AUCKLAND, March 26 (Reuters) - New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum shrugged his shoulders and tutted slightly as he sat down to face the media after the final day of the test series against England on Tuesday.
McCullum’s under-rated side had come within one wicket of upsetting the world’s second-ranked test team to claim the series 1-0 after the first two matches in Dunedin and Wellington ended in rain-affected draws.
New Zealand had England on the ropes when play began at Eden Park on Tuesday, the visitors were on 90 for four and had no chance of scoring 481 to win the match.
By the close, the tourists had reached 315-9 with Matt Prior scoring a match-saving century, while Ian Bell had lasted almost six hours for a patient 75 and Stuart Broad had defiantly taken 102 minutes to get off the mark before he fell for six.
Monty Panesar lasted 20 minutes but faced just five of the final 19 balls for his two runs, to defy New Zealand and end their hopes of securing their first series victory over England since 1999.
“It is heartbreaking, obviously,” McCullum told reporters.
”We played some brilliant cricket throughout the series but especially in this test match, and dictated terms from day one and we gave it every chance to force the result.
“We came up against a defiant English team who were hell-bent on ensuring they didn’t lose the test match for their country and unfortunately we weren’t able to penetrate to get that one more wicket.”
While New Zealand had dictated much of the play throughout the test, luck appeared to run with England on the final day.
Two catches, one off Bell, went down in the same over shortly before lunch. Prior then had a pull shot fall just out of Neil Wagner’s reach after the interval.
Wagner then hit Prior in the helmet and the ball dropped down the face of the stumps, bounced and spun back and nestled at the foot of the wicket but failed to dislodge the bails.
Prior and Broad were also given out lbw, only to have the decision reviewed and the on-field decision overturned.
“I think Matty’s living pretty clean,” McCullum said with a smile of the delivery that bounced onto Prior’s stumps.
”There were lots of twists and turns and half chances and little things you’ll look back on and think if only.
”It all added to the drama and take nothing away from the way that Matt played, it was an incredible innings under severe pressure and he stood up and showed why he’s the player that he is.
“(But) I‘m forever an optimist. I thought even right up to that last ball that we were still going to win.” (Editing by John O‘Brien)