Harry Brook and Joe Root partnership puts England in strong position
Harry Brook’s remarkable rise continued with a big unbeaten hundred as he shared a game-changing partnership with fellow centurion Joe Root on day one of England’s Test decider against New Zealand in Wellington.
The pair came together came together with the pressure on, England slumping to 21 for three after being put in on a green pitch at Basin Reserve, but turned the tables in style as they piled on an unbroken stand of 294 to reach 315 for three.
Brook was in staggering form as he notched up 184 not out, bullying the Black Caps attack in a domineering innings that included five sixes and 24 fours, with Root 101no at stumps.
In reaching four Test hundreds in just six Tests, Brook matched the achievement of the sport’s gold standard – Australian great Sir Donald Bradman – and he is now the highest run-scorer in Test history after nine innings. India’s Vinod Kambli previously held that distinction, but Brook raced away as he raised his Test average to a barely believable 108.
His emphatic display of ball-striking left Root, a viable contender for England’s greatest ever batter, in the supporting role as the master/apprentice dynamic between the Yorkshire team-mates was flipped on its head.
While he happily ceded the spotlight to Brook, who celebrated his 24th birthday this week, Root made sure to cash in himself as he posted his 29th hundred and first in eight Tests.
Having spoken last week of his struggles to define his role in the ultra-aggressive regime of Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum, Root settled back into the calm and controlled rhythm that has brought him more than 10,000 Test runs.
This was a day to luxuriate in another special talent, though. This was the biggest and best innings of Brook’s young career, built from a precarious position and showing off a staggering range.
He thrashed the Kiwi attack to all parts, driving hard and true, pulling with authority and throwing his hands any hint of width. He was particularly dismissive of Daryl Mitchell’s medium pace, repeatedly pumping the all-rounder back down the ground and at one stage in the evening session scooping him for six over fine-leg.
That strain of creativity also saw him shuffling around his crease to disrupt the bowlers’ line, opening up scoring zones that New Zealand captain Tim Southee had never even thought to plug.
New Zealand had enjoyed a near perfect start to proceedings, eagerly inserting the opposition on a grassy surface that Stokes admitted had the English seamers “licking their lips”.
It took little more than half-an-hour for the Kiwis to take England’s top order out of the equation, Matt Henry marking his return with a double new-ball strike and Michael Bracewell chipping in a stunning catch at slip to remove Ben Duckett.
First to fall was Zak Crawley, nicking Henry behind with just two to his name, his latest unconvincing response to question marks over his place in the side. He has now been dismissed in single figures four times in his last six visits and has seen his Test average dip below 28 in the process.
Henry picked up another when his attacking off stump line proved too good for Ollie Pope, who sent a thick edge flying to Bracewell in the cordon. It was a sharp chance, safely taken, but paled in comparison to his next grab off Southee – throwing himself back and across to pluck the ball out of the air one-handed.
For New Zealand, everything that followed was downhill. Brook began the job of switching the momentum with three consecutive fours off Southee, the third coming from a step down the pitch and fierce crack on impact. There would be plenty more where that came from.
Root, who survived a first-ball lbw appeal, flew under the radar as he settled in for a long stay, but Brook’s natural exuberance carried him past 50 by lunch. Another 136 runs flowed between lunch and tea, Brook setting the tone with a pristine drive off Henry and bludgeoning Mitchell for a matching pair of sixes down the ground.
New Zealand’s decision to go in a bowler light for this match was looking like an error, with Neil Wagner’s diet of short balls ineffective and Southee struggling to land a blow. On 99 Brook threaded a cut to the ropes, celebrating what is fast becoming a familiar achievement with Root.
The tea break did little to revitalise the hosts, who tried to hang the ball out wide and merely brought out the creative side in England. Having showed off his blunt power game, Brook was now threading balls to the third man boundary.
Root was also upping the ante, zipping through the eighties and nineties and pulling out his favourite new toy, a reverse ramp over the slips. His hundred came up off 182 deliveries, getting just ahead of the rain shower that ended England’s charge.
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