England delivered on their promise of a new sobriety in their batting. They were wobbling at 105 for five, as they frequently are, but rallied in their first-class warm-up game through Ollie Pope, their new number six, and Jos Buttler, their returning wicketkeeper, to take the lead against New Zealand A.
The home side’s bowling was much better than in England’s first two-day game, where the standard had been that of a good university side. This time it was, if not Test standard, then equal to that of a division one county in quality of pace and, as New Zealand A had two seasoned spinners with Test experience, much better than any county in terms of spin.
While the dismissals of England’s captain and vice-captain, Joe Root and Ben Stokes, were rather freakish, that of Dominic Sibley was the main one for concern. It is one of the older tricks in the scorebook to hit the batsman with a bouncer, then pitch a ball full and wide to get him driving and nicking off.
Sibley had been hit on the helmet by Kyle Jamieson when in no sort of position, neither ducking nor defending: at 6’ 3” he makes a large target and can expect to be barraged at Mount Maunganui on Thursday. Sibley’s selling point is leaving the new ball, so it was disappointing that in the next over he went after one he need not have played and edged a drive to gully.
The trouble with Jack Leach as nightwatchman is that he often looks more orthodox and organised than England’s top order. Then Root was given leg-before, whereupon he looked injured as well as disappointed, as though he had inside-edged, and Stokes was caught in the slips when trying to withdraw his bat.
At least Joe Denly proved his fitness for the first Test, making 68 off 147 balls, having damaged right ankle ligaments before the T20 series. Denly gave away his cover-drive in the course of the Ashes to chisel out tough runs, and he was doing it again here when he hooked to forward square-leg.
Pope and Buttler added 114 for the seventh wicket to revive the tourists. Pope had a most fortunate start - he was caught behind off a no-ball when nibbling at a ball away from his body, a habit which he was supposed to have cured before his England recall - then buckled down, like a shorter, sprightlier Root. He gave it away when trying to clear mid-off but had hit the spinners freely - 13 off one over - beforehand.
It was four years ago that Buttler ceased to be England’s regular Test keeper. Restored, he is not so polished as Ben Foakes, or as energetic as Jonny Bairstow, but he adds a thoughtful presence behind the stumps; while in front of them, as an allrounder again, he is free to counterattack. Buttler’s unbeaten 88 took only 124 balls.
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