CHRISTCHURCH, New Zealand - Nathan Astle bludgeoned a double-century off 153 balls - the fastest in test history - but failed to prevent England securing a 98-run win yesterday against New Zealand in the first test at Lancaster Park.

After setting the Kiwis 550 runs to win, England was coasting toward victory as Andy Caddick snared six wickets and Andy Flintoff chipped in with two.

But Astle led a rearguard fightback, eclipsing Australian Adam Gilchrist's record 212-ball double century against South Africa three weeks ago in Johannesburg by 69 balls.

Joined by a limping Chris Cairns, batting at No. 11 and using a runner, with the total at 333 for nine, Astle raced from 106 to 200, scoring his second 100 off just 39 balls with seven sixes and 11 boundaries.

His assault on the second new ball resulted in two lost balls - both disappearing over the long off boundary - off the bowling of Caddick.

Playing in his 51st test, Astle reached his career best 222 before charging Matthew Hoggard and being caught behind after hitting 11 sixes and 28 fours in all.

"I just can't explain it. I was in the right zone," Astle said. "It was nice to knock off someone like Adam Gilchrist from the top. But still, we ended up losing the test match."

After 22 wickets had fallen in two days, a maiden test century by Andrew Flintoff (137) and his record 281-run sixth wicket stand with Graham Thorpe, 200 not out - the then third-fastest double-century in test cricket - set up England's first test win of the winter.

"It was a great test match," said Hussain. "We showed a lot of character coming back to win after being bowled out."

S. Africa demolishes Aussie batting

South Africa ripped the heart out of Australia's batting yesterday, leaving the visitors reeling on 159 for eight wickets in their second innings at the close of play on the second day of their test match at Kingsmead stadium.

This gives Australia a 307-run lead with three full days of play left on a pitch that - incredibly - holds no real terrors for the batsmen.

It didn't seem that way on the second day, as 17 wickets tumbled.

Australia first ran through South Africa's batting to dismiss the hosts for a paltry 167 before tea for a first innings lead of 148, but then South Africa hit back dramatically, needing just 42 overs to put themselves right back into the match.

Jacques Kallis was responsible for devastating the visitor's middle order, grabbing the wickets of Mark Waugh for 30 and Damien Martyn for a duck in his first over.