Jonny Bairstow heroics sees England seal thrilling series win over New Zealand

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

At tea on the final day, this nip and tuck Test remained resolutely nip and tuck. England, chasing a mammoth 299, needed 160 more from 38 overs to secure a memorable series win over New Zealand.

The game was in the balance, but New Zealand, a bowler down, were perhaps marginal favourites because England’s tail starts at No8 and their talismanic batter, Joe Root, had made just three. At the crease were Jonny Bairstow and Ben Stokes, experienced figures building a partnership. Stokes has made a career out of the business of miracles; England did not quite need one yet, but they were not far off.

Never mind, Bairstow provided one anyway. In the first over after tea, he pulled Matt Henry for a pair of fours. In the second, he pumped Trent Boult for six down the ground. In the third and fourth overs, Henry and Boult were flayed for two sixes each. Soon Bairstow had brought up a 77-ball hundred – two balls shy of Gilbert Jessop’s 120-year-old English record. It was a staggering century that sent a full house – none of whom had paid a penny for this supreme privilege.

Stokes occasionally chipped in with a smart cut for four but mainly he stood at the non-striker’s end smiling, then taking a single as he struggled with injury. He joined the party to launch a six off Tim Southee that took him to fifty, then launched a couple of huge blows off Michael Bracewell’s spin.

Having taken tea on 43 from 48 balls, Bairstow was dismissed for 136 from 92, including 14 fours and seven sixes, caught behind, becoming Boult’s eighth wicket of an exceptional match.

England needed just 27 to win, and Ben Foakes joined Stokes to finish the job by five wickets – with an extraordinary 22 overs to spare. A tense afternoon had become a walk in the park.

This was an incredible win, the second in nine days for England under the new management of Stokes and Brendon McCullum. They conceded 553 across the first five sessions, but never stopped attacking, or believing that victory was possible. It was an extraordinary game too, with more boundaries than any Test in history. The Kiwis fully played their part, with Boult’s brilliant bowling and excellent batting from Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell.

After two excellent days, England had been slightly scrappy for two sessions on day five. Stokes started with Jack Leach, who saw Henry dropped at slip by Root, and himself, bowling bumpers. It did not cause much damage, but it did not get the breakthrough, either.

Three overs before the new ball was due, Stokes turned to Stuart Broad to pick up the bumper barrage. It worked immediately, as Henry and the injured Kyle Jamieson fell in successive overs.

New Zealand were 263 in front, with 77 overs remaining in the back. England opted not to take the new ball, and continued with their bouncer plan. It failed, nastily, as Boult flayed away – moving to the top of the No11 Test runs charts in the process. He and Daryl Mitchell, whose excellent form continued, added 36 for the final wicket, setting up an uncomfortable-looking equation of 299 from 72 overs, a record on the ground.

Nevertheless, Broad had promised that England’s attitude to any chase would be: “We will go for anything. That’s the mindset. Whatever comes our way we are going to have a look at”.

Alex Lees remembered that as he smote the first two balls of the innings through cover for four, and took 12 from the first over, but England had soon lost their first wicket, with Boult picking up Zak Crawley for one.

Lees and Ollie Pope were steady until lunch, but New Zealand returned from the break with an outstanding spell. Henry just found enough nibble to remove Pope, then Root tamely chipped back to Boult.

When Southee picked up his first wicket of a torrid game, Lees fiddling outside off, England were 93 for four, and in significant trouble. Bairstow, though, is a supreme one-day chaser, and with his ninth Test century – and third in six matches – powered England to an unforgettable victory.

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