England lose the unlosable Test as New Zealand win by one run in all-time great finish
England lost the unlosable Test; and yet it was fantastic, as in one of the most dramatic matches in history, New Zealand ran out as winners by a single run.
Throughout this new era under Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, England have made clear that they will put entertainment first and results second. It is an ethos that has seen them win ten out of eleven Test matches, but fall to defeat here in the most exciting of circumstances imaginable.
At the close of play, a reflective and exhausted Stokes said: “Gosh, I mean what a game…You just don’t know what to do with yourself, but I think at the end of the day if you can’t look back at that Test match and be quite thankful you’ve been involved.”
New Zealand’s winning moment came as James Anderson, who has never hit the winning runs in a Test match during his 179 game career, got a feather down the legside to a Neil Wagner delivery with just two runs needed to win, provoking wild celebrations from the home side.
“We’re obviously very disappointed that we’ve lost the game,” Stokes said. “We’d much rather be in New Zealand’s situation, but we always play our cricket giving ourselves the best opportunity to win. And when you have the mindset of giving yourself the best opportunity to win games all the time, you have to lose games to really appreciate how good it is to actually win.”
Play had resumed on the final day with England 48 for one and still 210 to win. A brief period of calm began the day’s play, only for a chaotic hour to ensue with the visitors losing three wickets in the space of sevens overs with all of Ollie Robinson, Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope falling. One delivery later and England would lose Harry Brook too, as Joe Root ran out the star batter before he had even faced a ball. As New Zealand celebrated, Root held his head in his hands. What had he, and England, done?
At 80 for five, England were officially behind in the match for the first time. How had it come to this? New Zealand had been 103 for seven in reply to England’s first-innings total of 435, they had been 226 behind when the follow-on was enforced and were four down in the second innings before they even reached parity.
“People might not have thought that enforcing the follow-on was the right call,” Stokes said after play. “but you can't live your life or captain an international cricket team living by hindsight.”
But cometh the carnage, cometh the captain. Stokes is a cricketing adrenaline junkie, for whom the everyday rigmarole of the game isn’t enough to get his juices flowing; only a match on the line is enough to truly wake him up in the morning. And here, he and Root would combine to drag England back from the brink and ahead in the game once more.
The two of them batted in contrasting styles. Root the aggressor, whilst Stokes blocked and prodded. As the partnership grew, Root would reach his fifty and barely acknowledge the crowd or his teammates in the process. The job wasn’t finished.
The pair added 121 together to take England closer and closer to victory. But with 57 to win, the match turned once more, as having batted together for hours, both would be out in minutes.
Stokes, who could hardly walk due to his troublesome knee, went first. His injury, which has prevented him from bowling and training for large parts of the tour, was playing up more than ever and would prove to be his downfall, as unable to get into position against a Wagner bouncer, he spliced the ball into the air and was caught.
Two overs later and Root fell to the same ploy for 95 and the Yorkshireman dragged himself off in disbelief. 13 runs later and Stuart Broad went too. England were now eight down, with 43 still to win.
Ben Foakes, the last remaining batter, took control and refused singles to protect Leach from the strike as the chase went into slow motion.
Time continued to tick, but Foakes would find his rhythm as he single handedly brought the runs required to single figures.
But with seven to win, Foakes was caught on the boundary off a top edge, and five runs later, Anderson was caught by the wicketkeeper to bring the match to a thrilling end.
It was only the second Test in history that had been decided by one run and it was only the fourth match in history that had been lost by a team who had enforced the follow-on. And somehow, everyone - even England - left with a smile on their face.
“It’s not often you see Jimmy Anderson smile on the cricket pitch,” said Stokes.
“[And] just looking at Jimmy and Leachy walking off there, I think they appreciated that as well.
"He's [Anderson] been in those positions before where he's walked off disappointed, but the fact he was walking off smiling made everything we talk and speak about true and a reality."