Steve Finn claimed six dismissals, Matt Prior took five catches and New Zealand snapped up the wickets of Alastair Cook and Jonathan Trott before stumps Saturday as fortunes in the deciding match of the three-test cricket series swayed wildly on its second day.
Finn (6-125) ran through the New Zealand lower order, capturing the last four wickets to complete his third five-wicket test haul as England bowled out the hosts for 443 after they resumed their first innings at 250-1.
In reply, Cook was out for 4 and Trott for 27 - both falling to Trent Boult - before England reached stumps at 50-2 with Nick Compton on 12 and Ian Bell 6 not out.
The first two tests of the three-test series were drawn.
“We’ve got the runs on the board now and taking two (wickets) tonight was quite crucial in this match so we’ve got to look to kick on tomorrow,” Watling said.
“We’re disappointed to not hit the 500 mark, but 443 is a reasonable total and we’re happy with the day today.”
Finn’s victims Saturday included Peter Fulton who top-scored with 136 after completing his maiden test century at the age of 34 on the first day.
James Anderson contributed the wickets of Kane Williamson for 91 and Dean Brownlie for 36 to finish with 2-79 and move within three wickets of becoming the fourth Englishman after Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Fred Trueman to take 300 test wickets.
A much-improved England bowling performance, to which left-arm spinner Monty Panesar and part-time medium pacer Jonathan Trott were also contributors, allowed England to slightly ease New Zealand’s grip on the match after it had resumed only one wicket down after being sent in to bat Friday.
The formidable position New Zealand seemed likely to build from that starting point Saturday began to erode it when it lost three wickets, including Fulton and Williamson and added only 62 runs before lunch.
England then removed the potential threats of Brendon McCullum for 38 and Brownlie for 36 after lunch, leaving New Zealand at 373-6 and with its last recognised batsman – wicketkeeper B.J. Watling – at the crease.
Tim Southee then played an unexpected cameo, blasting 44 from 33 balls in a 51-run partnership with Watling which boosted New Zealand to 424-7 and took some steam from England’s fightback.
Finn then wrestled some of the initiative back England’s way when he quickly removed Southee, Watling (21), Bruce Martin (10) and Trent Boult for a first-ball duck to end the New Zealand’s innings 55 minutes after tea and after 152.3 overs of which Panesar bowled 47.
A day of twists continued when Cook, who scored his first test century against New Zealand in the first test at Dunedin – completing a full house of centuries against all major test-playing nations — was out for 4 in the third over of the England innings.
Apart from his 24th test century in the second innings of the drawn first test, Cook has had scores of 10, 17 and four, falling away from the form which has seen him average more than 60 over the last three years and almost 80 as England captain.
Cook was caught down the leg-side by Watling off the bowling of Boult when England was only 8, providing another of the twists or dramatic changes of momentum that featured throughout the second day.
Trott was then trapped lbw by Boult for 27 when England was 44. He referred the decision to the third umpire, but there was no question the ball that pitched on middle and leg and straightened was going to carry off his leg stump.
New Zealand had first seen its ascendant overnight position winnowed down by England in the opening session as Williamson was caught by Prior off Anderson for 91 and Fulton fell to Finn to a brilliant catch by Prior down the leg side. Fulton and Williamson’s 181-run partnership was a New Zealand record for the second wicket against England.
Prior also took catches to dismiss McCullum, Watling and Southee.
Williamson was Anderson’s 296th test victim and Brownlie his 297th. He has the chance later in the test to join England’s small but elite 300 wickets club: Botham with 383, Willis with 325 — both of whom are in New Zealand on commentary duty — and Trueman on 307.
Panesar’s bowling performance on Saturday was also deserving of praise. He took only two wickets in the first two tests while his New Zealand opposite Bruce Martin took nine in the same matches of his debut series. But Panesar bowled much more effectively on second day, lofting the ball more, trying more variations and finishing with 1-123 from his 47 overs.