England lost opener Zak Crawley but held firm in the final hour of a pulsating day four in the second Test against New Zealand on Monday, needing 210 runs with nine wickets in hand to secure victory and a series sweep.
England were 48 for one at stumps, with opener Ben Duckett (23 not out) and nightwatchman Ollie Robinson (one not out) surviving the tense final overs at the Basin Reserve after New Zealand captain Tim Southee bowled Crawley for 24.
England will fancy their chances of reeling in the remaining runs on day five, having chased down 277, 299 and 296 in successive Tests to whitewash New Zealand in the home summer.
Ben Stokes’s team also mowed down a record 378 to beat India in Birmingham in their inimitable ‘Bazball’ style.
“We know how we are going to go about things, we’ll be positive, entertain the crowd, we’ll be doing the same tomorrow,” said England spinner Jack Leach, who took 5-157 in New Zealand’s second innings total of 483.
Asked to follow-on by Stokes after being bowled out for 209 on day three, Southee’s side showed fighting spirit to drag themselves back into the match, with Kane Williamson producing an inspiring century.
However, the hosts will rue missing the chance to set a bigger target after being 423 for five at tea, with Williamson (132) and wicketkeeper Tom Blundell (90) well set.
The pair frustrated the English bowlers for the entire middle session and looked set to carry on.
Enter golden boy Harry Brooks, who provided the unlikely breakthrough for England when he had Williamson caught down the legside with his part-time medium pace, ending the partnership with Blundell at 158 runs.
New Zealand promptly crumbled, losing their last four wickets for five runs.
“Brooky’s very pleased with his first wicket. (It was) something different, that they weren’t expecting,” said Leach.
New Zealand all-rounder Michael Bracewell hastened the collapse by being run out for eight when he failed to ground his bat, a howling error given he had jogged well past the line when Ben Foakes whipped off the bails.
The wicket exposed the tail and paceman Southee was promptly out slogging for two.
Leach dismissed tail-ender Matt Henry for a duck and Blundell for 90, his five-wicket innings haul reward for a massive 61.3-overs shift.
It was a deflating finish for home fans who saw New Zealand’s first 400-plus total of the series, with openers Tom Latham (83) and Devon Conway (61), and all-rounder Daryl Mitchell (54) having fought hard for their runs.
If tired after a long day in the field, Crawley and Duckett showed no sign of it as they smashed seven boundaries between them to take a chunk out of the chase.
Having won the series-opener in Mount Maunganui by 267 runs, England need only draw the match to seal their first Test series in New Zealand since 2008.
New Zealand’s bowlers will hope for early wickets and more help from the pitch despite its traditional resilience.
The Black Caps are looking to record only the fourth win by a team asked to follow-on in the history of Test cricket.
“It’d be pretty special, for sure,” Williamson told reporters.
“There’s still some assistance there (in the wicket) and some assistance for the slow bowlers. All to play for, which is exciting.”