Prior stars in nail-biter

Fast bowler Stuart Broad (left) embraces Matt Prior after his epic match-saving century.
Fast bowler Stuart Broad (left) embraces Matt Prior after his epic match-saving century.

AUCKLAND – A sensational century from Matt Prior and dogged resistance from Ian Bell and Stuart Broad helped England save the third and final Test in Auckland today.

England had started the day on the back foot – with New Zealand needing just six wickets to win and claim a 1-0 series victory.

However Prior finished with an unbeaten 110, while Bell’s brave 75 and a defiant six off 77 deliveries from Broad saw England to 315-9 and left New Zealand cursing their luck.

It was a day of high drama at Eden Park, with dropped catches, injuries, overturned decisions, a ball that hit the stumps only for the bails to remain in place and some dogged resistance.

Having resumed on 90-4, Bell and Joe Root had batted beautifully for the majority of the morning session to give England hope.

However the game looked to turn with the introduction of the new ball – Trent Boult trapping Root (29) leg before with the first delivery.

Bell and Jonny Bairstow were both dropped during a tricky spell before the lunch interval as New Zealand attempted to turn the screw.

Bairstow, who was put down at gully by Kane Williamson, failed to make the most of his lifeline, though, as he was caught by Ross Taylor off Tim Southee for six.

Bell and Prior then combined to frustrate the hosts, but the partnership wasn’t without drama. Prior firstly successfully reviewed a leg before decision while luck was truly on the wicketkeeper’s side as a bouncer from Neil Wagner cannoned off the handle of his bat and helmet and into the stumps, but the bails remained intact.

Bell, who had earlier been dropped at slip by Dean Brownlie when on 40, then survived a tricky period against Williamson.

However New Zealand got the crucial wicket of Bell on the stroke of tea, with Wagner finding the edge and Southee taking the catch. Bell had batted for 353 minutes and faced 271 balls for his 75.

Prior brought up his half-century off 75 to keep England in the game and he continued to play his shots. Broad at the other end had looked incredibly nervous and he needed a review to save him after he was initially given out leg before.

He dug in brilliantly, though, to provide the perfect cameo to Prior. He took 62 deliveries and a record 103 minutes to finally get off the mark.

Prior had no such issues scoring as he clubbed the ball away to bring up his ton – the milestone coming off 148 balls – although he needed treatment on elbow shortly after to add to the tension.

New Zealand threw everything at England in the final overs and they set up a nail-biting finale when Williamson removed Broad with 21 balls to go and then James Anderson two deliveries later – Ross Taylor taking both catches,

Somehow Prior and Monty Panesar managed to see out the final three overs – although the spinner was almost run out as he tried to pass on the strike. (Sky)

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