BJ Watling and Daryl Mitchell make England toil after early breakthroughs

New Zealand
Daryl Mitchell plays a shot © Getty Images

New Zealand 248 for 5 (Watling 29*, Mitchell 26*) v England

A fascinating morning of nip-and-tuck ended with New Zealand’s sixth-wicket partnership once again pulling them clear of danger, having seen off an energetic morning burst from England’s seamers to lift the score to 248 for 5.

Only 75 runs were added in an extended two-and-a-half session, but with BJ Watling once again looking steadfast on 29, and the debutant Daryl Mitchell growing in confidence on 26, New Zealand were setting their sights on the sort of 350-plus total that may well make Joe Root regret giving them first use of an unusually grassy pitch on the first day.

When play resumed on 173 for 3, after Friday’s first session had been washed out, the manner of England’s early breakthrough perhaps came as something of a surprise, for throughout his first-day century, Tom Latham’s judgement of his off stump had been the defining feature of his innings.

But it’s not for nothing that Stuart Broad’s round-the-wicket-to-the-left-handers tactic caused David Warner sleepless nights during the Ashes, and Latham was soon served his own measure of indecision as he shouldered arms and heard the death rattle – his off stump pegged back by the perfect inducking angle.

Latham was gone for 105. His only scoring shot of the morning had come one ball before his dismissal, a glorious on-drive as Broad fractionally over-pitched. But as one centurion left the field, another joined the fray in Watling, New Zealand’s immoveable object in the first Test at Mount Maunganui.

At the other end, Henry Nicholls, 5 not out overnight, picked off two boundaries to get his day’s work up and running, but was soon undone by an energetic burst from Sam Curran. After a rather floaty first-day’s work, Curran set out to hit the deck with more intent in his morning spell, and soon earned his reward when an excellently directed bouncer got big on Nicholls’ pugnacious pull. Broad at backward square swallowed the chance with glee, and at 191 for 5, the innings was there for the taking.

Mind you, that’s what England had thought at Mount Maunganui as well – New Zealand’s had been tottering at 197 for 5 on that occasion, before Watling and Co. cranked their innings up to a monstrous 615 for 9 declared. And while such riches are still a while away yet, the glimmer of an opportunity that Watling offered at the top of his innings today may yet prove to be crucial.

Ollie Pope hadn’t arrived in New Zealand expecting to be the Test wicketkeeper, but for the most part he has looked the part behind the stumps – diving well to intercept some occasionally wayward fare, and gathering with a well-honed technique that, as he reminded Sky Sports before the start of play, he has been practicing since the age of eight.

Nevertheless, there was perhaps just a fraction of culpability on Pope’s part when, on 1, Watling grazed a low edge off a superb stump-threatening outswinger from Curran. The ball died on Pope as he stooped forward – perhaps a man with more than five first-class appearances would have stayed lower from the outset and bought himself those extra few inches. Either way, the moment was lost, and as we’ve already seen in this series, he resolves not to offer too many in the first place.

At the other end, the new boy Daryl Mitchell took his time to get going. A handful of cameos in the T20 series were scant preparation for the emotion and pressure of a Test debut innings, but with his mum filming every ball on her phone, he dug deep for eight scoreless deliveries before lumping a rare Woakes long-hop through midwicket for a very cathartic first boundary.

With the new ball looming, and the match very much in the balance, England successfully persuaded the umpires to sanction a ball-change, and with the prospect of a colder, harder lump of leather to get things moving again, Root tossed the ball to his favourite enforcer, Stokes – a man whom many people had assumed would not bowl again on this tour after aggravating a knee problem on the first afternoon.

He was unable to breach New Zealand’s defences – though not for want of trying – and nor was Joe Denly, whose perfectly serviceable legbreaks were nevertheless treated to one monstrously dismissive swipe – a huge golf-swing of a straight drive from Mitchell that travelled the best part of 110m, and which was then followed up by an almost comically obdurate defensive block next ball.

For defence was the watchword of a burgeoning sixth-wicket stand, particularly when the new ball duly arrived, and was seen off without too much alarm – save one vociferous appeal for lbw from Broad against Mitchell, who was pinned in front of off by a late inducker, but umpire Dharmasena rightly adjudged it was going over the top. England might well have reviewed, but they’d already burnt their last for an lbw appeal from Curran against Watling that took a big inside-edge.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @miller_cricket

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ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

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