it was a triumphant and harum-scarum batsman’s day for England, who scored 383 runs in 88 overs. Nevertheless at its end, they remain 80 behind. Much seems possible in the last two days.
England had a great day at bat, going through different phases. It’s been a long-awaited century for Ollie Pope and another for Joe Root, although that’s routine these days. Alex Lees gave an early test of half a century, and Ben Stokes provided a brief period of carnage that once again changed the complexion of the game.
New Zealand raced to make it 553 in the first set, and England fought fire with fire. New Zealand must win if they are to triumph in this series, but even under difficult circumstances England are showing no signs that they would be content to escape with a draw just yet.
Beginning on night two, when the two had significant lucky breaks when they were dropped by Centurion Daryl Mitchell on the first slip, Lees and Pope shared 141.
These were defining runs for both men. First up is Lees, who looks better with each passing Test round, and has ditched his habit of falling between 20 and 31. He looks confident, driving, cutting and flicking with power. At 67, he just got a bit greedy, following a good pass with a big drive that found its way to the first slide.
Pope had thankfully allowed Lees, then Root, to play the lead in a morning session that saw him face just 30 balls in 15 overs, at one point.
There was a time when he might have gotten impatient, but he hung on admirably and had fun in a wicketless afternoon session. He reached his hundred, his second in Test cricket and the first since moving to No.3 in the summer, with a leg two turn. His strengths were his cover drive, the stroke of his pads and the cut, as well as his crisp run between the wickets.
Pope opened his shoulders after reaching his hundredth birthday, which was celebrated as vigorously by his partner, Root, as Pope himself. There was a hard-cut four, then an upper cut six.
This was a long time coming for Pope, given that his first hundred arrived in January 2020. At this point his average was in the forties, he was tucked away safely at No 6 as he lay down to test cricket. Since then, things have become more difficult. Injuries and mangled thinking caused him to fall badly.
Root hit his 100’s shortly before tea break. There were a few scares, like when he clipped Trent Boult through the hands of the second slide, high above the head, and when he edged a sweep attempt from Tim Southee. But he was in beautifully fluid form, driving all over the offside and whipping draws. Perhaps his accuracy was most striking: At one point New Zealand had four outfielders in the covers, and he threaded a drive between them. In 116 balls, it was his fastest hundred test.
Pope went down after tea, edging out long-legged Boult with the new ball in play, and Jonny Bairstow didn’t last long. He got the slightest feather of a glove from Boult, pairing Root and Stokes.
Root relaxed as Stokes tossed the ground seams, including a six from Kyle Jamieson, who was quickly stopped with a sore back. Stokes took Michael Bracewell’s rotation but was caught deep for 46 from 33 balls. The partnership was 61 from 56 balls – and England suddenly seemed to be pushing for the win.
For Root, the rest of the day – with Ben Foakes – was an exercise in ticking off race by race. He moved up to 12th place in the all-time test score rankings, overtaking Younis Khan and Sunil Gavaskar. His average was over fifty. And, approaching the stumps, it lifted its sixth score over 150 since the start of 2021.
As England advance to day four, there is still much to add. They will need it if they want to win and avoid defeat.