Review of the 2nd Test
England lost to New Zealand by one run in one of the most thrilling finishes in Test history. James Anderson strangled Neil Wanger’s short ball down the leg side, with Tom Blundell safely taking the catch to hand the Kiwis a sensational victory. New Zealand become just the fourth side in Test history to win a match following on, levelling the series and preserving their excellent home Test series record. It was a final day of herculean drama, as the momentum swung back and forth dramatically. Joe Root and Ben Stokes’s partnership appeared to be guiding England towards victory, but their dismissals within a couple of overs of each other proved a pivotal moment. England may rue some careless shot selection, but full credit must go to the Kiwis for hauling themselves back into a game that looked dead and buried at the end of day two.
England arrived in Wellington brimming with confidence after their victory in the first Test, but they were greeted by a green pitch, Tim Southee showing no hesitation in choosing to bowl first. With England reeling at 21-3, his decision looked vindicated, leaving Joe Root and Harry Brook with a salvaging job. But McCullum’s England are less inclined to simply dig in, with Harry Brook opting to counterattack, forcing some of the pressure back onto the Kiwi bowlers. The rest of day one belonged to Root and Brook, the former scoring one of his most valuable Test hundreds, the latter providing a further demonstration of his astonishing talent. England’s positivity turned a perilous position into one of strength, wrestling back the momentum from the Kiwis.Embed from Getty Images
Brook departed early on day two, falling for 186 from just 176 balls, his fourth hundred in what is already turning into a decorated career. Root carried on where he’d left off, his unbeaten 153 allowing Stokes to declare with England on 435, giving his seamers an opportunity to exploit the favourable conditions. Of course, James Anderson delivered, swiftly reducing the Kiwis to 21-3 with a masterful bowling display. Unlike England, New Zealand didn’t launch a stunning riposte, and it was Jack Leach’s turn to take the limelight. Leach’s three wickets, aided by some stunning catches at silly point from Ollie Pope, put England firmly in control, New Zealand ending day two 138-7.
Tim Southee illuminated the morning of day three with some pyrotechnics, clubbing an entertaining 73 from just 49 balls. Southee and Blundell frustrated England for a period, but Stuart Broad took three wickets in quick succession to end the Kiwis’ innings, Stokes opting to enforce the follow-on. Facing a deficit of 226 runs, the Kiwis needed a strong start, and for the first time in the series, Tom Latham and Devon Conway provided that platform. The pair added 149 for the first wicket until Jack Leach prised out Conway for a gritty 61. Root removed Latham not long after, and when Leach bowled Will Young with a beauty, the tide appeared to be turning strongly in England’s favour. New Zealand closed the day on 203-3, still 23 runs in arrears.Embed from Getty Images
Ollie Robinson removed Henry Nicholls early on day four, but Kane Williamson was providing some stubborn resistance at the other end. Daryl Mitchell hit a quickfire fifty, but his dismissal with the score on 294 had England scenting blood. But Tom Blundell has proved a thorn in England’s side during this series, and he and Williamson started to build a frustrating partnership. It had been a lean series up until this point for Williamson, but the former captain provided a reminder of his talents with an excellent hundred. The pair added 158 for the sixth wicket, edging New Zealand’s lead beyond 200 as England started to look a little twitchy.
Who knows if it was desperation or a stroke of genius that made Stokes throw the ball to Harry Brook, but England’s new golden boy came up with the breakthrough. After batting for over seven hours, Williamson would have been extremely disappointed to succumb to Brook’s innocuous seamers. New Zealand lost their last five wickets for 28 runs, with Michael Bracewell paying the price for some amateurish running between the wickets after some excellent work from Stokes in the deep and some typically fast hands from Ben Foakes. Jack Leach ran through New Zealand’s tail, his mammoth efforts rewarded with his fifth Test five-wicket haul. England began their chase needing 258 to win, a stern proposition, but Zak Crawley and Ben Duckett began in typically positive fashion. Southee gave the Kiwis a crucial breakthrough before the close of play, bowling Crawley through the gate with an absolute peach. Despite the excellence of the delivery, Crawley’s dismissal will pose further questions about his place in the side.Embed from Getty Images
England began the final day, requiring a further 210 runs for victory. Southee quickly dispensed of England’s nightwatchman Ollie Robinson, and when Ben Duckett was caught behind slashing at a delivery from Matt Henry, the Kiwis’ tails were firmly up. Tom Blundell stood up to the stumps throughout most of the morning, only enhancing the sense of pressure. Ollie Pope has become renowned for dancing down the pitch to the seamers, but Blundell’s tactics forced him back into his crease and led to his dismissal, cutting one straight to Tom Latham at slip. At 80-4, England were looking jittery, but the reassuring presence of Harry Brook striding out to the crease eased a few butterflies.
However, jitters descended into panic when Brook was walking back a ball later, run out without facing, Bracewell atoning for his second innings brain fade. Root’s reaction suggests it was his fault, and with England 80-5, Ben Stokes strode out to the crease. Bracewell was getting some sharp turn, and with the pitch providing some variable bounce, things were looking sticky for England. But Root batted positively, putting Bracewell under pressure, while Stokes was resolute, despite the obvious discomfort his knee was causing him. The pair built a strong partnership, with Root playing brilliantly, determined to make up for his role in Brook’s runout. Taking England just past 200, it seemed the duo would edge them home and seal a famous winter whitewash.Embed from Getty Images
But the drama was only beginning, and in the space of two overs, the game was transformed by Neil Wagner. The left-armer has faced some brutal treatment at times in the series, but he produced the crucial breakthrough, removing Stokes with a short delivery. In his next over, Wagner got rid of Root with another short-pitched delivery, turning the momentum firmly in New Zealand’s favour. Stuart Broad followed shortly after, only able to uppercut Matt Henry’s well-directed bouncer to Wagner at third man. Broad’s departure left England 215-8, needing 43 runs to win, with Jack Leach joining Ben Foakes at the crease.
New Zealand’s short ball barrage was causing England serious problems and was ultimately to be their demise. Ben Foakes decided to be positive, taking on the short ball, albeit not always convincingly. But as Foakes started to find the boundary, and with Leach providing some staunch support at the other end, England edged closer to their target. However, with seven runs needed for victory, Foakes could only top edge a bouncer from Southee down to Wagner at fine leg, who clung on impressively. James Anderson joined Leach, immediately easing the tension by clubbing a boundary, taking England within two runs of victory. But in scenes reminiscent of England’s famous 2005 victory at Edgbaston, Anderson could only strangle a Wagner bumper through to Tom Blundell, sparking jubilant Kiwi celebrations.
It was a gripping finale, providing the unique levels of drama that only Test cricket can serve up. Huge credit must go to New Zealand for their fightback, showing immense character after being dominated on the first two days. For England, the exhilarating nature of the match softens the disappointment of defeat, Ben Stokes describing himself as feeling “blessed” to have been part of such an incredible Test match. England may reflect on several moments where the match slipped away from them, but such is their determination to entertain that you feel defeat won’t have any ramifications on this side. In an era where Test cricket is often consigned to the back burner, both sides can be proud of producing a game that can only intensify the interest in international cricket’s premier format. The spoils are shared, with cricket very much the winner.