’s better strokes have been through the covers and he picks up three more with a controlled drive. There is a brief moment of excitement as Wagner finds the edge of Finn’s bat, but the tailender is able to pick up four more as the ball flies to the right of the slip cordon.
10pm - Compton remains rock-solid and will surely fancy his chances of kicking on to a huge score on this track. New Zealand just cannot build any pressure at the moment.
9:50pm - Finn looks far more comfortable now, with the exception of an airy push outside off against Boult. Neil Wagner has replaced Southee and I imagine it won’t be long before we see left-arm spinner Bruce Martin for the first time today.
9:39pm - Compton is forced to call for a new bat after cracking his initial weapon. The fresh piece of willow is immediately used to good effect as a poor delivery from Southee is dispatched through square-leg.
9:34pm - Things have quietened down after those early scares for Finn, which will delight England. This ball may not swing for too much longer, so New Zealand could really do with a wicket or two sharpish if they are to revive their victory hopes.
9:22pm - Finn squirts one over point for four to reach double figures, while Compton registers his first runs of the morning with a handsome cover-driven boundary.
9:12pm - Trent Boult finds just enough swing to make life difficult for Nick Compton, before Southee once again locates Finn’s edge, with the ball flying down to the third-man fence on this occasion. This has been a good start from New Zealand and the nightwatchman survives another scare when shouldering arms. He was rapped firmly on the pad, but umpire Asad Rauf remained unmoved, with the ball not quite doing enough.
9:06pm - My mistake - that nick from Finn did just about reach Dean Brownlie, but the fielder was unable to cling on. That has to go down as a dropped chance.
9:04pm - Three slips and a gully are in place for Tim Southee as he bowls to Steven Finn. A neat push into the off side allows Finn, who made a Test-best 20 in the first innings of this game, to collect two, but he then edges just short of the slips.
8:57pm - Here we go then - the final day of the opening Test is about to begin. After reaching such a momentous landmark yesterday, can Compton press on to a ‘daddy’ hundred??
8:50pm - England’s newest Test centurion will have Steven Finn for company this morning. It would certainly represent a boost if the nightwatchman could hang around for a while. We’re not expecting any further rain, in case you were wondering.
8:40pm - Despite Compton’s dogged stand of 231 with Alastair Cook – a record opening alliance for England against New Zealand - Andy Flower’s side are certainly not out of the woods just yet. At 234 for one, they remain 59 behind and need to keep on batting for quite some time. The pitch is flat, but the Black Caps have a relatively new ball at their disposal.
8:30pm - England’s openers stuck together for almost 85 overs in Dunedin yesterday. If Nick Compton, who resumes on 102 not out, and the rest of the touring line-up can bat for a similar amount of time today, then the first Test with New Zealand will have been saved.