Entertaining England Ease To Victory

Brendan McCullum’s homecoming got off to a perfect start as England wrapped up an impressive 267-run victory over New Zealand on the fourth day of the first Test. It was a typically entertaining and efficient performance from England, their first Test victory in New Zealand in fifteen years and their first-ever overseas day/night Test success. England’s performance featured many trademarks of the Bazball era; aggressive batting, records tumbling, some magic from Harry Brook, England’s veteran seamers continuing to defy age, and even an appearance from the nighthawk. England’s relaxed preparation paid dividends, while New Zealand’s captain Tim Southee may rue his decision to bowl first, a decision that twice left his side exposed under the lights.

Southee’s decision appeared vindicated when he removed Zak Crawley early on day one, England’s opener managing to cram in an alarming number of reprieves into his short innings. But England’s batting heroes of Pakistan, Ben Duckett and Harry Brook, gave the tourists the momentum, as a Kiwi bowling attack featuring two debutants in Scott Kuggeleijn and Blair Tickner were made to toil in the sunshine. Duckett looked especially imperious, timing the ball gloriously and playing some sumptuous drives down the ground. Duckett made 84 off just 68 deliveries, while Brook made 89 at a similarly rapid pace. Brook sometimes rode his luck but batted with his usual blend of style and savagery, his confidence and conviction unwavering.

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It was a typically frenetic England innings, occasionally outstanding, often outrageous, and sometimes frustrating if you’re a little curmudgeonly. England’s wickets were largely gifted, but such is the nature of their approach you can hardly complain, though Joe Root’s dismissal reverse-scooping would have many traditionalists scoffing. England’s tail failed to wag, and Ben Stokes declared with England 325-9 after a scarcely believable 59.2 overs, the second-earliest declaration ever in the first innings of a Test match. It was a typically bold decision from Stokes, allowing his seamers the opportunity to exploit conditions under the lights. It looked like a masterstroke at the close of play, with New Zealand 37-3, James Anderson picking up two wickets, including the crucial dismissal of Kane Williamson.

Nightwatchman Neil Wagner provided a brief flurry of entertainment on the second morning, but after Ollie Robinson had trapped Daryl Mitchell LBW, the hosts were reeling at 83-5. Devon Conway had been resolute at the other end and went on to make 77 before tamely falling to a Ben Stokes short ball. Several of the Kiwi’s dismissals were somewhat loose, especially Michael Bracewell’s, but wicket-keeper Tom Blundell salvaged their innings superbly. New Zealand ended up reaching 306, thanks to Blundell’s brilliant 138, as he marshalled the tail superbly, adding 59 for the last wicket with Tickner. Blundell’s heroics ensured England’s lead was slender than anticipated, despite Ollie Robinson claiming figures of 4-54, yet another impressive overseas performance from the metronomic seamer.

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England’s openers were faced with a tricky period under lights, but both batted with typical positivity, blunting the hosts’ optimism. However, Tickner removed Duckett, and with the close of play looming, Kuggeleijn got rid of Crawley with a short delivery that seemed to hold in the pitch. Stuart Broad was sent in as the nighthawk and should have been shot down two balls later, only reprieved by a comical mix-up between Kuggeleijn and Blundell. Broad was swiftly removed the next morning, but Ollie Pope and Joe Root engaged in an industrious partnership, profiting from New Zealand’s bizarre short-ball tactic, which Pope, in particular, enthusiastically exploited.

Harry Brook ensured England’s momentum didn’t falter with yet another half-century, as Root and he stretched England’s lead. Their dismissals briefly opened a window of hope for the hosts, but Ben Foakes made a vital fifty, underlying his importance to this England side. Ben Stokes chipped in with a useful cameo, surpassing his coach’s record for test sixes, while Ollie Robinson provided similarly good support. England were eventually bowled out for 374, leaving New Zealand needing 394 to win and needing to negotiate another tricky period under the lights.

Enter Stuart Broad. The seamer is renowned for his ability to produce magic spells, and under the lights, in Mount Maunganui, he treated us to a devastating spell of fast bowling. New Zealand’s top order was decimated, Broad clean bowling all four of his victims, his line and length exemplary, constantly probing the stumps with a hint of seam movement. In the process, Broad and Anderson passed Australian legends Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne as Test cricket’s most successful bowling partnership, a testament to the pair’s longevity. It’s an appropriate setting for the landmark, as the duo’s bowling partnership began in New Zealand fifteen years ago. Broad’s spell all but ensured England’s victory, with Anderson mopping up the tail on the fourth morning with only Darly Mitchell providing some resistance.

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Broad and Anderson finished with four wickets apiece in the second innings, while Robinson’s impressive first-innings performance contributed to a fine effort from England’s seamers all round. England will likely rotate their bowling attack for the second Test in Wellington, with Olly Stone and Matthew Potts battling for a place in the side. New Zealand must lick their wounds, and quickly, their two debutants acquitted themselves reasonably well, but their bowling was too loose at times, with England’s batters needing no invitation to tuck in. Their batting was desperately timid at times, though credit must be given to England’s seamers, who were miserly with their lengths. For England, the entertainment seems set to continue, and long may it last.

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