England top order left in tatters as New Zealand gain upper hand at Headingley
England lost six wickets in their first 12 overs at the crease as their pledge to keep delivering entertaining cricket came at a cost on day two at Headingley.
Having worked hard to dismiss New Zealand for 329 in the third LV= Insurance Test, with Daryl Mitchell scoring his third century of the series, the hosts saw their top order routed as the tourists produced an outstanding display of seam and swing bowling.
A counter-attack from Jonny Bairstow (33no) saw England to tea on 91 for six, but the manner of their top-order capitulation offered cause for alarm.
While it would be tempting to attribute the dramatic collapse, first to 21 for four then 55 for six, to the same ultra-aggressive approach that brought a rousing victory at Trent Bridge last week, it would not be entirely accurate.
Captain Ben Stokes was certainly guilty of hubris, reacting to a perilous position by unsuccessfully trying to slog his way out of trouble, but most of his team-mates simply lacked the wherewithal to occupy the crease.
Left-armer Trent Boult set the runaway train in motion during an immaculate new-ball spell that saw him clean bowl Alex Lees, Ollie Pope and Zak Crawley in quick succession.
Swinging the ball at good speed and with an unerring accuracy around off stump, he needed just five balls to open his account. Lees did not have the defence to keep Boult out, propping half-forward at one that held its line and flicked a bail on the way past.
There was nothing quite so subtle about Pope’s departure, with Boult ripping out the Surrey man’s off stump at his next visit. It was a knockout blow, landed flush on a player riding high after a fine century in Nottingham last week.
Boult’s masterclass continued as he sized up and reeled in his next victim, the off-form Crawley ruthlessly picked apart for six. It was another super delivery, curving in on an attacking length, but by allowing the ball to snake between bat and pad and hit middle stump Crawley’s technique had let him down.
England badly needed Joe Root to exert his class on proceedings but his was a brief, unhappy stay. He could have been run out on nought and carved over the slips on one before Tim Southee tightened his line and had Root caught behind in defence.
That brought England’s Trent Bridge match-winners together, with Bairstow and Stokes facing a huge rebuild. They picked up precisely where they left off last time, peppering the boundary ropes with a frenzy worth 34 in 19 balls.
That included a series of driven fours, and one thick edge, from Bairstow, as well as Stokes’ 100th six in Test cricket – Southee smashed on the drive.
Stokes was being too frenetic, though, and it was no surprise to see him drill Neil Wagner’s second ball of the match, and series, to mid-off.
Stokes lived by the sword and died by it, where some more nuance may have been required. Wagner made short work of Ben Foakes, lbw for a three-ball duck, before Bairstow and Jamie Overton took their slices of luck to stem the bleeding.
England had earlier taken the last five New Zealand wickets for 129 runs – a seemingly solid effort were it not for the fireworks to come.
Mitchell converted his day one score of 78 into 109, in the process passing Martin Donnelly’s 73-year-old Kiwi record of 492 runs in a series on these shores.
He had some fortune, dropped as Foakes dived in front of Root on 80, but reached three figures with a steepling six off Jack Leach.
Leach got his own back with the last ball before lunch, Stokes holding a swirling catch, before two more catches in the deep gave the spinner figures of five for 100 – his third England five-for.
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