From Wellington 1978 to Lord’s 2015, we pick some of the most memorable England vs New Zealand encounters
England versus New Zealand has produced a quietly intense rivalry down the years, from the contrasting heroics of Richard Hadlee and Danny Morrison to Mike Atherton’s defiance, Nasser Hussain getting booed at The Oval, and a classic encounter at Lord’s. Here we pick out some of the most memorable Test encounters between the two nations.
England had won 20 and drawn the rest of their 42 previous encounters with New Zealand going into the 1973 series, so when they rolled their opponents for 97 in the first innings at Trent Bridge, it seemed like business as usual. But then, without warning, the worm began to turn. Despite being hit in the face by a John Snow bouncer, New Zealand’s captain Bev Congdon endured for 377 balls and the best part of seven hours, grinding his way towards a target of 479 so ethereal it felt like “climbing Mount Everest without thinking you’ll need more oxygen”. He was finally prised out by Geoff Arnold for a career-best 176, but Vic Pollard joined forces with the wicketkeeper Ken Wadsworth, whose intermittent swings for the fences encouraged New Zealand’s belief that glory was within their grasp. They carried the chase past the 400 mark, but then dared to look at the scoreboard and lost their footing. The last five wickets tumbled for 38, a figure that matched their eventual margin of defeat. A fortnight later, New Zealand came agonisingly close once again, Congdon making 175 this time, only for Keith Fletcher’s rearguard 178 to spare England’s blushes at Lord’s. Order was restored with an innings win in the third Test at Headingley, but New Zealand had dropped a hint that that elusive win was not far off.
That 1973 near-miss had featured a tearaway fast bowler who returned figures of 1 for 143 in his maiden overseas Test. But five years later, Richard Hadlee was a very different beast – a lithe, whippy, channelled operator with effortless pace and a despotic command of seam and swing. His first-innings figures of 4 for 74 eked out a 13-run lead in a low-scoring tussle, and as John Wright and Geoff Howarth dragged that advantage towards three figures with just one wicket down, the Wellington crowd dared to think the unthinkable. Cue an England fightback that ought to have been decisive. Bob Willis harnessed a wind that had swirled all match long to wreck the innings with figures of 5 for 32, as New Zealand lost their nine remaining wickets for 41. On an increasingly uneven surface, however, Richard Collinge made a target of 137 look improbably daunting as he reduced England to 18 for 3, his scalps including the crucial road-block of Geoff Boycott, England’s new and soon-to-be-deposed captain, for 1. Brian Rose then retired hurt with a bruised forearm, whereupon Hadlee rounded up the stragglers with 6 for 26, and match figures of 10 for 100. England had been rolled aside for 64, and after 48 years, and at the 48th time of asking, New Zealand had secured their maiden victory over the Mother Country.
Rumours and innuendo stalked England’s tour of New Zealand in 1983-84, which in a previous era might have been far enough out of sight to be out of mind to the wider British public. But with Ian Botham approaching his mid-1980s zenith of tabloid notoriety, the squad’s burgeoning tendency to generate newspaper headlines meant they were pursued even to the land of the Long White Cloud – a cloud, on this occasion, that was widely reported to include a puff of cannabis smoke. Whatever their off-field recreations, the effect on England’s batting in the Christchurch Test was catatonic. “An exhibition that would have shamed a side in the lower reaches of the County Championship,” harrumphed a nonplussed Wisden, as Hadlee, that man again, claimed match figures of 8 for 44 to rout England for 82 and 93 in consecutive innings. His most telling contribution on this occasion, however, came with the bat – a blistering innings of 99 from 81 balls in New Zealand’s only innings that left the debutant Surrey seamer Tony Pigott wondering exactly why he’d agreed to postpone his wedding to shore up England’s bowling stocks.
Plenty has been written about the one that got away on England’s 1996-97 campaign – the first Test at Auckland, where New Zealand’s No. 11 Danny Morrison belied his world-record haul of 24 ducks to dig in for 133 balls in the final two sessions to guide his side to a scarcely credible draw. The best contest by far, however, was the third Test at Christchurch – a personal triumph for England’s besieged captain Mike Atherton, who had faced calls for his resignation after a miserable first leg of the winter in Zimbabwe, but whose match tally of 212 runs for once out put a very personal seal on a 2-0 series win. Atherton’s first task was a familiar one: rescue England’s batting from a habitual malfunction, after New Zealand had posed a handy but hardly decisive 346. He duly carried his bat for an unbeaten 94, limiting the deficit to 118, and was soon back at the crease for the run-chase after Phil Tufnell and Darren Gough had combined to limit England’s target to a tantalising 305. Throughout the final day, all four results were distinctly possible, as New Zealand’s teenaged spinner Dan Vettori bowled with precocious discipline to finish with 4 for 97 in 57 overs. He was too young even for Harry Potter jibes (the first book would not be published for another four months), but at 231 for 6, with Atherton finally extracted for 118, he seemed odds-on to deliver a share of the series in only his second Test. John Crawley, however, found typically indomitable support from Dominic Cork at No. 8, as their unbeaten 76-run stand sealed England’s first overseas series win for five years.
The final summer of the 1990s, and the final fiasco from an England team that was about to reach rock-bottom after a decade in which they’d been pummelled by allcomers without ever quite facing up to their structural inadequacies. Intermittent triumphs – a Barbados win here, a Melbourne win there – had masked the team’s overall woefulness, and something similar seemed to be on the cards after the first Test at Edgbaston, when nightwatchman Alex Tudor blasted a matchwinning 99 not out to gloss over the fact that England had been 45 for 7 in their first innings. By the fourth Test at The Oval, however, all the pretence was done. England really were the worst Test team in the world, as a disgruntled crowd confirming by booing the new captain Nasser Hussain during the post-match presentations. The iconic aspect of their 83-run loss was the selection of surely the most inept tail in Test history – a nine, then, Jack of Alan Mullally, Phil Tufnell and Ed Giddins was bad enough even without Ronnie Irani as a not-very-pivotal No. 7. But the decisive aspect was the flourish of a genuine Test allrounder in New Zealand’s ranks. Faced with a collapse to 39 for 6 on the third afternoon and the potential for another fourth-innings scalping, Chris Cairns crashed onto the offensive, slamming eight fours and four sixes in a 93-ball 80. He had set his side up with 5 for 31 in England’s first dig; and now their target of 246 was simply too daunting. Mike Atherton, as so often, held the line for a three-and-a-half-hour 64, but as soon as he was extracted, the last seven wickets tumbled in eight overs.
Drop-in pitches have had a bad rap in recent times – blame the MCG’s despicably dull surfaces for that. But no one could quibble with the entertainment on offer at Christchurch in March 2002, lopsided though it may have been, when the Lancaster Park authorities popped a fresh green sod of grass in the middle of their rugby stadium and left England and New Zealand to squabble for four extraordinary days. Days one and two were as wild as a white-water ride – England were 0 for 2 after five balls and looking par for the course, yet chiselled an 81-run lead thanks to Nasser Hussain’s mind-over-matter 106, and a howling display of swing bowling from the greenhorn Matthew Hoggard, who racked up a then-best of 7 for 63. But then, overnight, the grass died, the mud dried, and the contest became a two-innings turkey shoot. Graham Thorpe cracked 200 not out from 231 balls, which seemed fairly brisk in the circumstances, as he and Andrew Flintoff set a target of 550. Cue Nathan Astle, and the most preposterous day’s tonking ever witnessed in Test history. His 222 from 168 balls went into overdrive as England claimed the new ball with New Zealand seemingly done at 302 for 8. Flintoff and Hoggard were clubbed for six fours in nine balls, each of them a golf swing through the line, but his most murderous blows were reserved for Andrew Caddick, who at one stage was clattered for five sixes and three fours in eight legal deliveries. Cairns, at No. 11 due to injury, was the ideal sidekick as England’s anxieties reached fever-pitch. But then, just as the requirement dipped below 100, Hoggard lured one wipe too many, and that was the end of that.
Peter Moores’ twin stints as England coach both ended in ignominy, but his reputation for bringing out the best in young players was eternally vindicated at Wellington in 2008, with his backing of two men who may yet find themselves sharing the stage at Lord’s this week for the 122nd time. Three years on from the 2005 Ashes, the time was ripe for new England heroes, though it took a spineless defeat in the series opener at Hamilton to prove it. While their batting was ultimately to blame as they slumped to 110 all out in the second innings, the vacant displays of Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard were the most troubling aspects, especially given that Ryan Sidebottom had carried the fight single-handedly with 10 wickets in the match including a hat-trick. So Moores bit the bullet, and pushed both men to the margins. In their places, came James Anderson – an England cricketer for five years already but never yet trusted to be the attack leader – and Stuart Broad, whose beanpole seam had been limited to a solitary Test on a Colombo featherbed before Christmas. The pair gelled from the outset – Anderson claiming five first-innings wickets to set up the series-leveller, as Broad slotted into an unlikely enforcer’s role, pushing New Zealand on to the back foot in a series of aggressive displays that had Michael Vaughan hailing him as the “most intelligent bowler I’ve ever worked with”. The series was sealed with another doughty display in Napier, as the framework for England’s Test revival was hoisted into place.
Quite possibly one of the finest England team performances of all time, and unquestionably one of the most timely. The roar of acclaim as Moeen Ali snaffled the catch at third man to deliver a 124-run victory on the fifth afternoon was like nothing that England had heard for months. It marked the team’s emergence from an 18-month slump, encompassing the 2013-14 Ashes debacle and the subsequent sacking of Kevin Pietersen, and culminating at the disastrous 2015 World Cup campaign, in which New Zealand’s crushing victory at Wellington had been the unquestionable nadir. The need to reconnect with the English public was overwhelming, but it seemed unlikely to happen at the first time of asking as England slumped to 30 for 4 on the opening morning. In response, New Zealand were at one stage 403 for 3 in reply. But in between whiles, something extraordinary stirred within the England dressing room. Ben Stokes followed up his first-innings 92 by slamming an 85-ball century in the second – the fastest at Lord’s in Test history – and while Joe Root twice missed out on three figures, his twin innings of 98 and 84 reaffirmed his status as England’s coming man. And then, in response to a deficit of 134, there was the captain, Alastair Cook, chugging along to a magnificent, unflustered, nine-hour 162, keeping the beat while his young guns riffed around him. Stokes sealed the turnaround with three key wickets on a pulsating final day, as news of the impending appointment of Trevor Bayliss as head coach confirmed the sense that this was the start of a new chapter for English cricket – one that would culminate, four years later, on the very same ground against the very same opponents.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket