New Zealand might have had the better of England in the first two sessions of Day 2 of the first Test but the visiting side stormed their way back into this match in the final session on the back of their bowlers to narrowly claim the honours at the Bay Oval on Friday (November 22).
After bowling England out for 353, New Zealand lost their top four batsmen and were 144 for 4 in 51 overs when the stumps were drawn, with Henry Nicholls and BJ Watling unbeaten on 26 and 6 respectively.
Earlier, Tim Southee took three wickets in 11 balls - including the key scalp of Ben Stokes - as New Zealand wrapped up the England first innings in 124 overs. Southee’s wickets reduced England to 295 for 8 before Jos Buttler and Jack Leach kept the scoreboard moving with a 52-run partnership for the ninth wicket and helped their team cross the 350-run mark in their first innings of an away Test since Perth in December 2017. Southee, who took one wicket on the first day when England compiled 242 for four, finished with 4 for 88, while Neil Wagner claimed three wickets.
England had resumed the day in positive fashion with the overnight pair of Stokes and Ollie Pope pushing the score along to 277 before the collapse began, with the last six wickets falling in the space of 76 runs. The disintegration started when Southee had Stokes removed by a stunning one-handed catch at first slip by Ross Taylor diving to his right. Stokes was on 91 and looked in complete control until he stepped down the wicket to drive the fast bowler, only to be beaten by the swinging delivery which caught the edge of his willow.
In his following over, Southee removed Pope (29) and Sam Curran in successive balls with Jofra Archer surviving the hat-trick before being caught by Southee off Trent Boult two balls later for 4. It looked like the visiting side would barely touch the 300-run mark but that’s when Buttler and Leach joined hands and put on a crucial partnership. The wicketkeeper-batsman slammed five fours and a six in his 70-ball 43 while Leach did what he always does, stick around. In 2019, only Ben Stokes (93.9) have faced more balls per dismissal Leach (78.6). He now also averages 33 this year which is more than any other English batsman apart from Stokes (51.28).
Meanwhile, Southee was denied a five-wicket haul when Jeet Raval dropped Buttler on 34 with the wicketkeeper-batsman adding a further nine runs before Wagner had him caught on the boundary by a quick-reacting Mitchell Santner. As Wagner came in to bowl the wicket-taking delivery, Santner was outside the boundary with his back to the wicket signing autographs and he had to smartly turn and head infield to take the catch, sparing his blushes. Wagner then knocked over Stuart Broad for 1 to end the innings.
It was once again New Zealand fast bowlers who took all the 10 wickets. To make it sound more intriguing, the last 101 wickets taken by Black Caps in home Tests have all been claimed by their seamers.
In response, Jeet Raval and Tom Latham managed to see off Archer’s opening spell but it was Curran who drew first blood as he sent in-form Latham back for 8. The left-hander was given lbw and walked back to the hut without questioning the decision. The Hot Spot later revealed that there was an inside edge and Latham would have carried on if he would have gone for the review. Meanwhile, Raval survived for 68 deliveries but never looked comfortable, especially against Leach. He survived a couple of close calls against the left-arm spinner before playing a needles shot straight into the hands of deepish mid-wicket when he was on 19.
However Kane Williamson (52), who was making his return from a hip injury, looked untroubled and scored runs with the utmost ease. The New Zealand skipper punched anything that was pitched outside off and also whipped couple of deliveries through the on side. He had decent partnerships with Raval and Taylor but lost both his partners just when it looked like New Zealand were moving along nicely.
England bowlers targeted Taylor with short-pitch bowling and the experienced campaigner looked completely out of place. The plan worked for England as Taylor slapped one short-pitch ball, which didn’t rise much, straight to deep square. He scored 25 runs before falling to Stokes. England were delighted with the departure of Taylor but they still were trying to find a way to get rid of Williamson who completed his fifty with a streaky boundary off Curran’s bowling. However, on the very next delivery, the ball kicked off from a short of length spot and took Williamson by surprise as he couldn’t get out of the way and ended up gloving it to the second slip.
Nicholls and Watling then somehow managed to survive the remaining overs, including a fiery penultimate over of day’s play from Archer in which he pinned Nicholls on the back of his helmet. New Zealand’s lower middle-order will now have to fight it out on Day 3 and try to take their team closer to England’s first innings total.
(With inputs from AFP)