Exceptional England on brink of victory in first Test vs New Zealand as Stuart Broad demolishes top order

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

A perfect day from England took them to the brink of victory in Mount Maunganui after a spectacular four-wicket spell of bowling from Stuart Broad backed up vital half centuries from Joe Root, Harry Brook and Ben Foakes.

England are playing cricket on easy mode. Their batters are operating with arrogance and aggression, whilst their bowlers are relentless in their accuracy and exceptional in their execution. Broad’s four wickets under the lights were all clean bowled, a perfect snapshot of the dominance that England have had over their hosts throughout.

All out for 374 shortly after the second break of the day, England set New Zealand a notional 394 to win, a figure that would have been an all-time record chase for the home side.

But Broad refused them the chance to get anywhere near. His first dismissal of the night, that of Devon Conway, was wicket number 1,002 for him and Anderson when the pair have been playing together, a landmark which means they now hold the record as the most prolific duo in Test history, as they overtook the combination of Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath.

Former captain Kane Williamson was next on Broad’s list, as he produced a vicious delivery that nipped between bat and pad and crashed into the right-hander’s off-stump. A blink of an eye later and he drew an edge from Tom Latham that was dropped by Zak Crawley in the slips. Broad, apoplectic; Latham, not long for this world, as four balls later he was clean bowled. It was the first time since Fred Trueman in 1960 that an England bowler had clean bowled the entirety of an opposition’s top three.

Ollie Robinson would stop in to pick up a wicket of his own as he drew an edge from Henry Nicholls, but Broad soon grabbed the microphone back off him and returned to centre stage to clean bowl New Zealand’s centurion from the first innings, Tom Blundell. New Zealand were 28 for five.

It was mind-bending bowling. Yes, it is notoriously difficult to bat under lights, but this difficult? Broad’s spell bought into his own legend of being known for concentrated periods of brilliance. Spells of bowling that start with the match in one place and finish in another. On seven occasions across his career he has taken five wickets in a single spell and he was so close to making it eight here before finally, after a mammoth 10-over effort, Ben Stokes pulled him out of the attack and Broad finished with figures of four for 21.

That England were able to bowl in plumb conditions under the lights, with a score on the board, was thanks to an opening session of blistering Bazball batting and a late afternoon of perfect Ben Foakes patience.

On any normal day of Test cricket, Ollie Pope, Joe Root and Harry Brook’s brutal takedown of Neil Wagner would have been its most memorable moment, as England took the Kiwi bowler for 104 runs from his opening 11 overs, the most in Test history. Pursuing his trademark short-ball strategy, Wagner was struck for six sixes as England nailed him over the boundary time and time again as the morning session operated at breakneck speed.

Pope would fall for 49, whilst Root and Brook would each make a half-century but fall shortly after. Root’s dismissal on the cusp of lunch, caught at slip reverse sweeping, was arguably the point in the game that the match was most in the balance. England were six down with their lead standing at 256.

But Foakes, along with captain Stokes, who was batting one spot lower than usual after being caught short at the fall of a wicket, set about firming up England’s advantage. Stokes would go for a brisk 31, but Foakes’ patient half-century meant England took the game away from New Zealand both on the scoreboard and on the clock, as he batted England towards the dangerous twilight period.

Foakes would eventually fall, but a Robinson (39) cameo and a stubborn Jack Leach dragged England into the final session of the day before they were finally all out. And as England went off, the lights went up, leaving the stage set for Stuart Broad to do what he does best.