A gritty 205 from BJ Watling and an all-round performance from Mitchell Santner have put New Zealand on a commanding position at the end of Day 4 of the first Test against England at the Bay Oval on Sunday (November 24). Apart from scoring his maiden century, Santner also claimed three wickets in the second innings and put his team on a position from where they can think about winning the game on the final day.
Resuming the day on 394 for 6, New Zealand declared on 615 for 9, with a lead of 262 runs. Both Watling and Santner (126) hardly gave any chance to English bowlers and added a record 261 runs - Black Caps’ highest ever for the seventh wicket, surpassing the 225 set by Chris Cairns and Jacob Oram against South Africa 15 years ago. In the process, Watling also became the first New Zealand wicketkeeper to hit a double ton. The two batted like dream and helped New Zealand pass their previous best total of 551 for 9 against England at Lord’s 46 years ago.
In response, Rory Burns and Dominic Sibley started very well but Santner dismissed both of them and then got rid of the nightwatchman to reduce England to 55 for 3 in their second innings. The touring side are still trailing by 207 runs, with Joe Denly unbeaten on 7.
Earlier, Watling and Santner started very slow and only managed 58 runs in the leisurely morning session. The two however opened up after lunch against the tiring England attack, plundering 138 in the session up to tea. Watling, who was dropped by Ben Stokes on 27, set the pace on a wicket offering little encouragement for the bowlers as he moved well past his previous Test best of 142 set five years ago.
Meanwhile, Santner took a brutal approach against left-arm spinner Jack Leach, driving three times over the bowlers head for sixes before bringing up his century by turning Ben Stokes to fine leg for two. His previous best was 73 against Bangladesh nearly three years ago. He added a further six off Sam Curran before being caught trying to hit the England quick over the long-on boundary for a second time. The left-hander smashed five sixes and 11 fours during his stay in the middle.
This was the eighth 200-run stand for New Zealand in Test cricket coming after loss of six or more wickets. Watling has been involved in five of them. The right-hander has now scored more Test runs than any other wicketkeeper in this decade.
Tim Southee (9) couldn’t contribute much, but Watling carried on and reached his milestone by nudging Joe Root for a single towards backward square leg. His 473-ball stay finally came to an end in the 200th over when Jofra Archer had him caught behind, but only after he had taken the game away from the visiting side. Neil Wagner then slammed a couple of boundaries before Kane Williamson called the last pair back, giving New Zealand 120-plus overs to try and get England all out.
As the New Zealand batsmen hit out, the England attack suffered, with the promising Archer going for more than 100 for the first time in his fledgling career. He had 1 for 107 while spinner Jack Leach had 2 for 153. England’s most successful bowler was Curran who claimed 3 for 119.
There were more than 25 overs remaining in day’s play and Burns and Sibley got England off to a sedate start. The two just tried to play out the overs and added 48 runs before Santner got one to turn away and Sibley ended up edging it to the wicketkeeper when he was on 12. The debutant showed promise in both the innings but just couldn’t carry on. Also, this was after 101 wickets in home Tests a New Zealand spinner had manage to take a wicket in this format.
The left-arm spinner looked the most dangerous and could have got rid of Burns in the 24th over if Southee would have pulled off a blinder at mid-wicket. It wasn’t an easy chance though as Southee had to dive in front but just couldn’t hold onto it. The left-handed opener however failed to cash in and went for a needless sweep in Santner’s next over, only to end up top-edging it into the hands of the fine leg fielder.
Santner didn’t stop there and also accounted for Leach for a duck in the final over of day’s play. The nightwatchman was given out bat-pad and he didn’t opt for a review. However, the replays later suggested that there was no bat involved. The home team are now seven wickets away from claiming a 1-0 lead in the two-match series.