Just before the start of play on Day Three of the second Test between New Zealand and England at Hamilton, former England captain and commentator Michael Atherton remarked on air that it was a great day for batting and that it was a good opportunity for Joe Root to get a good score. The current England captain had been struggling to play the big knocks this year, having scored just one century from 20 Test innings in 2019 prior to this Test.
On Sunday, opener Rory Burns and Root walked out to bat after the visitors had lost two wickets on the previous day. The duo went on to make full use of favourable batting conditions, putting on a sublime 177-run stand for the third wicket.
In what was a prolonged morning session due to overs lost on previous days, Burns and Root rarely looked troubled by a strong New Zealand bowling attack. The pair batted out the entire session unbeaten to put England in an advantageous position.
In the second session, Burns brought up his second Test hundred. Having registered a half-century in the first Test, the Surrey opener’s form is an encouraging sign for England as they have struggled to find solid Test opening batsmen in recent years.
After reaching his ton, Burns didn’t stay at the crease for much longer though as he was run out just two deliveries later. Despite looking in immaculate form while batting on Sunday, this was the second time that he presented the Kiwis with an opportunity to run him out. When he was on 86, he was lucky to survive after Matt Henry fumbled a throw at the non-striker’s end. He wasn’t so fortunate a few overs later when wicketkeeper BJ Watling collected Jeet Raval’s throw and knocked the bails off.
Root, on the other hand, was in control through the day as he secured his 17th Test century. This knock will come as a source of huge relief for the England skipper who was under pressure after the loss in the first Test and the fact that he hadn’t scored a Test hundred in his previous 15 innings. The most comforting aspect for Root will be that he has had a false shot percentage of just 4.3% in this innings, which is the best among all players who’ve batted in this match so far.
Root will know though that there is still a lot to be done before his team can think of winning this Test. At the end of day’s play, which ended early due to rain, England are 269/5 and still trail New Zealand by 106 runs. The wickets of Ben Stokes and debutant Zak Crawley definitely pulled them back. But being 1-0 down in the series, this is a must-win match for the visitors and the onus is on them to force a result. If there is one criticism you could make of England’s approach is the fact that they could bat at a quicker run-rate.
The England skipper will have Ollie Pope for company to start proceedings on Day Four and it is imperative for both to start on a positive note with just two days left in the game.
Although the possibility of a result doesn’t seem to be high at the moment, you can never count out on a session of brilliance from either team that could change the odds. For England, their best chance to taste victory is to build a lead so large that they wouldn’t have to bat again.
New Zealand, meanwhile, will know that something dramatic has to happen if they have to lose the match from here. Hence, they will look to keep things simple and hope to contain the scoring rate of the England batsmen on the fourth day of the Test.
New Zealand 375 all out (Tom Latham 105, Daryl Mitchell 73; Stuart Broad 4/73, Chris Woakes 3/83) lead England 269/5 (Joe Root 114*, Rory Burns 101; Tim Southee 2/63, Matt Henry 1/56, Neil Wagner 1/76) by 106 runs