By Greg Stutchbury
AUCKLAND (Reuters) - Wicketkeeper Matt Prior produced a belligerent century to ensure England saved the series-deciding third test against New Zealand at Eden Park on Tuesday, despite Kane Williamson taking two late wickets that almost snatched victory for the hosts.
Prior (110 not out) took up the responsibility of seeing the tourists home after Ian Bell had defied New Zealand for almost six hours, as England finished on 315 for nine, after they had given up chasing the 481 needed for victory on the fourth day.
With England looking comfortable in the final hour, Williamson grabbed two wickets in three balls to bring Monty Panesar to the crease but the left-arm spinner and Prior saw out the final 19 deliveries to ensure the series was drawn 0-0.
"Clearly quite gutted, we were so close, the boys tried everything," Williamson, who finished with figures of four for 44, said in a televised interview.
"It went down to the last ball and just gutted that we didn't come away with the win."
New Zealand had been seeking just their ninth test win in 97 matches against England, and their first series victory against them since Stephen Fleming's team achieved a 2-1 series win in England in 1999.
Neil Wagner had captured the crucial wicket of Bell just before tea to push New Zealand to the brink of victory.
Bell had curbed his natural attacking game to play the anchor role, plodding his way to 75 from 271 balls, but surrendered three balls before the break when he prodded at a Wagner delivery and it flew to Tim Southee at third slip.
Prior battled on to his seventh test century and was ably supported by Stuart Broad (two not out) who had a lbw-decision overturned on review and provided obstinate defence taking 62 balls, and 102 minutes, to get off the mark.
"I'm not really one to celebrate draws but to get away with that was a phenomenal effort," Prior said.
"You just dig in as best as you can. What a phenomenal effort (from Broad), what was he? Nought after facing 50 balls or something?
"He's been working so hard on his batting with Andy Flower and an innings like that proves all that hard work was worth it.
"Monty was good, all our guys have been working hard in the nets for just that kind of moment."
The match had been crackling with tension all day, particularly when Jonny Bairstow fell after lunch as New Zealand's bowlers, knowing the Bell-Prior partnership was the one to break, charged in, seeking that one delivery that would tip the game in their favour.
Southee hit Prior on the pads twice in one over. One appeal was turned down, the next was successful, but the England wicketkeeper immediately asked for a review, knowing that he had nicked the ball into his legs first.
Less than 10 minutes later, Prior mistimed a pull shot from a Southee bouncer and Wagner turned at mid-on, bolted 20 metres in a desperate attempt to make the catch that would place the hosts under huge pressure.
His diving effort fell just short, however.
Wagner then hit Prior in the helmet and the ball dropped down the face of the stumps, bounced and spun back and nestled at the foot of the wicket but failed to dislodge the bails.
The left-armer ultimately had the final say when a tired-looking Bell fell in the final over before tea.
(Editing by Ian Ransom/John O'Brien)