By Greg Stutchbury
WELLINGTON (Reuters) - New Zealand and England head into the final match of their three-test series on Friday more evenly matched than many observers felt they were at the start after the second game ended in a damp draw on Monday.
Bad weather has played a significant part with around 100 overs lost because of rain in the first match in Dunedin and more than 150 wiped out in the second in Wellington as both contests ended in draws.
The visitors have exhibited their class in patches against a New Zealand side who are trying to re-establish their credentials in the test arena.
The home team, pilloried after the test series late last year in South Africa where they were bowled out for 45 in one innings, have so far proved competitive.
Complacency from England may have played a part in their poor first innings in Dunedin and benign pitches have undoubtedly blunted the effectiveness of world-class pace bowlers James Anderson, Steven Finn and Stuart Broad.
New Zealand have shown they are prepared to fight. Their batters have been tenacious all through the order and a young pace attack have been enthusiastic for long periods.
That willingness has been evident in the performance of left-arm medium fast bowler Neil Wagner.
He was a late addition to the first-test squad as the 13th player but has impressed with his bristling aggression and an urge to keep plugging away on pitches that offer little help in return.
Both sides head into the last test on a drop-in wicket at Eden Park, Auckland for a match the British media have described as a 'cup final'.
"I guess both teams will be reasonably comfortable it is 0-0 at this point in time and I guess it's all to play for in Auckland," New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum told reporters.
"We could win the series and that's what you set out to do at the outset. We've played some good cricket and there have been times when we haven't played some great cricket.
"Another good wicket up at Auckland and the team who are able to dominate for long enough periods of time are going to be the team that come out on top."
England are the second-best test side in the rankings and many pundits expected them to waltz through the series to an easy victory.
The hosts, however, have not been cowed by reputation, a point England captain Alastair Cook acknowledged after the second test.
"There are no easy games in international cricket," Cook said when asked if he had been surprised at New Zealand's performances.
"It's tough and you have to earn the right to win. You have got to earn the right to get yourself into positions to win the game.
"We came here to try and win the series and if we manage to do that then we have had a really good winter. Both these games have been hampered by the weather and both sides want to play five days and in a one-off match the best side will win." (Editing by Tony Jimenez)