The Tim and Trent show stole the early headlines at Eden Park, but for New Zealand coach Mike Hesson there was huge satisfaction in his side showing they are an attack for a variety of conditions as they put in the “grind” to bowl England out a second time and secure an innings victory.
There were still four wickets shared by Southee and Boult in England’s second innings but the other six went to Neil Wagner and Todd Astle. For Wagner it was just another example of his match-seizing capability when the going gets tough, but for Astle his 3 for 39 was his first significant intervention in Test cricket five-and-a-half years after making his debut.
“I think we’ve got first-innings bowlers and second-innings bowlers which is what you need,” Hesson said. “Neil Wagner is testament to that and I thought Todd Astle did a great job.”
“The balance of the attack allows Neil to play that role, particularly in the second innings. When not a lot is happening he can make things happen. It was such a good surface we needed something special and Neil provided that again.”
In just his third Test, and having waited until the 69th over for his first bowl, Astle dragged a few down in his first spell – although it didn’t stop him picking up Jonny Bairstow at midwicket – but in the evening session produced a teasing display where his googly caused a number of problems. He trapped Craig Overton lbw before claiming the final wicket when James Anderson spooned to mid-off.
A couple of days earlier, fellow legspinner Ish Sodhi had claimed a career-best 7 for 30 in the Plunket Shield and there were a few murmurings about why he had not been preferred to Astle. Partly, New Zealand will have wanted to cover for the loss of an allrounder in Mitchell Santner but Hesson said Astle’s position in the side was no less than he deserved.
“A lot of the selection debate comes from people who don’t watch first-class cricket,” Hesson said. “Todd has been amazing in first-class cricket for three or four years and is a fine bowler. He probably just hasn’t got the opportunities that he’s earned over time because we’ve had Dan Vettori and Mitchell Santner in that role. Todd has good variation, he brings the stumps into play. We thought the lbw and bowled would be crucial.”
Victory in Auckland has put New Zealand on the brink of just their fourth series win over England heading into the final match of their season in Christchurch as the format switches back to the red ball. There have been results in all four Tests at the ground with New Zealand winning three and there will be no thoughts of playing it safe.
“This is a huge opportunity, you don’t go in thinking about drawing,” Hesson said. “It’s been a big series, we’ve been planning for the last six months and need to make sure we use the next few days wisely.”