Despite Kane Williamson’s best efforts, the Blackcaps are staring at defeat and a series sweep against England heading into the final day at the Basin Reserve.
On a day that already saw him pass Ross Taylor’s tally for the most test runs by a New Zealander, Williamson went on to post a record-extending 26th test century, taking the Blackcaps into the lead in Wellington.
But half-centuries to Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell aside, the rest of the Blackcaps’ order struggled to build on Williamson’s efforts, as New Zealand were bowled out for 483 after tea, setting England 258 runs for victory in more than three sessions.
Captain Tim Southee struck with the ball before the end of play, as England reached 48/1 at stumps, needing another 210 for victory on the last day.
Defeat would see the Blackcaps’ unbeaten test series home run ended, with New Zealand not having lost in Aotearoa since 2017.
Returning to the crease on day four on 25, Williamson batted on to reach three figures from 226 balls, with eight boundaries.
The former captain added half-century stands with Henry Nicholls (29) and Daryl Mitchell (54) en route to three figures, but found an invaluable ally in Tom Blundell as the pair put on 158 for the sixth wicket.
After being asked to follow-on on Sunday, Williamson, as well as Tom Latham and Devon Conway, forced England to bat again with a fourth innings chase for victory.
However, Williamson’s vigil was ended by an unlikely hero for England, when he was strangled down leg by part-timer Harry Brook, out for 132 from 282 balls, but more importantly having put the Blackcaps ahead by 229 runs.
At the other end, though, Blundell batted on without any real support from his batting partners.
After he was dropped by James Anderson on 30, Blundell went on to reach 50 from 80 balls, adding to his career-best 138 in the series’ opening test at Bay Oval.
Wickets falling at the other end severely hurt the Blackcaps’ chances of pushing victory on day five, as New Zealand lost 5/28 to allow England back into the game.
Michael Bracewell was run out in farcical fashion for eight after not grounding his bat, while Southee couldn’t repeat his first innings heroics, when he hacked Jack Leach to sub-fielder Matt Potts at point.
Matt Henry came and went for a three-ball duck, as he edged Leach to Joe Root at slip, to leave the Blackcaps nine down, slipping from 455/5 at the time of Williamson’s dismissal to 482/9 when Neil Wagner joined Blundell.
But forced to take risks, Blundell was the final Blackcaps batter to fall when he edged to Root at slip for 90, giving Leach a five-wicket haul as reward for nearly 62 overs worth of bowling.
In reply, England opener Zak Crawley survived a runout chance, as Conway missed the stumps at the striker’s end, only to be bowled by Southee for 24 to leave the tourists 39/1.
But Ben Duckett (23 not out) and nightwatchman Ollie Robinson batted through to the end of play without further loss, and will resume on the final day in the push for victory.
The Blackcaps are currently winless from their last seven tests, with five losses and two draws in that run.
England meanwhile have won 10 of their last 11, and ominously haven’t lost when chasing under the leadership duo of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, with six victories coming batting last.
England 435/8 declared (Brook 186, Root 153 not out; Henry 4/100) & 48/1 (Crawley 24, Duckett 23 not out; Southee 1/19)
New Zealand 209 (Southee 73; Broad 4.61) & 483 (Williamson 132, Blundell 90; Leach 5/157)
England need 210 runs for victory with nine wickets in hand