McCullum has England on backfoot


He promised that his team would be perpetually attacking and he has stayed true to his word. The pace has been relentless and no matter the state of play, the Kiwis have kept coming at England.

This is a pattern they have been gradually developing for more than a year, but they have taken it to a new level on this tour. It takes daring and mutual trust. There will be occasions when they fall flat on their face, but the only possible conclusion after eight days of this series so far is to wonder why someone did not think of it years ago.

By the end of the third day of the second Investec Test, which New Zealand must win to level the two-match series, they were 338 for 6 Once more, they had rattled along at 4.5 runs an over. The method is simple: they play a limited-overs style in the Test format.

It mattered not that they were 23 for 2, only that many runs to the good after the sides were dead level on first innings. They continued on their jaunty way, smiling as they went. This has been another engrossing match in a short, beguiling series. It has made you want to cuddle it.

The lead is not quite unassailable with so much time left in the match. England will have to cling to history. In 1948, Australia made 404 on the last day of the match to win, but then they had Don Bradman and were not called the Invincibles for nothing. In 2001, England made 315 for an improbable win over Australia.

They are likely to need much nearer 404 than 315 if B J Watling, the wicketkeeper brought in as a specialist batsman, can add to his excellent century. He is the first New Zealand batsman to make a hundred at Headingley. It was controlled throughout and came from 136 balls. Watling is considered one of their slow coaches.

Rather than consolidate after the stuttering start, Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor added 99 for the third wicket from 87 balls, the first 50 coming off 28. A drop at slip before Taylor was into his stride may prove to be crucial, but England keep putting them down at present. Their slip cordon looks as ragged, uncoordinated and uncertain as Her Majesty's Opposition.

That was the break the tourists needed and onward they travelled, full steam ahead. Taylor drove Mark Wood, the fastest and most dangerous of England's bowlers, to extra cover; Guptill edged a drive off a rapid delivery to slip and, in the 29th over, they were 141 for 4.

If the whole thing is a calculated risk, it also has the precious effect of disrupting opponents, whether batting or bowling. There have been occasions in this series when Alastair Cook has wondered what the heck to do - and that would also have applied to any of his predecessors. No bowler was spared, but the vulnerability of Moeen Ali as a front-line spinner is becoming an increasing concern.

Only when they had set their course did the tourists relent to try to ensure that recklessness did not prevent their building an imposing target for England. Even McCullum, or perhaps above all McCullum, recognises that discretion is the better part of valour.

First-innings scores had been level only seven times before in 2,162 Test matches. England would have been disappointed to be told that at the start of the day, which they began 97 behind with five wickets in hand; delighted after they lost three more wickets while adding only 14 more runs.

The ball swung under heavy cloud and England obliged by being timidly orthodox. First to depart was Ian Bell, who played forward to Tim Southee and edged to slip. Bell could and should have left this so early in the day, as he should at Lord's in similar circumstances last week.

It is only four matches since he made a classy hundred in Antigua, but it is beginning to seem much longer. Since then, he has scored 54 runs in seven innings, which would see the jettisoning of a less experienced player. With the Ashes looming, it is impossible to think that England would yet bring in someone relatively untried, but Bell must quickly try to rediscover his touch. Warwickshire have two Championship matches this month before the first Test against Australia starts on 8 July.

Jos Buttler soon edged another Southee away swinger to slip and when Moeen sparred at a wider one which went low to third slip, that seemed to be that. But England now decided they may as well have a go.

Marshalled by Stuart Broad, who has had an indifferent time of it lately with the bat, the last two wickets added 83 from 89 balls. It was Kiwiesque in conception and execution. Broad was ably assisted by Wood, who was cheekily unflappable. The ninth wicket put on 51, the 10th 32 as Broad scythed merrily away, looking as secure as at any time since he was struck in the face by a ball at Old Trafford last summer.

Thus encouraged, Broad quickly had Tom Latham caught behind from a careless swish and Williamson pushing too far outside off. Taylor unfurled his cover drive immediately - a worrying sign - but when he was on six and the total at 38, he drove Jimmy Anderson to third slip. Gary Ballance reacted late and allowed the ball to burst through upturned hands.

By the time Taylor was out, the damage was starting to look terminal. After that, the Kiwis kept coming. McCullum's departure for what by his standards was a positively becalmed 55 from 98 balls was due reward for Wood, who bowled with real spirit. But it was followed by Watling and Luke Ronchi adding 53 from 42. With these tourists, everything happens fast and with purpose.

England must beat their highest ever Test run chase (332) to win. The highest at Leeds was by Don Bradman's Australia side 67 years ago. – The Independent

Original source: McCullum has England on backfoot