New Zealand 375 (Latham 105, Mitchell 73, Watling 55, Broad 4-73) and 96 for 2 (Williamson 37*, Taylor 31*) trail England 476 (Root 226, Burns 101, Pope 75, Wagner 5-124) by five runs
Joe Root confirmed his return to form with a masterful innings of 226, and Ollie Pope passed his own test of mettle with a maiden Test half-century, as England, at last, produced the single hefty team performance required to put the squeeze on their New Zealand hosts in the second Test at Hamilton.
In the final analysis, England’s best efforts of the tour probably won’t be enough to ensure a share of the series, as New Zealand’s veteran pair, Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor, dug deep after the loss of both openers to grind to the close on 96 for 2, a deficit of 5. But, given the depths to which his stock as captain had fallen after the innings defeat in Mount Maunganui – and with a four-Test tour of South Africa looming large on the horizon – Root in particular will doubtless settle for a moral victory, replete with signs that his side have learned some rapid lessons about how to compete in unresponsive overseas conditions.
Indeed, such was the resolve that both Root and Pope put into their performances, had it not been for the loss of some 45 overs over the first three days of this Test, England might well have been able to push their own innings into the sort of 600-plus territory with which New Zealand had seized control of that opening Test.
Instead, having batted through the best part of two sessions in carrying their sixth-wicket stand to an imposing 193, both men fell in successive overs as the innings brief shifted from attritional accumulation to hasty run-pillaging with a declaration looming. In the end, Root wasn’t required to make that call, as Neil Wagner took advantage of a slap-happy tail to rip his way to an unlikely five-wicket haul – due reward for a never-say-die performance, as England were bowled out on the brink of tea for 476, a lead of 101.
As the players left the field for the interval, the die had been cast for New Zealand’s second innings. Showers are forecast for the final day of the match, meaning that a draw was always the likeliest outcome. However, as New Zealand’s own bowlers had shown with their wholehearted display on the second evening, opportunity knocks when weary opponents are forced to confront a brand-new ball and a rested pack of seamers.
And so it proved for a frenzied first hour after tea, when – for a fleeting moment – it seemed that New Zealand might suffer the same collapse of resolve that had done for England in their first-Test defeat at Mount Maunganui.
In the space of a hapless two-ball stay, Jeet Raval managed to survive a sitting-duck run-out chance from extra cover before failing to review a Sam Curran lbw that had taken a massive inside-edge. Then Tom Latham, New Zealand’s first-innings centurion, was undone in the midst of a superb five-over spell from Chris Woakes, who hounded his technique with a relentless stump-threatening line before hitting the seam to take an edge through to Root at a solitary slip.
It took all of Taylor’s and Williamson’s experience to draw the sting of England’s attack, one which had begun to look pretty saddle-sore by the close, with Stuart Broad and Curran both grimacing with apparent foot niggles at various moments, and Jofra Archer hobbling with a sore knee in the midst of another intermittently threatening spell. It’s been a dog of a pitch for seamers on both sides, but they’ve acquitted themselves well in the circumstances – even if England might now be regretting the absence of a specialist spinner.
Long before that finale, Root and Pope had resumed in the morning session with England on their overnight 269 for 5, still trailing by 106 runs. Their initial approach wasn’t exactly thrilling viewing for a sparse Monday crowd, as Root resolved to press ever onwards in what would end up being the longest innings of his career in terms of balls faced.
However, for the long-term health of this recalibrated Test squad, it was an important session of play – not least for the rookie Pope, who overcame a flighty start to his day’s work to get himself properly acquainted with the rhythms of Test match batting for the first time. He would finish on 75 from 202 balls, and might have pressed on even further towards a maiden Test hundred, had the match situation not demanded he chance his arm in the latter stages of an obdurate stay.
The star turn, however, was Root, who had done the needful in bringing up three figures on the third afternoon, thus ending a barren run that had spanned the English summer. Today he set out his stall for the big one, racking up his third Test double-century and his highest score since making 190 against South Africa at Lord’s in 2017 – his first Test innings as England captain. Whether this proves to be a rebirth, only time will tell. But he will set off for South Africa next month with his authority renewed, and his confidence higher than it’s been for months.
From the outset, Root’s feet and hands were back in synch, as he found himself playing the delicate dabs through third man that have long been such a feature of his best, most anonymous, feats of run-making, but which had deserted him of late – notably in the first Test at Bay Oval where he had twice fenced tamely to the cordon.
His improvisatory instincts didn’t desert him either, even while New Zealand ploughed a disciplined line and length, looking to choke the runs and force the errors that they know this team are perfectly capable of making. Early in his day’s work, he unfurled an uppercut to a slow loopy bouncer from Wagner that flew over the keeper for four, before keeping his eyes on a short ball that scuttled to pull it effectively at shin height through midwicket.
Root’s moments of alarm were few and far between – the odd ball kept low, a handful of inside-edges were dragged perilously close to the stumps – but the closest that New Zealand came to breaking the stand was the moment of Root’s 200, when he tapped the decisive single into the covers, only for Pope to hesitate at the non-striker’s end before putting his head down and sprinting for his skipper. A direct hit would have done for him, but instead the shy went wide, and Root was able to peel off his helmet and salute a truly doughty innings.
For Pope, the opportunity to have a front-row seat for such a gritty display will be an invaluable learning experience, for at the age of 21, this was a “jam tomorrow” performance from England’s young prospect. Strictly speaking, his strike-rate in the first two sessions wasn’t exactly what England needed in their bid to force victory on the final day, and the absence of Jos Buttler, the man who would have been coming in at No.7 but for his back injury, was keenly felt at a moment when England might have looked to up the ante.
But nevertheless, after complaints that England’s batsmen have been too flighty in recent seasons, there could be no quibbling with the application that Pope brought to his innings – all achieved, remember, after squatting behind the stumps for 129 overs in his unlikely role as wicketkeeper.
At times in the early stages of the day’s play, Pope was susceptible to the same old sucker punch that had undermined him in his first season of Test cricket, against India in 2018 – namely the tendency to get too greedy whenever the ball was outside his eyeline. He survived more than a handful of urgent air-shots before he had reached 20, but with Root providing an object lesson in balance and shot selection, he grew in stature visibly as his innings progressed.
Moments before the interval, it was left to Pope to carve the cut through third man that took England into the lead for the first time in the match, and soon after the break, he crashed a cut through point to bring up his hard-earned fifty. From that point on, England’s intent grew steadily, like a runaway truck gathering speed down a hill, and it wasn’t until the score had passed 450 that Pope finally picked out a fielder, as he hoicked Wagner to Jeet Raval at deep square leg.
Root holed out one over later, slamming an inside-out slog to deep cover to give Mitchell Santner a breakthrough, and thereafter it was over to Wagner to run through the rest. Chris Woakes slashed a drive to the keeper for a duck, before Jofra Archer and Stuart Broad were bowled in quick succession – though not before Archer had slammed a massive six over the sightscreen. Wagner would finish with 5 for 124 in 35.5 typically wholehearted overs – his second five-wicket haul of an under-statedly brilliant series.