England 303 & 122-9 (Wood 29; Wagner 3-18, Henry 3-36)
New Zealand 388 (Young 82, Conway 80, Taylor 80, Broad 4-48)
Don’t let anyone tell you this New Zealand team does not deserve its place in the World Test Championship final. They are playing exceptional cricket at the moment. Through patience, technique, attention to detail and sheer self-belief – things mostly missing from this England incarnation – they have run rings around a side admittedly not at full strength but on home soil and, in its attack, containing two of the finest and most durable seam and swing bowlers the game has seen.
They should prove the most worthy of opponents for India when the two clash at the Ageas Bowl in a little under a week. (As an aside, had England done enough to earn that meeting, you would not bet on the game lasting much more than the time it took India to dispose of them on three occasions in the winter, once in Chennai and twice in Ahmedabad).
Yesterday, in setting themselves up for a straightforward win that will surely be completed early on the fourth day, the tourists defied an England side boosted by the bonus wicket of Will Young to a part-time spinner from the last ball of the second day, preventing them making serious inroads with the new ball on the third morning and, even when a clatter of wickets went down after lunch, and the lead fell short of what they would have hoped for, they hit back to send back both England openers before tea and most of the rest in an extraordinary two and a half hours after it.
In that period either side of the break, New Zealand’s bowlers found movement that had largely eluded England’s quicker bowlers. Neil Wagner switched back from short-ball enforcer to genuine swing generator with the ease that is the preserve of the most intelligent cricketers while Matt Henry and Trent Boult experimented with a scrambled seam that found something in purchase with the pitch. Even their spinner found a role for himself – and it wasn’t about mopping up tailenders.
Belated resistance from Olly Stone and Mark Wood, two bowlers who also performed creditably with the bat in the first innings, means that England ended the day 37 ahead but with just one wicket in hand.
England had needed wickets at the outset with their opponents only 74 adrift and with plenty of batting to come, and within three overs – two bowled by Dan Lawrence, the off spinner with the action of a marionette controlled by a psychotic puppeteer – they had in their hands a brand new cherry. Yet, under warm and sunny skies, there was a disappointing lack of deviation for Anderson and Broad and when there was any, there was the impression that the pitch was so easy-paced that decent batsmen had the time to adjust.
The 46 runs Ross Taylor had compiled the evening before had been among his most ugly and painful in a Test career that had brought him over 7,000 in Tests, but drives off Anderson showed that he was in a much more fluent frame of mind. Taylor escaped when Pope spilled a low catch from a top-edge off Broad at long leg. Broad responded with an angry bouncer that flew over James Bracey and the wheels were in danger of coming off.
However, in the first over after drinks, Taylor edged Stone behind. The Warwickshire bowler could have had a second wicket in the same over but Blundell’s edge struck Bracey on the wrist as he dived one-handed to his right. Wood, though, got rid of Henry Nicholls shortly before lunch, gloving a bouncer down the leg-side.
But the rush of wickets England so early in the first session arrived only at the beginning of the second. Stone induced a pull from Mitchell that ended in mid-wicket Crawley’s hands before Anderson got on the scorecard by bowling Neil Wagner, promoted to No 8, off his thigh pad.
Wood replaced the erratic Stone and in the first over of his spell his extra pace, much of it dissipated hitherto by an easy paced pitch, accounted for Matt Henry before Broad returned for Anderson and forced Blundell to edge to Root at first slip. Four wickets had fallen for 25 – and Broad had earned the figures his efforts throughout had merited – but a playful last-wicket stand of 27 between Patel and Boult boosted the lead to 85.
The last thing England needed in the circumstances was a poor start. Yet that was provided for them by the one batsman in a decent run of form – Rory Burns – who chased Henry’s second ball and was caught at third slip by Kiwi captain Tom Latham, diving in front of Taylor at second.
Henry then got one to lift that found the outside edge of Sibley’s bat and was snatched greedily by Daryl Mitchell at third slip; the raucous Edgbaston crowd was reduced to silence, dropping pins accompanied by dropping jaws and England 18 for two at tea.
Zak Crawley had played a couple of pleasant off drives to remind us why the selectors so want him to succeed but then was beaten by a Henry delivery that wobbled as if to move away before shooting back to hit him low on the pads. Joe Root looked stunned at the other end, unable to find the shots that would at least rotate the strike – by the time he reached double figures, with his team 72 for six and in acute danger of not making their opponents bat again, he had faced 54 balls.
But before that, Pope, another in danger of losing his place on the return of Ben Stokes, Lawrence and Bracey had departed. Pope and Lawrence were the victims of a classic one-two from Wagner, Pope beaten by the left-armer’s inswing to be lbw, Lawrence flashing airily at the one that went across him to provide a catch behind.
Bracey finally got a Test run and followed it up with a crunching pull through mid-wicket that hinted at better things to come. However, he inexplicably tried to sweep Ajaz Patel while exposing his middle and leg stumps and was bowled for six. He may need a mountain of runs at county level before he returns to England’s thinking.
Worse was to follow as Root perished in the same way as Pope in the first innings, caught behind by the impressive Tom Blundell trying to cut Patel.
Wood and Stone took the score to 120, Wood reprising his impressive strokeplay of the first innings, before Wagner reverted to the short ball and Wood showed he hadn’t the stomach for that sort of thing in the absence of better batting from further up the order and carved high for Blundell to pouch.
Boult tidied up Broad, and Anderson accompanied Stone to the close but it is unlikely his record 162nd appearance for England will provide him with any memories to savour.