Early wickets give England control against New Zealand

Visitors lead by 209 runs after day two after Sam Curran took key early dismissals

England’s Sam Curran celebrates as teammate Ben Stokes takes a catch to dismiss New Zealand’s captain Kane Williamson during the second day of the first Test at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui. Photo: David Gray/Getty Images

England’s Sam Curran celebrates as teammate Ben Stokes takes a catch to dismiss New Zealand’s captain Kane Williamson during the second day of the first Test at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui. Photo: David Gray/Getty Images

 

First Test, Day Two: England 353ao (B Stokes 91, J Denly 74, R Burns 52; T Southee 4-32, N Wagner 3-32); New Zealand 144-4 (K Williamson 51, H Nicholls 26*, L Taylor 25; S Curran 2-10). England lead by 209 runs.

The second evening of Mount Mauganui’s maiden Test match was another bathed in spring sunshine and for the supporters who lay back on the grass banks and drank in an absorbing battle for control, it was bliss.

Kane Williamson, New Zealand’s captain, was putting on a clinic in frictionless batting and though England’s first innings total of 353 looked competitive – certainly more so than the 295 for eight it had been after morning collapse – the local hero was neatly chipping away at the deficit.

But with 45 minutes left in proceedings, and Williamson freshly past his latest half-century, the darnedest thing happened: a ball from Sam Curran suddenly reared off a length on this sleepy pitch, caught the right-hander’s glove and flew to the safe hands of Ben Stokes at second slip.

England had the wicket they prize above all others and with New Zealand closing on 144 for four from 51 overs – the head of the not out Henry Nicholls still ringing at stumps after being struck by a nasty short ball from Jofra Archer late on – a day that had begun with a wobble was theirs.

Curran’s two for 28 from 10 overs, which included the wicket of opener Tom Latham with his third ball, was a satisfying return for Joe Root and the head coach, Chris Silverwood, who had plumped for the left-armer over Chris Woakes at No 8 but seen their man fall for a golden duck first up.

The 21-year-old’s ability to brush this off with a couple of key interventions was much like Stokes, the player he says hopes to emulate. And England’s premier all-rounder was not quiet on this front either, following 91 with bat with a strike of his own after tea when Ross Taylor top-edged down the throat of deep square leg on 25.

Jack Leach ducks under bouncer during play on day two. Photo: Mark Baker/AP Photo
Jack Leach ducks under bouncer during play on day two. Photo: Mark Baker/AP Photo

Williamson had been slightly dormant at this point but he was scarcely out of control. The New Zealand captain had spent the training days working hard on the short-ball in preparation for the expected barrage from Archer and withstood everything England’s new weapon had thrown at him.

Indeed his innings, though cut short in the end, was looking like another entry into catalogue of Williamson classics. From the moment he walked out in the eighth over he met the ball with those soft hands in defence and used the pace of Archer and Stuart Broad when punching through cover.

Williamson’s ability to keep his emotions in check was perhaps needed most when his second-wicket stand of 54 with Jeet Raval was broken after tea by the opener’s slightly bizarre approach to playing Jack Leach in conditions offering the left-armer only a smidgeon of drift with the breeze.

Raval had survived the initial wave of attack from the seamers – one that had seen Latham fall lbw to Curran and opt against a review, despite a suggestion of an edge on HotSpot – and looked to be holding firm. Yet against Leach, Raval was suddenly in strife, attempting four agricultural mows with varying degrees of success but little conviction.

The first found fresh air and saw England denied a reveiwed lbw shout on impact by umpire’s call. The next two found the boundary but with cries of “catch it” resulting from duffed contact. The fourth simply found Joe Denly at mid-wicket for a neat catch above his head.

It had been a smart move by Root to introduce Leach as early as the 15th over, chiefly for the change of pace. And it may have given the spinner a little confidence boost after the captain’s recent public interest in coaxing Moeen Ali back from his self-imposed break.

Leach knows Moeen’s all-round credentials – when on song – make him vulnerable in this side. But in the morning he once again showed his gumption with the bat through a 95-minute red-inker of 18 runs that, allied with Jos Buttler’s 43, helped arrest a collapse of four for 18 in 20 balls.

Tim Southee had torn through the lower middle-order with three of these strikes, cutting off Stokes nine short of his century thanks to a flying take by Taylor at slip, profiting from a loose drive by Ollie Pope and trapping Curran lbw first-ball. Buttler and Leach ensured the diligent work on day was not completely torched.

There was a mild stir about Buttler’s demise, caught at deep point by Mitchell Santner. The fielder had been beyond advertising hoardings signing a few autographs when Neil Wagner started his run-up – before dashing back on – but there was no protest from England. – Guardian

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