Step into New Zealand’s shoes for a moment. They outdid rampaging Test giants India in the inaugural WTC final to be crowned champions, did everything right in Test cricket for the year or so that followed, and were expected to be runaway victors in the three-match series against recent Test laggards England.
What they did not account for was the Test revival England had undergone.
Not only do the Kiwis now find themselves scrambling to salvage pride after being 0-2 down after the first two matches, but they have been handed the humiliation courtesy of former New Zealand skipper and talismanic batter Brendon McCullum, who is coaching the England side on his maiden series, and new skipper Ben Stokes, an incidental Kiwi by birth, who is also leading the Three Lions in his maiden series. Add to it the fact that they lost both matches from a position of strength: the second match being even closer than the first, and you can well understand the world champions’ dilemma going into the third match.
The second Test at Nottingham was as much a batters’ run-fest as the first was a bowlers’ dream. Batting first, the visitors racked up what looked like a huge 553 runs on the back of contributions from batsmen throughout the order. Daryl Mitchell scored an unearthly 252 runs across two innings (190 and 62*) and was ably supported by wicketkeeper Tom Blundell (106) in the first innings even as Will Young (47), Devon Conway (46), and Michael Bracewell (49) all made significant contributions.
The 553-run barrier was tested by the hosts, however, on the back of some resolute batting from young Ollie Pope (145) and run-machine Joe Root (176), who is walking the talk once again with the bat in hand, relieved of captaincy duties. Young opener Alex Lees looked mature for his 67, while skipper Stokes’ aggressive 46 off 33 and the reliable Ben Foakes’ 56 brought England to within a touching distance of the Kiwi total. Trent Boult picked five wickets on a largely unresponsive pitch and restricted the hosts to 539.
The second innings was where the match was bound to pull ahead for either side. England seemed to be right on target, restricting the Kiwis to a much more modest 284, in spite of the 62* from Mitchell and half-centuries from Young (56) and Conway (52), who continued to impress. England needed a steep 299 runs to win on the final day, with 15 overs already having been bowled in the day.
Kiwi pacers Boult, Matt Henry, and Tim Southee bowled tight lines and lengths to keep the English top order on a leash and reduced them to 56/3 and then 93/4, even as the exciting Lees scored 44. England had lost both centurions, Pope and Root, from the first innings cheaply, and it seemed like the match would head toward a draw at best, for England, or a Kiwi victory.
White-ball firebrand Jonny Bairstow, however, had different plans. Laying into the Kiwi attack with wanton ease and with an able company in skipper Stokes on the other side, Bairstow flayed the New Zealand pace battery to all corners of the park in a brutal display of batting. Getting to 50 of 51, he shifted gears dramatically, getting to his hundred in the successive 26 balls, nearly upsetting Gilbert Jessop’s 119-year record of scoring the fastest English Test century off 76 balls. Bairstow batted for 92 balls, hammering 136 runs with the help of seven sixes and twice as many fours, making Stokes’ classy 75* off 70 look pedestrian in comparison. He bagged the Man of the Match award in a match with multiple other centurions, and rightly so. England needed to score 160 of a possible 38 overs: the duo slammed 59 off the first four overs and got home high and dry with as many as 22 overs of play left, with the skipper shepherding the team home and sending a strong message across to India, who are scheduled to play the postponed last Test of a series they’re heading 2-1 in July.
The batting behemoths ran amok in the second Test and made bowlers toil, but New Zealand will take heart from the fact that Boult picked eight wickets on such a surface. They have plenty of other questions to answer, however, as they take on the new-look England Test juggernaut in the third Test at Headingley on 23rd June. Stay Tuned with The Sportsway for more updates.