This article was first published by the Herald on March 18, 2002.

By Richard Boock in Christchurch

It was a measure of the carnage wrought that Nasser Hussain was moved to praise his side afterwards for not crumbling under the pressure.

The England captain might have just won the first test by what, in 30 years or so, will look like a comfortable 98 runs, but the way Nathan Astle was batting, five or six more overs might have been enough for the New Zealanders.

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In a loss which, for New Zealanders, ranks only behind the heart-wrenching scenes at Ellis Park in 1953-54 and the failed run-chase at Trent Bridge in 1973, Astle's record-breaking innings of 222 will be remembered long after the sun has set on this season, not least by the England bowlers.

The man who dropped the catch which allowed Graham Thorpe to strike an unbeaten double-century in England's second innings attempted to atone for the error on Saturday by launching the most destructive innings in the history of the game, eventually bringing his side to within sight of what had been a pie-in-the-sky winning total of 550.

Having shared in a record-breaking 10th-wicket partnership of 118 with Chris Cairns, Astle was finally dismissed with the total at 451, having scored the fastest-double century in terms of deliveries faced, and after almost exhausting the Canterbury Cricket Association's supply of replacement balls.

That England would win this test never seemed in doubt after they batted so well in the second innings and then reduced New Zealand to 333 for nine on Saturday afternoon, after some searching seam bowling from Andy Caddick.

But Astle, who teamed up with Danny Morrison to hold off England in a match-saving last-wicket partnership five years ago in Christchurch, had the Barmy Army agape and the hacks rewriting their stories as he played one of the greatest innings in test history.

For 60 or so minutes it was virtually raining cricket balls inside and outside Jade Stadium, and it would have been no surprise to learn that the grandstands had been designated hard-hat areas and that light aircraft had been warned away.

Arriving with New Zealand in trouble at 119 for three, Astle brought up his eighth test century off a comparatively pedestrian 114 balls before launching a stunning assault, picking up his next 122 runs off just 54 balls.

Striking with huge power down the ground and with exquisite timing square of the wicket, he progressed from 100 to 200 in a scarcely believable 39 balls, and by the time he was dismissed, sparking fevered celebrations from the English, he had hit 11 sixes, 28 fours and had lost two balls in an astonishing 168-ball innings.

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Astle, who also brought up his 3000th test run, took particular pleasure in Matthew Hoggard's bowling, smashing the first-innings destroyer for 41 runs off his first two overs with the new ball and for 62 runs off the 3.3 overs he delivered between tea and the close.

The Yorkshire paceman might have been delighted with his seven-wicket haul on Thursday, but he may never be happier to take one for 142 off 24.3 overs.

Having just been dismissed for another six, he had Astle edging a wide, slower ball to wicketkeeper James Foster to end one of the more remarkable tests in the 94th over with more than a day to spare.

"For us to win a game when the wicket just got better and better ... just shows we have a bit of character about us," Hussain said afterwards.

"We happened to win a test match by nearly 100 runs at the end of it, and that's how it will look in a few years' time - but that was a magnificent test match."

It was also a game of bizarre contradictions, given that England won after losing their first two wickets of the test without a run on the board, that by far the quickest double-century in 125 years of test cricket was not enough for victory, and not even enough for the man-of-the-match award - which went to first-innings double-centurion Thorpe.

For Astle, there was at least one record he was unable to break and that was the fastest 200 in terms of time, although he did manage to come within three minutes of creating more history.

The only player to score a faster double-century was Sir Donald Bradman.