Harry Brook wicket cracks open New Zealand resistance in Wellington
Harry Brook was England’s unlikely game-changer with the ball, dismissing centurion Kane Williamson in his first spell in international cricket and cracking open New Zealand’s resistance in the second Test in Wellington.
The tourists ended day four on 48 for one, chasing a tricky 258 to win the series 2-0, but in spite of Zak Crawley’s late dismissal things could easily have been even tougher.
England were surely bemoaning their decision to make the Black Caps follow on as the hosts positioned themselves for a big lead built around Williamson’s expertly judged 132.
With Ben Stokes unable to bowl due to his chronic knee complaint and the remainder of the attack creaking after 200 consecutive overs in the field, Brook was summoned to turn his arm over for a spell of pedestrian pace bowling.
It seemed less a calculated gamble than an act of desperation, but when wicketkeeper Ben Foakes held on to a sliver of an edge down the leg side the whole tone of the game shifted.
Having watched Williamson and Tom Blundell (90) blunt their flagging bowlers in a partnership worth 158 in 271 balls, they took the last five wickets for just 28 runs to reassert control of a match that was threatening to slip away.
New Zealand went from 455 for five, a resounding response to being sent straight back in by Stokes the previous morning, to 483 all out in little more than 10 overs.
That left a chase of 258 on the table, steeper than Stokes would have liked when enforcing the follow-on but far below what he would have feared before Brook’s unexpected intervention.
Foakes deserves enormous credit for his contribution too, with his impeccable glovework helping strangle Williamson before he poached a run out that Michael Bracewell should never have allowed.
Culling Foakes has been touted as a possible route back for Jonny Bairstow when he returns to fitness, but here the Surrey keeper undeniably proved his value. Jack Leach bowled a mammoth 61.3 overs, joylessly for long periods before cashing in at the back end to finish with five for 157.
The home side were still 24 adrift on 202 for three at the start of play, with Williamson four away from becoming his country’s record Test run-scorer. He pinged James Anderson off his toes to see off Ross Taylor’s mark of 7,683 in the first over of the day but there was plenty still to do.
England made inroads at the other end in the morning session, Henry Nicholls squirting Ollie Robinson to Brook at third slip and Daryl Mitchell toe-ending Stuart Broad to the safe hands of Joe Root after a dashing half-century.
New Zealand were 99 ahead at lunch and added another 98 in the middle session as the English bodies started to visibly wilt. There was some stiff fielding and an increasingly conspicuous lack of Stokes, who twice appeared to hurt himself while stopping the ball.
With his left knee already a problem, no further fitness concerns are required to furrow the brows of English fans. Williamson made steady progress towards his 26th hundred and looked to be dead set on extending England’s headaches deep into the evening.
When Brook came on, it seemed to signal a note of surrender. He chipped in just 26 wicketless overs for Yorkshire last season, some of them as an off-spinner, and there was nothing about his first 17 deliveries, hovering around 65mph, that marked him out as a threat to Williamson.
One minor misjudgment and a sharp reminder of Foakes’ fast hands later, and the match situation was flipped. Root will take his share of credit too, having pleaded with Stokes to review the original not-out decision while even Foakes was unsure.
England’s biggest obstacle had been removed by their gentlest weapon and when Bracewell skipped through the crease without making his ground they were in control.
The run out would also have been impossible had Stokes, unable to pull his weight as a bowler, not chased and threw with full commitment. Foakes swiped the bails one-handed while both of Bracewell’s feet and his bat were in the air and the tail was exposed.
Leach, who had whirled away tirelessly, did not miss the chance to cash in. He snagged Tim Southee and Matt Henry, before Blundell was last man down hacking to slip.
That put the off-form Zak Crawley back in the frame and he contributed a flighty 24 before being bowled through the gate by a jagging delivery from Southee. He produced a wild top edge off the second ball of the innings, should have been run out and carved over the slips all while in single figures.
But he also made a dent in the run chase, leaving Ben Duckett (23no) and nightwatcher Ollie Robinson to carry the baton.
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