AUCKLAND: A defiant, unbeaten century by Matt Prior saw England snatch an unlikely draw in a dramatic end to the third Test Tuesday and deny a fired-up New Zealand an historic series victory by one wicket.
England were holding on by a thread at the close as Prior sought to shield last man Monty Panesar from the bowling for the last three overs in a cliffhanger finish to the Test and the series.
At the close, Prior was unbeaten on 110, his seventh Test century, and England were 315 for nine.
A despondent New Zealand were left ruing two regulation catches that were dropped in the final over before lunch, as well as an incident when the ball hit Prior's stumps but failed to dislodge the bails.
New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum admitted to “mixed emotions”.
“We came up against some of the best players in the world at the moment and they were hell bent that they weren't going to lose the Test match. We gave it everything but we came up just short,” he said.
England skipper Alastair Cook conceded his side were morally beaten.
“There's a huge amount of relief, we've had to fight over these five days,” he said.
“New Zealand have outplayed us in this game, but I can be very proud of the English guys led by Matt Prior and Ian Bell. The never-say-die attitude and that fight you need in Test cricket, we showed a lot of that.”
All three Tests ended in draws, denying New Zealand the chance of a rare series win over England. They have only won three of 32 series against the English and the last was in England in 1999.
New Zealand, with innings of 443 and 241 for six declared, batted England out of the Test and the tourists were never serious about chasing their 481-run second innings target.
Instead they faced a battle for survival and when they resumed the final day at 90 for four, the odds were heavily in New Zealand's favour.
At lunch, the Test still belonged to New Zealand with England at 158 for five and Joe Root gone for 29.
But there were signs of luck going England's way with Bell and Jonny Bairstow both surviving catch opportunities when New Zealand took the second new ball just before lunch.
Bairstow was gone for six soon after play resumed but Bell made the most of his luck as he and Prior put on 78, before he was removed in the last over before tea to leave England on 237 for seven.
Wicketkeeper-batsman Prior fought on despite two appeals for caught behind that went to review. On 20 he was dropped by Neil Wagner and on 28 the ball deflected off his helmet and on to the stumps, but the bails stayed on.
He marched towards his seventh Test century after tea and was joined by a record low-scoring Stuart Broad who blocked and shouldered for 61 deliveries and 102 minutes before finally getting off the mark.
His scoreless reign beat the previous record of 101 minutes without scoring set by New Zealand fast bowler Geoff Allott against South Africa 14 years ago.
With a possible victory slipping away, McCullum again turned to part-time spinner Kane Williamson who had removed Alastair Cook and nightwatchman Steven Finn the previous day.
Again Williamson delivered.
In the space of three deliveries he had Broad and James Anderson caught at first slip by Ross Taylor, and England found themselves nine down with only Panesar left to support Prior and 19 balls remaining.
Prior was able to protect Panesar from all but five deliveries which the England spinner somehow was able to keep out.