GRAEME Swann spun England within touching distance of a 2-0 series win on day four of the second Investec Test against New Zealand, but all eyes will be on the weather forecast.
Swann claimed four wickets as the Black Caps slipped to 158 for six in the fourth innings, 310 short of an unfeasible winning target. Bad light at Headingley forced the players off before further inroads were possible and only bad weather can realistically prevent a home win.
Captain Alastair Cook had earlier scored 130, his 25th Test century, but he will be sweating over forecasts after he delayed England’s declaration until their lead was a conservative 468.
Jonathan Trott made 76 in England’s eventual 287 for five, while Ross Taylor fought hard with 70 classy runs for New Zealand before becoming Swann’s final victim of the day.
England began the morning on 116 for one, with Cook on 88 and Trott on 11 – the latter having entirely stagnated on the third evening. But with quick runs the order of the day and Trent Boult off with a side strain, it was clear that would not continue.
A total of 41 runs were added in the first ten overs, during which time Cook brought up an effortless century with a driven four off Tim Southee.
The 100 partnership and Trott’s half-century followed before Kane Williamson gave New Zealand something to cheer.
After 190 balls and 18 boundaries Cook was gone for 130, lobbing a catch to mid-off.
Ian Bell came and went cheaply attempting to attack Williamson, leaving Joe Root and then Jonny Bairstow to provide the entertainment alongside Trott.
Root (28) struck four boundaries, including an impudent reverse sweep off Neil Wagner, while Bairstow (26no) managed two fours and a six.
Trott went for 76 immediately after lunch and, having added 171 to the overnight total, Cook eventually declared.
With the possibility of heavy rain on day five, England wanted to draw blood early and Peter Fulton duly departed in the eighth over. Stuart Broad generated some extra bounce that surprised Fulton, struck the top of the bat and provided Bell with a simple catch at gully.
Hamish Rutherford was proving more durable, with Williamson also setting himself for defence.
After 12 overs with the new ball, Cook turned to the spin of Swann, who immediately found some grip. It took him nine balls to strike, Williamson given lbw on the front foot. He referred the decision upstairs but was on his way when technology suggested the ball was clipping leg stump. Moments earlier Rutherford had moved to 26 with a crisp driven four off Steven Finn. He compiled 42 before becoming Swann’s next victim, offering a simple bat-pad catch to Root at short leg.
After the break, Taylor played Swann with greater intent than his team-mates and got his reward with a series of boundaries.
Taylor did the bulk of the scoring as he and Dean Brownlie steered the total into three figures, successfully subduing Swann in the process. Bad light briefly forced England to use spin at both ends, Root joining Swann from the Rugby Stand End, but Finn was back into the attack as soon as it brightened up.
His first delivery reversed into Taylor’s front pad and England were sure they had their man lbw for 47. Umpire Marais Erasmus turned down the initial appeal and the evidence on review was not strong enough to over-rule that call. Taylor celebrated by bringing up a half-century in 78 balls but he was not having it all his own way.
Shortly after 5.30pm Finn thudded a short ball into Taylor’s shoulder and he was given caught behind off Swann. There was no reprieve for Brownlie when Finn served up a bouncer that the batsman gloved to gully, ending a stand of 79.
Swann had Martin Guptill caught at slip for three, edging one that went straight on, and three balls later he added the key wicket of Taylor. This time a fuller delivery flew under the bat and spun into off stump, taking the tourists’ best hope with it.