New Zealand fight back to frustrate England in Wellington
England encountered some stubborn New Zealand resistance after enforcing the follow-on in their series-deciding second Test in Wellington, and had Jack Leach to thank for two wickets in the final session.
Captain Ben Stokes sent the hosts straight back in after securing a 226-run first-innings lead on the third morning, but encountered real resolve in the form of an opening stand worth 149 from Tom Latham and Devon Conway.
It took 53 chanceless overs before they were finally parted by Leach, Ollie Pope hanging on to Conway at short-leg, as England rallied after tea to leave New Zealand 202 for three.
The Somerset spinner clean bowled Will Young in classic fashion and Joe Root snared Latham for a well-judged 83, but with the deficit at 24 and seven wickets in hand the Black Caps had fought their way back admirably.
There may yet be some debate over Stokes’ decision to have them follow-on but, although the tactic has fallen out of fashion somewhat in recent years, it fits entirely with his brand of proactive cricket and was surely never in doubt.
Broad had earlier given his captain the option by taking the final three wickets of the first innings to bank figures of four for 61.
Resuming on 138 for seven they were toppled for 209, with skipper Tim Southee making a frisky 73. Fifty of those came in 31 balls in the morning, including three sixes in an over off Leach and another heaved into the stands off Ollie Robinson.
A skier off Broad ended Southee’s fun four short of his career-best score, made on debut against England on debut in 2008. With the door ajar, Broad helped himself to a couple more as Tom Blundell slapped to mid-on and Matt Henry flailed at a short ball.
All eyes were on Stokes, and whether he would put the hosts straight back in, but there should surely have been little doubt he would push the button. With a chance to force the issue and dictate the script, was he ever likely to do anything else?
There was logic too, England having bowled only 53.2 overs and new-ball specialist James Anderson fresh having yet to bowl on the day. But Latham and Conway had ideas of their own, negotiating the 19 overs before lunch in untroubled fashion as they reached 40 without loss.
A couple of not-so-near misses at leg-gully and leg-slip were as close as England came to a half-chance and things were just as barren in the afternoon.
The Kiwi pair put on another 88 in 30 comfortable overs, with Anderson bowling an excellent probing spell that brought nothing more dramatic than a couple of edges which died in front of the slips.
Latham became the seventh New Zealander to 5,000 Test runs as he and Conway played at their own pace rather than England’s – reaching 50 in 124 and 121 balls respectively. England’s bowlers were visibly flagging, with Stokes conspicuous by his absence from the attack.
He finally entered the equation at the start of the evening session, 50 overs into the frustration. It was a chaotic cameo, starting with a nine-ball over as his steady stream of bouncers saw umpire Chris Gaffaney call one wide and two no-balls.
His second over saw more short-pitched bowling, but Leach forced the long-awaited breakthrough at the other end before it became apparent how far Stokes would push his luck with the officials.
A bat-pad chance from the left-armer had long looked like the likeliest mode of dismissal, albeit from an increasingly thin field, and after 17 overs of trying to unlock an opportunity he came good.
Conway nudged forward, saw a thin edge pop off his front leg and watched as Pope swallowed it at short-leg. Having taken two superb one-handers on day two, he was in no mood to let this simpler chance go astray.
Stokes took his leave and tossed the ball to Root, who reunited Conway with Latham by trapping the latter lbw on the sweep for 61. Root could hardly believe his luck, spinning away in celebration before seeking confirmation from the umpire.
Despite the opening pair’s long show of defiance, worth a combined 327 deliveries, both men were off the stage with their side still 71 runs adrift. By now England were visibly lifted and picked up a third thanks to a classic piece of spin bowling from Leach.
New batter Will Young thought he had covered his stumps in defence, but saw the ball grip and turn past the outside edge to clip the top of off. Kane Williamson and Henry Nicholls kept up New Zealand’s fight until the close, leaving some tough work still to do for the travelling team.
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