Top matches of 2013 - 4: England's great Eden escape

By Steven Holloway

Matt Prior of England blocks a ball from Kane Williamson of New Zealand during day five of the Third Test match between New Zealand and England. Photo / Getty Images.
Matt Prior of England blocks a ball from Kane Williamson of New Zealand during day five of the Third Test match between New Zealand and England. Photo / Getty Images.

The stunning, spectacular and the sentimental, nzherald.co.nz lists the top ten sporting matches of 2013.

Third test, Eden Park - Draw

After fifteen full sessions of cricket over five days, the result of the third test between the Black Caps and England at Eden Park all hinged on the final delivery.

In a thrilling advert for the virtues of test cricket, England's last pair of Monty Panesar and Matt Prior somehow clung on to negotiate the final 19 balls of the game to earn a draw in one of the most exciting finishes in test history.

There were several occasions on a wonderfully absorbing final day when it appeared New Zealand's victory was inevitable. England started the day 391 runs shy of the winning target with six wickets in hand and lost Joe Root and Jonny Bairstow either side of lunch then Ian Bell the over before tea.

New Zealand were on the brink of just their second home series victory over England - the first was in 1983-84 - and their first test series victory over any top eight opposition since they defeated West Indies in 2006.

Top matches of 2013
5: All Blacks sneak past Ireland
6: Magpies finally win Shield again
7: Drawn in the USA! Ferns make history
8: Bayern knock Barca off their perch
9: Great Scott! Aussie wins Masters
10: Murray wins Wimbledon

But then the tide turned. Key moments came and went. Referrals for lbw, French cuts, ball hitting wickets but not dislodging bails, all manner of twists. Stuart Broad came to the crease and didn't score a run for 50 balls.

Kane Williamson gave the contest a late, lusty shake, whisking away Broad and James Anderson in three balls. Three overs to remove Panesar proved not enough, although Panesar's frantic too-early dive and scramble to avoid a run out tossed in a final head-in-hands moment.

But in a gripping finale, down to the final ball, England hung on, finishing on 315 for nine, wicketkeeper Prior the rock on 110 and Panesar on two, having survived by, various means, five balls. Slow torture for those who had come full of expectation of a home victory.

England's batsmen had their luck, but that needs to be set alongside the skill and perseverance of Prior, Bell, Joe Root and Broad. It was England's day, but test cricket doesn't get any better, or closer.

Andrew Alderson - Herald on Sunday
My abiding memory was the 143rd and last over of England's second innings. London's West End would struggle to produce better drama as No.11 Monty Panesar faced the first three balls, before pushing a single and getting Matt Prior to complete the job, as part of his stoic century. Two late catches from Ross Taylor from the bowling of Kane Williamson saw the visitors slump to 304 for nine. Panesar and Prior survived the final 3.1 overs.

It was as if the playing field had a magnifying glass on it. Attrition reigned.
For the purist it was the perfect finish. For a journalist it was a nightmare - sorry, challenge - with an online deadline looming and twin scenarios written on the laptop screen. But seriously, those are the times you secretly love. Great sport over five days with two possible scenarios until the end - riveting. The Eden Park media box hummed, blending the cacophony of keyboards with nervous chatter between balls.

The individual highlight was Peter Fulton becoming the fourth New Zealander to score two centuries in a test and interviewing his parents Wendy and Gordon who'd flown up to watch from Swannanoa (about half an hour southwest of Rangiora). He could have been on the receiving end of a stern chat from Mum because, when his parents walked into the ground just after 11 o'clock on the fourth day, he whipped a ball in the air to mid-wicket and was dropped by James Anderson.

The fight of Prior and Stuart Broad shone on the final day with their eighth-wicket partnership. They buckled into the crease at the start of the final session with the score 237 for seven, intent on batting the hosts out of the game.

They batted together for 137 minutes. Broad completed 103 minutes without scoring, breaking Geoff Allott's 14-year-old record by two minutes.

New Zealand failed to take 20 wickets for a fifth consecutive test but there was no lack of heart trying.

Disappointment was melded with the pride of turning the turmoil riddling the team in South Africa into cohesion at home.

Paul Newman - Mail Online
This would have been far more of a scalp for Brendon McCullum and his team because it would have been so unexpected. When England defeated India before Christmas it had seemed that the inconsistency which has afflicted them for much of the last year had been consigned to the past.

Few people outside New Zealand expected anything other than a convincing England victory here not least because the Black Caps themselves were at a similarly low ebb now as England were in 1999.

Yet there will surely not be a single fan here - and it was a great shame that more of them were not in Eden Park today to see it - who will not laud McCullum as a modern New Zealand sporting hero after this. Even though England held out this 0-0 series draw this was absolutely the hosts' series

Jonathan Agnew - BBC sport.
At the close of play on the fourth day, I said England needed a miracle to salvage the series - and that is exactly what they pulled off.

Batting out the final day at Eden Park to secure a draw ranks alongside Michael Atherton's wonderful unbeaten 185 in South Africa in 1995 and Colin Cowdrey playing with a broken arm to fend off Wes Hall and West Indies in 1963.

Only Test cricket can provide these wonderful finishes, which is why it is the purest form of the sport and why it needs to be preserved and cherished.

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