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England face series defeat in New Zealand

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England were staring at defeat in the final Test in Auckland. Heading into the final day, they needed an unlikely amount of heroics to avoid losing the match and the series. After their brief spell at the top of the rankings in 2012, England are now looking worryingly out of form ahead of an Ashes summer.

New Zealand built up an unassailable lead in their second innings, leaving England with the grim task of having to bat defensively for a day and a half to save the match. England have the obdurate batsmen capable of the task, but they didn’t seem to have the concentration to resist New Zealand bowlers who were performing at their best.

Captain Alastair Cook, fellow opener Nick Compton, Jonathan Trott and Steve Finn all lost their wickets to a combination of carelessness and brilliant New Zealand fielding, leaving Ian Bell and Joe Root to face the onslaught on the final day. Only a miracle of resistance or a freak weather intervention could save England’s cause.

In hindsight, Cook’s decision to put New Zealand in to bat at the start of the match looks like a mistake, but most of the credit must go to the spirited performance by the hosts. England batting coach Graham Gooch said the series had been a wake-up call. "I think it’s a great reality check that you can’t take any team lightly, and you can’t play people on what it says in the rankings or what it says on a piece of paper."

Series against New Zealand away and at home were supposed to be the ideal warm-up for the Ashes, but now it seems as if England will be fighting to restore a little dignity in the return series against the Kiwis in England in May. The one consolation to England might be that Australia are in even worse shape. India completed a 4-0 whitewash of the Aussies in their Test series.

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