Joe Root and Ollie Pope hit hundreds to keep England ticking in thrilling second New Zealand Test

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 (Action Images via Reuters)
(Action Images via Reuters)

This was a triumphant, harum-scarum day of batting for England, who scored 383 runs in 88 overs. Yet at its end, they remain 80 behind. Plenty seems possible across the final two days.

England had a superb day with the bat, flicking through different phases. There was a long-awaited century for Ollie Pope, and another for Joe Root, although that is routine these days. Alex Lees made a maiden Test half-century, and Ben Stokes provided a brief period of carnage that changed the complexion of the game once more.

New Zealand rollicked along in making 553 in the first innings, and England have fought fire with fire. New Zealand have to win if they are to triumph in this series, but even in trying circumstances, England are showing no signs that they would settle for escaping with a draw just yet.

Starting on the second evening when both had significant slices of luck when dropped by centurion Daryl Mitchell at first slip, Lees and Pope shared 141.

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

These were landmark innings for both men. First, Lees, who looks better with each passing Test innings, and ditched his habit of falling between 20 and 31. He looks confident, driving, cutting and flicking with power. On 67, he just got a little greedy, following a good passage with a big drive that found its way to first slip.

Pope had happy allowed Lees, then Root, to play the frontman in a morning session that saw him face just 30 balls in 15 overs, at one stage.

There was a time that he might have become impatient, but he stuck in admirably, and enjoyed himself in a wicketless afternoon session. He reached his hundred, his second in Test cricket and first since moving to No3 this summer, with a turned two to leg. His strengths were the cover drive, the flick of his pads and the cut, plus his sharp running between the wickets.

Pope opened his shoulders after reaching his hundred, which was celebrated as vigorously by his partner, Root, as Pope himself. There was a hard-cut four, then an upper cut six.

This has been a long time coming for Pope, given his maiden hundred came in January 2020. At that stage, his average was in the forties, he was safely tucked away at No6 as he bedded in to Test cricket. Since, things have become more difficult. Injury and some mangled thinking caused him to fall away badly.

Root reached his hundred shortly before the tea break. There were a couple of scares, such as when he cut Trent Boult through second slip’s hands, high above the head, and when he top edged an attempted slog-sweep off Tim Southee. But he was in beautifully fluent form, driving all across the offside, and whipping pulls. Perhaps his accuracy was most striking: at one stage New Zealand had four fielders in the covers, and he threaded a drive between them. In 116 balls, this was his swiftest Test hundred.

Pope fell after tea, top-edging a pull off Boult to long-leg with the new ball in play, and Jonny Bairstow did not last long. He got the faintest feather of a glove off Boult, pairing Root and Stokes.

Root relaxed as Stokes launched the seamers down the ground, including a six off Kyle Jamieson, who soon pulled up with a sore back. Stokes took on the spin of Michael Bracewell, but was caught in the deep for 46 from 33 balls. The partnership was 61 off 56 balls – and England suddenly seemed to be pushing for victory.

For Root, the remainder of the day – with Ben Foakes – was an exercise in ticking off run by run. He moved up to 12th in the all-time Test run scoring charts, zipping past Younis Khan and Sunil Gavaskar. His average went back past fifty. And, as stumps neared, he brought up his sixth score of more than 150 since the start of 2021.

As England push ahead on day four, there are plenty more to add. They will need them if they want to win, and if they are to avoid defeat.

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