England hit a bump in the road on day one of the second LV= Insurance Test against New Zealand, with determined batting and dropped catches leaving the tourists in charge at Trent Bridge.
A New Zealand side robbed of captain Kane Williamson, who tested positive for Covid-19 late on the eve of the match, were sent in by Ben Stokes and responded by racking up a formidable 318 for four.
First Test centurion Daryl Mitchell was once again the pick of the bunch with 81 not out, sharing his second big partnership with Tom Blundell (67no) as the pair piled on an unbroken 149 by stumps.
But England must look at themselves too. Despite two wickets apiece for Stokes and James Anderson the bowling looked lethargic in the morning and weary by the evening, with 43 boundaries and two sixes shining a light on their persistent lack of precision – but the fielding also came up short.
England’s catching had been near flawless at Lord’s but here four chances went begging in the cordon. Zak Crawley was the guilty party twice, diving across first slip to put down Henry Nicholls and later making the opposite mistake as he and Jonny Bairstow both left a Blundell edge for each other.
Joe Root was responsible for the costliest error, shelling Mitchell when he had just three runs, and also got a hand to another fiercely difficult chance.
With a tinge of green on the pitch and a few grey clouds gathering both teams had planned on bowling first, but there was no real terror in the air as the new ball refused to swing.
Anderson managed the lack of movement in a reliably steady initial burst but Stuart Broad could not find a rhythm at his home ground and Matthew Potts was unable to recreate the wicket-taking impact of his debut appearance.
Tom Latham and Will Young gratefully picked off the boundaries, 15 of them in the first 21 overs, with a surplus of half-volleys and England’s commitment to attacking fields helping them along.
After a slightly ragged first over, Stokes managed to check the growing momentum by having Young caught behind for 47 – an angled delivery clipping the shoulder of the bat and carrying low to Crawley in the slips.
The end of the 84-run stand should have been the cue for stand-in skipper Latham to dig in but instead he went after the very next ball, dug in short by Anderson and pulled to the diving Potts at mid-wicket. After 90 one-sided minutes, the balance had been rapidly restored.
Williamson’s unexpected absence robbed New Zealand of their most reliable performer at number three, but Devon Conway has proved himself more than capable in the past. He led the returning Nicholls in another positive stand worth 77, as they continued to milk some average bowling.
Broad gamely attempted to reprise his role as crowd conductor, a tactic that worked a treat at Lord’s but failed to yield the same results here. His appeal for more noise did see the volume level rise temporarily but the closest he came to cashing in saw Crawley put down a chance after lunging at a catch he should have left for Root.
Things continued to go against the hosts, with Conway standing his ground after whipping Anderson low to Potts at mid-wicket for a disputed catch that went in the batter’s favour. England desperately needed some assistance and when the ageing ball finally started to swing, they got it.
When Stokes got one to shape away from Nicholls (30) he could do nothing but feather it through to Ben Foakes, while Conway was beaten through the air by Anderson and caught behind off the inside edge.
Had that double strike become a triple it could have been a transformative moment, but when Stokes got a nick from the newly-arrived Mitchell the opportunity slipped through Root’s fingers. Mitchell, made sure it would be costly.
Both sides were in the fight at 195 for four at tea, but England’s stock was soon sliding again. When Blundell edged the tiring Potts towards third slip there was no catcher in place, with Stokes belatedly plugging the gap once the moment had passed.
Mitchell fired off some risky shots, chipping over the infield a couple of times early on, but looked increasingly sure of himself. He battered Jack Leach for four and six down the ground, nimbly reverse swept the spinner and picked another maximum when he swivelled into a Broad bouncer.
He reached 50 in 91 balls, with Blundell following him to a half-century with a typically understated supporting effort. Root got a hand to the ball at slip when Blundell carved Leach off the back foot, a half-chance at best, but there was one more mistake in the offing.
With the second new ball in hand Broad had Blundell bang to right on 63, only for Crawley and Bairstow to watch the chance sail between them.