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Mar 27, 2013 at 01:23pm IST

Relieved England head home after wake-up call for Ashes

Auckland: Alastair Cook's team return to England under no illusions they pulled off a great escape against New Zealand and can ill afford any further lapses in intensity ahead of back-to-back Ashes series later this year.

The world's second-ranked Test side were expected to win comfortably over a New Zealand team that was skittled for 45 runs by South Africa in January and rocked by the clumsy demotion of former captain Ross Taylor.

Instead, despite benign pitches and patchy weather, they found a New Zealand side intent on ensuring that whatever advantage they gleaned on the field, they were made to earn it.

Relieved England head home after wake-up call for Ashes

Alastair Cook's team return to England under no illusions they pulled off a great escape against New Zealand.

The hosts bowled them out for under 200 twice and but for a dropped catch and a set of bails that refused to drop on the final day of the final Test, Cook's team could well have lost their first series to New Zealand since 1999.

"We have to give a lot of credit to New Zealand," Cook told reporters after the tense third Test at Eden Park ended in a draw and the series 0-0.

"They have played well and we haven't played as well as we can do. They put us under a lot of pressure ... at certain times, we have just about managed to respond and hold on." Cook, who throughout the tour denied his side were taking the hosts lightly, struggled to take too many positives out of the series, other than their ability to save two of the matches.

In the first Test in Dunedin, Cook and Nick Compton both scored centuries in England's second innings to resurrect their side after they were bowled out for 167 in the first.

The Wellington weather probably saved New Zealand in the second Test but most concerning for England was how comprehensively they were outplayed in the deciding Test in Auckland.

Shoulders slumped and discipline flagged as England struggled in the field. Cook, at one point, seemed so bereft of ideas on how to stop opener Peter Fulton and captain Brendon McCullum feasting off their bowlers ahead of a third innings declaration, that he scattered all nine fielders to the boundary.

Matt Prior's match-saving century at Eden Park will have restored some morale ahead of a busy home summer that includes a return series against New Zealand, the Champions Trophy one-day tournament and the first of their Ashes series against Australia. The result also showed that with wicketkeeper Prior, who scored 73 in the first innings at Eden Park, anchoring the lower middle order, they can fight their way out of trouble.

"We are disappointed that in this series we haven't played as well as we can," Cook said.

"We haven't been beaten, and I think that's an important thing to have for a side, to have that toughness when you are behind the eight-ball to fight and make yourself a very difficult team to beat."

There are further positives on the horizon for Cook and his team, with spinner Graeme Swann and paceman Tim Bresnan expected to return from elbow surgery for the international programme at home. Kevin Pietersen, pending tests on his knee, should also be back to strengthen the squad.

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