England 258-7 (Burns 81, Lawrence 67*; Boult 2-56, Henry 2-66, Patel 2-34)
New Zealand may have sent pretty much their B team on to the Edgbaston outfield for the second Test but it mattered little as England had only brought their B game – and in the periods immediately after lunch and tea any examiners would have been hard pushed to give them a C minus or even a D plus.
In 18 minutes at the beginning of the second session, the touring team, by contrast, recorded straight A’s, ripping out three of England’s frontline batsmen. And there was something of a repeat after tea when Rory Burns, the only man to earn anything like a decent report card until Dan Lawrence blossomed as the sun returned in the evening, and James Bracey, left-handers both, fell in successive balls to Trent Boult at the end of his 16th over and the beginning of his 17th.
In between, Ollie Pope gave New Zealand a bonus wicket as he went back to cut the relatively innocuous left-arm spin of Ajaz Patel and, to his obvious frustration, edged behind.
England had won the toss on a pitch that looked reasonable enough for batting, but had chosen to make only one alteration – Olly Stone for the suspended Ollie Robinson as the perennially unlucky Jack Leach resigned himself to another five days of carrying the drinks. Unfortunately, that meant weakening an already suspect batting line-up even more as Robinson had given a very decent account of himself with the bat in the first Test.
New Zealand, for their part, changed half-a-dozen, one eye on the World Test Championship final to come. The world-class Tim Southee, six for 43 in the first innings at Lord’s, was replaced by the equally world-class Trent Boult – indeed, the pair are, respectively, the third and fourth leading wicket-takers in NZ Test history – but the impressive Kyle Jamieson, 39 wickets in seven Tests at 15.15, was replaced by Matt Henry, 31 in 13 at 51.54 – on paper not quite so eye-catching.
Elsewhere, Colin De Grandhomme, bit-part allrounder with 47 wickets in 25 Tests, was replaced by bit-part allrounder Daryl Mitchell, one wicket at 110 from four Tests. Only Neil Wagner of the Lord’s seamers remained but, as a man willing to go through the pain barrier and bowl New Zealand to victory over Pakistan with a broken toe in the winter, we know that a trio of back-to-back Tests will more inspire him than tire him.
On the batting front the injured Kane Williamson, the world’s No 1 Test batsman, gave way to Tom Latham as captain, with Will Young, 48 runs in two Tests, taking his skipper’s place at No 3 in the order. Behind the stumps BJ Watling, 74 Tests, pulled up lame shortly before what would have been his penultimate one, Tom Blundell, with only 10 Tests behind him at the age of 30, finding himself in situ.
Joe Root quite rightly decided to make first use of the Edgbaston surface and the morning session was serene and lacking in incident as Burns and Dom Sibley, the accumulator’s accumulator, added 67 without loss. New Zealand may have missed the incisiveness of Southee and Jamieson but in truth there had been little help for the seamers, even one as good as Boult. Sibley, unjustly criticised for following management orders as England ground out the draw at Lord’s, was, perhaps surprisingly, the more aggressive of the two openers, at one point driving two fours in an over through the off-side as the tourists posted a backward square leg and short mid-wicket to cut off his favoured areas.
But the interval brought a swift change in the geometry of the contest. Boult, returning for a second spell in the half hour up to lunch, had hinted that more swing was becoming available under heavier skies, but it was Henry and Wagner who were handed the ball after the interval, and Henry immediately found Sibley’s outside edge.
England have a trio of talented but, of late, underachieving middle-order batsmen, one of whom will certainly be discarded on the return of Ben Stokes, but none of them seem to have quite recovered from their winter’s struggles in the sub continent – a kind of collective post-traumatic Test disorder. And Zak Crawley looks the most unsettled of the three, two early dismissals to drives off the swing of Southee in the first Test having compounded the confusion of a man whose attacking game is a joy to watch when he’s on song.
Wagner, the left-armer, toyed with his uncertainty and, had a wicked inswinger done just a little more, it would have uprooted his stumps for sure. As it was, the Kent batsman was worryingly late on the shot and next ball, as one went across him, he edged horribly into the slips, his static feet testament to a mind scrambled about whether to follow its natural instinct to attack.
The anxiety even seemed to infect Root, who edged a wild drive off Henry between third slip and gully for four but was powerless to prevent the edge behind when, next up, the paceman bowled him a delicious cherry that swung just enough on the line of off stump.
Burns, as he had done during his century at Lord’s, tried to stay immune from the difficulties at the other end and with help from Pope, who mixed the occasional well-timed clip through mid-wicket with mistimed drives and a scratchy manner, took the score from 85 for three to 127 before Pope’s unnecessary cut brought his downfall.
Burns had moved to a ninth fifty with a lovely punch through the covers for two off Wagner – and although it had absorbed 141 balls, his relative certainty must have given some confidence to Dan Lawrence, who survived a huge appeal for lbw early on as Boult ripped one back into a pad that shuffled only inches outside off – at full speed, a brilliant ruling by umpire Richard Kettleborough.
The pair made it to tea on 152 for four, but a refreshed Boult was not to be denied. He found Burns on the walk 12 minutes into the final session and the swing, as the bowler had designed it to, took the ball off the edge for a very decent slip catch by Latham, low down to his left. James Bracey came to the wicket but had to watch an over to Lawrence before taking guard.
As soon as he did though, he was lured by Boult into a drive to another swinging delivery, one that a more experienced player at this level would have ignored, and departed with a golden duck and still without a Test run to his name.
Stone and Lawrence battled on, now under lights, Stone, in only his third Test showing more batting acumen than a first-class average of just over 15 would suggest, perhaps helped by a softening ball. But with the new ball on the horizon he tried to sweep Patel, missed, and as the ball rattled into his box, left lbw with injury added to insult.
Mark Wood lent decent support to Lawrence as he began to find sweet timing, particularly with his off drives, and the Essex batsman went to a third Test fifty as the clouds lifted again, off 75 balls and with eight fours.
At one point in the afternoon demoralised England supporters could be heard voicing a number of choruses to tell us that “football is coming home” – a reference to the European Championships due to start at the end of day 2 here.
England’s cricketers belatedly attempted to persuade them that the greater entertainment was to be had in Birmingham but as the day moved towards its close, team and fans would probably be united in reflecting that they merited only a C for effort.