Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell thwart England in familiar fashion after bizarre breakthrough

by 24britishtvJune 23, 2022, 6 p.m. 15
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It didn't end up being the day of ascendancy that New Zealand might have envisaged after winning the toss in prime batting conditions, but at least in the continuation of a now-familiar middle-order alliance, it proved to be one in which England were made to work for their breakthroughs, on a day in which their luckiest break of the series couldn't quite atone for the key moments that got away.

By the close of the first day's play at Headingley, Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell had combined for their third significant stand of the series, an 102-run alliance for the sixth wicket, to lift their team from a ropey 123 for 5 at tea, and set a new national record in the process too - their total of 593 runs together has overtaken the previous record for a single series of 552, set by Martin Crowe and Andrew Jones in their one-off Test against Sri Lanka in 1990-91.

Their partnership could hardly have begun in more bizarre circumstances. Facing up to the spin of Jack Leach in the final over of the afternoon session, Henry Nicholls launched into one of his few attacking strokes in a formless innings of 19 from 99 balls. It should have been his second boundary, but instead the ball deflected off the face of Mitchell's bat and straight to Alex Lees at mid-off, a moment reminiscent of the late Andrew Symonds' dismissal in an ODI against Sri Lanka in 2006.

For Leach, who had already struck with his first ball of the day to trap Will Young lbw, the fluke was due reward for his best day's work of the series, and it was the cue too for a diligent afternoon of holding-pattern spin bowling, as he twirled his way through 23 consecutive overs either side of tea, for the commendable tight figures of 1 for 54, and 2 for 72 all told.

And yet, to judge by the serenity with which Mitchell and Blundell eased through to stumps, England would surely have traded that moment of fortune for a chance to revisit the day's key flashpoint - a huge mid-afternoon appeal for lbw against Mitchell, on 8 at the time, as Matt Potts thudded an inswinger into his front pad in the midsts of another energetic day's work.

HawkEye showed that the ball would have been hitting middle and leg, but Ben Stokes declined to send the decision upstairs - perhaps as a consequence of a moment, in Potts' previous spell, when England had lost a review in slightly bizarre circumstances, when the left-handed Nicholls on 4 was adjudged by the third umpire Aleem Dar to have inside-edged another inswinger that would have been striking leg stump.

Either way, Mitchell's let-off seemed to be the cue for him to up the ante, particularly against Leach, whom he struck for two fours and a big straight six into the Football Stand in the space of six balls, for all that the spinner was already extracting more turn and bounce than he was able to produce in the whole of the Trent Bridge Test.

Mitchell allowed himself one significant shot in anger in the rest of his day's work, a superb lofted drive off Leach to bring up his fifty with a six over long-off, and a single to midwicket in Leach's final over of the day took him to his overnight 78 not out, as well as bringing up the pair's third century stand of the series. Blundell for his part reached the close on 45 not out from 108 balls - following directly on from his 96 at Lord's and his 106 at Trent Bridge, in another indomitably solid day's work.

England, nevertheless, could be broadly satisfied with their day's work. Having clattered along at close to 4 an over in their first innings at Trent Bridge, New Zealand's close-of-play 225 for 5, with the new ball still shiny, meant that they were still some way short of making full use of Kane Williamson's correct call at the toss.

Under the previous regime, Broad - who turns 36 on Friday - might well have been rested for this fixture, after back-to-back matches at Lord's and Trent Bridge, and with the delayed fifth Test against India looming large at Edgbaston next week. However, with his sidekick James Anderson already out of contention with an ankle niggle, Broad's importance as England's senior seamer was plain to see, right from the moment of an exemplary and successful first over that claimed the scalp of Tom Latham for a duck.

After losing the toss and being asked to bowl first on a dauntingly straw-coloured pitch, Broad had the left-handed Latham in his sights from the outset, as he hammered a good length from round the wicket in his now-habitual fashion. Latham left his first four balls, but after being drawn forward to block the fifth, he was caught perfectly in two minds by the coup de grace, a length ball on off stump that seamed just enough to take the edge and fly through to Joe Root at first slip.

It was another failure in this series for Latham, whose highest score in five outings is the 26 he made in the first innings at Trent Bridge. But New Zealand's predicament could have been even worse one Broad delivery later, when Kane Williamson - taking back over from Latham as captain after missing the second Test with Covid - fenced down the leg side and inches past the diving wicketkeeper Ben Foakes, in what had been a deliberate ploy to tuck him up, seeing as Ollie Pope had just been posted at leg slip.

At the other end, Young was never allowed to settle into his stay. After a firm back-foot punch off Potts had brought up his first boundary, Young almost lost his middle stump to an ill-judged pull that skidded through lower than anticipated, and on 8, he might have run himself out with a quick single to mid-on, where Potts' pick-up-and-shy flew inches wide of the stumps.

He'd already had one standing ovation for his first act of the match, a regulation piece of fielding at fine leg. But the second was far more heartfelt, as he nailed the perfect line and length from round the wicket to Young, dipping the ball into a tangle of pads and extracting the lbw verdict from umpire Marais Erasmus. Young reviewed, but to no avail - he'd got his bat stuck behind his pad on impact as HawkEye showed the ball to be smashing middle stump.

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