Has Joe Root dropped the New Zealand World Test Championship Warm-Up Series decider? That was the question on everyone's lips, certainly those in a lively Edgbaston at 2.50pm on the second afternoon.
A nippy Ollie Stone delivery swung enough to take the edge of a loose Will Young push that flew straight to Root at first slip. Arms aloft, Stone was already taking the plaudits from his boisterous home crowd as poor Joe made the ball look like a hot potato wrapped in a bar of soap. Not once, not twice, but thrice, it slid from different parts of captain Root's anatomy; time and Young stood still. Alas for Root and England both also continued after the ball hit the Edgbaston deck.
It was a case of insult added to earlier injury for England. Devon Conway, the double centurion on debut at Lord's, edged Stuart Broad low to Zak Crawley at third slip. Everyone, most tellingly Crawley, felt England had their man. Not so, the umpires, whose soft signal was not out. Multiple replays seemed to support Crawley's case, but with just enough doubt for that soft signal to hold sway. An apoplectic Broad had to soak it up, barely containing his indignation.
Will Young was on a mere seven when handed his life, Conway on 22. Conway did eventually fall for 80. Ironically undone by the same combination of Crawley and Broad this time with no questions asked.
Young outdid him by two, reaching 82, seemingly immovable as England laboured without success to both him and Ross Taylor. A change of ball, some swing, but gradually England's fire was drawn and Young looked nailed on to be heading towards a first Test century tomorrow morning. Until, that is, his wicket brought the day's proceedings to a close in the most improbable fashion.
The day had started in magnificently entertaining fashion, with England on 258 for seven. England fans would have been hoping that Lawrence, on 67, could nudge them towards 300 and that Durham's favourite equine fast bowler, on 16, could stay long enough to support him. The role reversal we got was extraordinary. Wood rapidly accelerated from gentle trot to full-on gallop, smashing a further 25 combining both poise and power, whilst Lawrence remained primarily a spectator. It will been a huge relief to New Zealand, when Wood swung at a Matt Henry outswinger, inside edging onto his stumps.
Broad went quickly before England's record-breaking Jimmy Anderson strode to the crease to try and see Lawrence to the landmark. Predictably met with a standing ovation, Jimmy decided against acknowledging the crowd's appreciation on his way in. A professional focus on the job in hand, rather than false modesty, the most likely motivation – and he did his bit, contributing four off 16 deliveries faced, as Lawrence moved stylishly and faultlessly to 81 before Anderson succumbed lbw to Trent Boult on review. A very fine effort from the Essex man and with Crawley and James Bracey not making any case at all, it should be more than enough to see him retained to face India.
England had reached the dizzy heights of 303 which, although less than they may have wanted when 67 without loss on the first morning, was none the less a good recovery.
The visitors lost captain Tom Latham early, lbw for six, a first victim for Broad, who looked much more like his old self, extracting swing and bounce and displaying a very different demeanour to that in his frustrating spell at Lord's. With the wicket of Conway, albeit second time lucky, he finished on two for 22 from his 15 overs in the day.
It would be churlish to focus just on New Zealand's slices of luck. Conway really does look a class act and gradually wore down England's attack, once again cutting and driving superbly. A late starter at Test level maybe, but undoubtedly here to stay.
Young deserved his luck and he took it with both hands and no little style until, that is, Joe Root threw the ball to Dan Lawrence. In his second over, his first ball turned, his second was loose and despatched uppishly through covers by Young. His third, however, bit and bounced, found Young's inside edge and was swooped on by Ollie Pope. Cue an Alan Shearer celebration from Lawrence. Very much England's hero of the day.
If he can find similar bounce and turn tomorrow, he may just earn the epithet Lawrence of Birmingham. However, with New Zealand on 229 for three, just 74 runs behind, England will need quick wickets to keep New Zealand in sight. Ross Taylor, not out on 46, may not know how he survived one spell from Broad, but survive he did.
Advantage New Zealand at the end of an entertaining and intriguing day. Don't miss a ball of it with us tomorrow.