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After four sessions of this Test, statisticians and pessimists alike were wondering when the last two-day Test took place in England.
It had been a dizzying ride played in fast forward, with 23 wickets, no personal half-centuries and only one partnership of 50 by lunch on the second day.
New Zealand were only 29 in front, having lost their top three. Half an hour after the break, the No4, Devon Conway, a double-centurion at Lord’s last year, was gone too, and in eight hits the Black Caps’ top four had contributed just 50 runs with a top score of 15. England had batted awfully to lose all 10 wickets for 82, but were not out of the game yet.
Perhaps it was inevitable, then, that not only has this game reached a third day, but it seems pretty likely to reach a fourth and indeed fifth, too.
New Zealand ended the fourth day in total control, 227 in front. The forecast is steady for Saturday, which New Zealand will plan to bat plenty of to put the game well beyond England, but poor for Sunday, so there is a fair way to go yet.
Daryl Mitchell, a stand-in at No5, and Tom Blundell, their recently-installed wicketkeeper, were the reason for their ascendancy. In quick succession they reached the first, with Blundell quickest to the line, and second fifties of the match, then brought up their hundred partnership, too. They both finished with a century in sight, their partnership at 180.
From there, they powered on, with Mitchell at one stage taking three boundaries from a Jimmy Anderson over. With the ball soft and the pitch slow; England resorted to their go-to “nothing’s happening” tactic, and started banging it in. Captain Ben Stokes was the bowler, as he was earlier this year in Sydney, which gave him a side strain. For the first time in the game, bowlers toiled. Stokes was having to think about the game for the first time as skipper.
Just because they collapsed on the opening day or because Ross Taylor and BJ Watling have retired and Henry Nicholls is injured does not suddenly mean this New Zealand side have a soft underbelly. Quite the opposite, evidently. There are teams in world cricket, and New Zealand teams of the past, who would have rolled over when presented with some of the positions they have found in this match (think England 92 for two in response to 132 all out on day one, or the top order strife on day two), but twice they have dug themselves out of trouble.
Mitchell is only playing because of Nicholls’ injury, but is making a habit of handy contributions against England, having knocked them out of the T20 World Cup in November. He is an adaptable cricketer who pairs a batting average of more than 40 with some handy seam and fine catching at slip. So is Blundell, who has spent time at the top of the order as well as lower down. New Zealand keep churning out ready-made Test cricketers.
England have found one in Matt Potts, who was in the thick of the action in a busy morning that swung this way and that.
England added 25 to their overnight score to nudge into the lead, but were careless again, with Broad and Ben Foakes falling to Tim Southee, before Trent Boult picked up last man Matt Parkinson, whose first run at Test level took England into the lead. He followed it with a beautiful straight driven four.
By the time New Zealand retook the lead, Will Young had fallen to Anderson for one for the second time in the match. Then Potts emerged with vim, picking up Kane Williamson again, caught at third slip, and Tom Latham in quick succession. He has made a terrific start.
Parkinson, though, was made to wait. The pitch did him few favours and perhaps one of his first two spells could have come from the Nursery End. He troubled Blundell, but could not quite prise him out.
Mitchell and Blundell ensured that the game was hardly closer to a conclusion than it had been by lunch, although the pendulum had swung hard in New Zealand’s favour. At some stage this weekend, England – with their latest batting collapse fresh in the memory – will have a very awkward chase to prevent extending their winless run to 10 Tests.