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The behaviour of the punters in the iconic Eric Hollies Stand at Edgbaston are not always the most reliable indicator of what is happening on the field. They are interested in extracurricular activities as well as the game.
But for much of the second afternoon of the Second Test, the Hollies sang football songs about Harry Maguire and Gareth Southgate. The cricket just bubbled away nearby, with New Zealand slowly working their way into a position of strength. The afternoon session was wicketless, and just two fell after tea, one of them to the final ball of the day. They are only 74 behind England’s 303, which felt a little light at the end of the innings and even lighter by the end of the day.
New Zealand’s position of control is largely down to Devon Conway, the hero of Lord’s, and Will Young, who made his first Test fifty, filling the considerable boots of Kane Williamson at No3. They shared 122 for the second wicket, then Young put on 92 with Ross Taylor. Taylor had toughed it out after a difficult start, which was a lesson for England’s impatient young batters.
Young did not quite make it to stumps. He and Taylor had forced England to wind right down, with Joe Root and Dan Lawrence wheeling away in tandem, with no front-line spinner in the side. Lawrence, with that peculiar whirling action, got one to turn, taking the inside edge on the way to Ollie Pope’s safe hands at short leg.
Young is playing just his third Test and – like Conway last week – looks to the manner born. Having used 16 players in this series – and almost all of them making telling contributions – they have some desperately tricky decisions looming for next week’s World Test Championship final against India. They might just be tuning up with a win, too.
That was Lawrence’s first Test wicket, and a big one; the new ball is just 21 deliveries away on Saturday morning, and England will hope James Anderson and Stuart Broad can work some magic.
Lawrence ticked off a Test wicket, then, but he was denied a maiden century when left stranded on 81 as New Zealand wrapped up England’s first innings. It had been a fun start to the day, as Mark Wood hoyed six entertaining boundaries, before the tail failed to shepherd Lawrence to a maiden Test century.
England had added 45 to their overnight score when Anderson was trapped lbw by Trent Boult. Lawrence, looking to farm the strike, had got a couple of crisp boundaries away, but had been unable to hit fifth gear.
Lawrence’s wicket added a sheen to a day of near misses for England. Before lunch, having trapped Tom Latham lbw, Broad thought he had Conway – on 22 – caught low at third slip by Zak Crawley. It was one of those borderline calls essentially decided by the on-field umpire’s soft signal. That was not out, and the third umpire agreed. Broad made his displeasure known, likely booking him in for a date with the match referee, his father.
And after the break, Olly Stone found Young’s edge. Root, at first slip, dropped a simple catch. He would add 75 to the seven he had at that stage. Stone was not at his best later in the day, and will wonder what might have been on a rare Test appearance.
Towards the end of the wicketless middle session, England persuaded the umpires that the ball needed changing. The replacement was much kinder to them, and Broad and Anderson settled into a sensational spell that slowed New Zealand.
Broad, finally, got Conway – caught by Crawley, by now out on the square-leg fence, while Young’s edge did not carry through to the keeper, James Bracey. Anderson thought he had trapped Taylor lbw, only to see the infield decision overturned, with the ball smiling down the legside. England bowled fine, but had little to show for it.