Classy Joe Root guides England into strong position in second Test in Wellington
Joe Root and Ben Stokes were leading England towards a series-clinching victory over New Zealand, restoring calm after a chaotic start to the fifth morning.
Resuming on the final morning on 48 for one, with another 210 needed, the tourists were ragged as they lost four cheap wickets.
Nightwatchman Ollie Robinson, Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope all made swift exits before Root’s reckless call for a single saw rising star Harry Brook run out for a duck without facing a ball.
But Root was well on the way to making amends for that error, striking a brilliant 74 not out as he dominated a stand of 88 with captain Stokes (20no).
At the lunch break England had moved from 80 for five to 168 for five needing 90 more to make it seven consecutive Test wins and 11 from 12 under the leadership of Stokes and head coach Brendon McCullum.
England’s rocky start began when Robinson’s swished at Tim Southee and skied a catch off the toe-end of the bat.
While his wicket was hardly going to be vital to the final analysis, it was an early fillip for the hosts. Pope’s arrival meant the real contest was now afoot and he was duly beaten on the outside edge off his very first ball.
Pope soon began stepping down the crease to the seamers, adding to the nervy atmosphere, but it was Duckett who gave the hosts their second success when he flashed Matt Henry to slip with his feet in concrete. England badly needed a period of calm, but instead careered even further off track.
Pope’s unconvincing stay ended on 14 when he tried to cut Neil Wagner from a tight off-stump line and sprayed a head-high chance to the safe hands of Tom Latham. But if that was bad, what followed off the very next delivery was several levels worse.
Root dabbed off the face of the bat and set off instantly for a single that was never on, leaving Brook high and dry, run out by sharp work from Bracewell without ever reaching the striker’s end. England had lost four for 27 and frittered away the initiative.
And yet, the pairing of Root and Stokes still brought hope – the team’s classiest batter and its clutch finisher in the trenches together. They immediately set off on different paths, Stokes defending his way to one run off his first 19 balls while Root kicked off the counter attack.
He hit 14 off three Bracewell deliveries: six over mid-wicket, a fine sweep for four and a long-hop pulled away greedily. With Root flowing, Stokes was content on hanging in. It was a close run thing at times, twice edging Henry agonisingly over the fingertips of the slips.
Root was in control, though, turning every minor error of line or length into a boundary. He reached his half-century at exactly a run-a-ball, adding a second six off Bracewell as he dipped the required runs into double figures before the break.
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