After bowling New Zealand out for 209 in the morning session, England opted to enforce the follow-on before a spirited second-innings effort from the Kiwis saw them finish day three on 202 for three, trailing by 24.
The home side’s fightback owed much to the efforts of opener Tom Latham and Devon Conway, who batted over fifty overs together to add 149 for the wicket, in a partnership that pricked the ears of a potentially miraculous comeback, before a mini collapse after tea saw a return to reality for all involved. New Zealand will still carry hope with former captain Kane Williamson and senior batter Henry Nicholls at the crease, but they will need to be perfect from here on in if they are to become just the fourth team in history to win a Test after following on.
On a hard fought day’s play, England coach Paul Collingwood said: “In Test cricket when you come up against quality opposition you expect them to fight hard and this was one of those days. They had a counter-attack this morning and then when we enforced the follow on I thought we bowled exceptionally well without much reward, without much luck. We expect against quality opposition to have days like this but it’s enthralling and has set up what could be a great Test match.”
By far the quietest day of the series, play resumed with New Zealand 138 for seven in their first innings, with skipper Tim Southee using up all the allocated excitement for the day in the opening hour as he blasted his way to a remarkable 73 off 49 balls, at one point striking Jack Leach for three sixes in five balls.
Southee’s 98 run partnership with wicketkeeper Tom Blundell took New Zealand towards respectability, if not parity, but when Southee’s fun came to an end as he was caught swinging for the fences once more, Blundell and Matt Henry fell soon after as New Zealand conceded a 226 run lead.
Enforcing the follow-on has become less popular in the modern day, as teams look to manage bowler workloads and with numbers suggesting that not enforcing the follow-on has worked better for teams. But, this is Ben Stokes’ England. A team that revels in defying convention and believing that the most aggressive option is always the best one. Plus, they also enjoy a night out. And enforcing the follow-on offered the chance of an extra evening in Wellington whilst staying true to their ultra-aggressive cricketing values. A win-win.
“It was very clear this morning when Stokesey spoke to the guys and said if we get the chance to follow on we’re going to enforce it,” Collingwood said of the decision. "He was very clear in that and that’s the approach of Stokesey and Baz [Brendon McCullum]. They want the aggressive option and hopefully win the game today. It didn’t turn out that way but we’re still in a really good position.”
As New Zealand started their second innings, Latham and Conway batted belligerently, rarely taking the attacking option. Both would bring up half-centuries, Latham’s first of the series and Conway’s second, with Latham bringing up 5,000 Test runs in the process.
One bowler notable through his absence was captain Stokes, who only brought himself on for the first time in the match in the 49th over of the second innings, before bowling two chaotic overs that included three no-balls, two of which were for bouncers that sailed over Latham and Conway's heads for which he received an official warning (Stokes had already bowled his allocated two bouncers for the over before he was no-balled), a third for overstepping and a wide.
The carnage worked, however, as after Latham and Conway had batted the entire afternoon session without loss and England were just beginning to get twitchy about potentially having made the wrong call, three overs after Stokes’ introduction, Leach made the vital breakthrough with the wicket of Conway who was well caught at short leg by Ollie Pope.
It had taken England 52 overs to take their first wicket, but they would claim two more in the next nine, as Latham would depart as well, LBW to Joe Root, before Will Young got a good delivery from Leach that pegged back his off-stump.
All of a sudden England were well back on top, with the hope of a late evening burst making tomorrow a formality, but Williamson and Nicholls batted the final 22 overs of the day to give the hosts a glimmer, if nothing more, heading into day four.
“It’s exciting,” Collingwood said. “New Zealand have fought hard today but we’ve noticed the mornings have done more for seam bowling so hopefully tomorrow with fresher legs we can come out and take some wickets.”