In a riveting Test match that ebbed and flowed in favour of and against both teams over a period of 3 days and a session, England overcame a rough Test drought to land inaugural World Test Champions New Zealand a 5-wicket loss. Under new administration after a humbling run in Tests over the past couple of years, England did their new captain Ben Stokes and new coach Brendon McCullum good in their first outing under them.
In a match largely dominated by pacers, New Zealand wilted under scrutiny by debutant Matthew Potts (4-13) and stalwart James Anderson (4-66) and were bundled out for 132 inside the first session of the first day. They would have had to face the ignominy of scoring below 100 runs, probably, had it not been for Colin de Grandhomme’s rapid 42*(50) and Tim Southee’s rearguard 26 (23). As it turned out, 132 was about par for the first innings, with England suffering a familiar batting collapse to go from 59/1 and 75/2 to 141 all out within 43 overs. The guile of Southee (4-55), Trent Boult (3-21), and the bounce of the tall Kyle Jamieson (2-20) undid the English batsmen with worrying ease, and for a while, it seemed as though the change in the captain and coach would do little to change their Test fortunes.
Hitting the deck hard in the second innings and continuing to impress, Matty Potts (3-55) struck twice early on, and alongside Anderson (2-57) and Stuart Broad (3-76), reduced the visitors to 56/4, and it seemed for a while we would be in for a first-innings encore.
Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell had other ideas, however. Combining in a record 195-run association, Mitchell (108, 203b, 12×4) and Blundell (96, 198b, 12×4) steered the Kiwis out of choppy waters and drove them into a position of strength. They struck the first fifties of the match, and Mitchell scored the only century till then, with his partner falling just 4 short of a well-deserved ton himself. The partnership backed England into a corner and almost shut the hosts out.
Almost, but not enough. A spate of inspired pace bowling, led by the experienced Broad and backed up ably by Potts, Anderson, and Matt Parkinson (1-47), saw the Kiwis stumble and squander the advantage they had, losing the last 6 wickets for 34 runs and ending with 285 all out, effectively implying England needed a testing 277 runs in the fourth innings.
A shaky start by the top order, which left the hosts at 69/4 after 20 overs, was countered by a 90-run partnership between skipper Ben Stokes (54, 110b, 5×4, 3×6) and former skipper Joe Root (115, 170b, 12×4), who stroked one of the finer hundreds of the fourth innings played in recent times. After Stokes was dismissed, ’keeper-bat Ben Foakes proved to be the able company for Root, stroking 32 off 92 with the help of three fours, as the two shepherded England to a win with over five sessions of play left.
Their unbroken 120-run stand for the sixth wicket was primarily dominated by Root, who showcased his skills as one of the world’s foremost Test batsmen, stroking his first century in the fourth innings of a Test, and right when his team needed him to do so. His standout performance, coupled with skipper Stokes’ gritty half-ton in the second innings and the fiery pace meted out by Potts, Anderson and Broad, saw England home to a Test victory after some time. It is safe to say that the team’s performance would allay a lot of nerves in the Three Lions’ management camp going forward. Stay Tuned with The Sportsway for more updates!