Jack Leach confident England have what it takes to chase down New Zealand


Even when things don't go to plan, this England team cannot help but entertain. Their decision to enforce the follow-on had been an attempt to wrap up an early victory, but a fantastic fightback from New Zealand has set-up a thrilling day five finale, with England 48 for one, requiring another 210 to win.

It could have been worse for the tourists, as with a bowling attack that was on its knees after spending more than 200 overs in the field and New Zealand carrying a lead of 230 with five wickets still in hand, they were facing the prospect of becoming just the second team in history to lose after enforcing the follow-on.

But New Zealand's final five wickets would fall for just 28 runs and swing the game back into the balance once more, as a mad-hat hour late in the evening saw a perfectly-set Kane Williamson fall to the part-time bowling of Harry Brook, Michael Bracewell run out after failing to ground his bat, and wickets eight to 10 all going to Jack Leach as New Zealand's tail swung for the hills.

"We got there in the end," said Leach, who claimed his fifth five-wicket haul in Test cricket after taking five for 157. "It was one of those where you stick at it. They played well, Kane played well, [Tom] Blundell as well. A case of sticking at it and being patient."

The home team's initial comeback had been thanks to former captain Williamson, who from the fourth ball of the morning made history as he ticked over his 7,684th Test run to become the Black Caps' leading Test run scorer. A famously understated character, Williamson barely acknowledged his record-breaking moment, and responded with scarcely any more vigour when he notched up his 25th Test century after lunch off 226 balls.

Williamson had resumed day four on 25, with his team on 202 for three, still 24 behind, and they would lose two more wickets in the morning session, as Henry Nicholls edged to a juggling Harry Brook in the slips off the bowling of Ollie Robinson, before Daryl Mitchell departed to Stuart Broad after an excellent run-a-ball 54. The hosts were 297 for five, with their lead standing at just 71.

But Mitchell's innings had changed the momentum. And against a tiring bowling attack, he and Blundell worked England into the ground to combine for an excellent 158-run partnership. The England seamers' average speed across the innings was their third slowest since 2006. They were knackered. But as the lead swelled to 230, the match would swing once more — and from the most unlikely source: Brook.

Bowling 65mph seamers off the wrong foot, Brook inexplicably found the breakthrough, as Williamson got the slightest of touches on a ball drifting down the leg-side and was caught behind by Ben Foakes. Brook barely appealed, Foakes behind the stumps did not at all, but Joe Root, at midwicket, was convinced. England reviewed, and proceeded to double over in laughter and celebration when it was revealed that Williamson had indeed got a tickle on the delivery. "He just couldn't stop smiling," Leach said of Brook's wicket (left). "Everyone was very happy for him as well. He reckons it was all on purpose."

From that point, it was England who made the running, as New Zealand lost their final five wickets for 28 runs, as Leach mopped up the tail.

"Pleased with how I kept going," was Leach's review of his performance. "Not pleased with a lot of things as well, but just happy that we have a chance to win the game tomorrow."

All out for 483, England were set 258 to win. Twelve months ago, 258 would have been an imposing fourth-innings chase, but England have knocked off totals bigger than that four times in the last nine months alone.

And with 11 overs still to face before the close, they opted to attack, as Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett rattled along at five-an-over before Crawley was bowled for 24 by Tim Southee.

"We're very confident we'll chase it down," concluded Leach. "We know how we want to go about our chases. It is a case of us sticking to our process, trusting that will work. It will be an exciting day and we are very excited about it."