Joe Root ends poor run as century moves England to within striking distance

Rory Burns scores his second Test century in Hamilton as England close 106 runs behind

 Joe Root reacts as New Zealand’s wicketkeeper BJ Watling  fails to stop the ball to let the England captain  reach his century during day three of the second Test at Seddon Park in Hamilton. Photograph: David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

Joe Root reacts as New Zealand’s wicketkeeper BJ Watling fails to stop the ball to let the England captain reach his century during day three of the second Test at Seddon Park in Hamilton. Photograph: David Gray/AFP via Getty Images

 

Day 3 of 5: New Zealand 375 (T Latham 105, D Mitchell 73, BJ Watling 55, R L Taylor 53; S Broad 4-73, C Woakes 3-83, S Curran 2-63) lead England 269-5 (J Root 114no, R Burns 101; T Southee 2-63) by 106 runs.

Joe Root’s 17th Test century and sixth as England captain was his slowest and possibly most determined to date. It might prove to be the most significant too, given the two-year Ashes moonshot he has been talking about of late looked in danger of burning up shortly after take off.

The moment came at 4.55pm on the third day in Hamilton and was one that left him mildly embarrassed. New Zealand’s Neil Wagner had thundered in, took the inside edge and the ball flew just past the stumps and over BJ Watling for four. After a quick punch of the air, Root wore a wry smile and put a palm to his face, such are maddeningly fine margins in the sport.

Milestones may be milestones in some regards. But for Root, this ended a nine-month drought in the century column that, amid a generally low-key 2019, had raised questions about whether England were continuing to sacrifice their best batsman with the burden of captaincy.

This was not the definitive riposte nor a closing of the case. It may have just calmed the debate for a spell. But over 258 balls he had hunkered down for three figures, put on 177 in 63.3 overs with Rory Burns – the opener made his second Test century with 101 – and he was still there on 114 when rain washed out the last hour with England 269 for five.

This meant a deficit of 106 runs still to be whittled off before moving the team into position where they might push for a series-levelling win. That may look tough, not least with more rain forecast and the pitch so flat.

But England’s best day of the series, though still not flawless, would have been pleasing for their new head coach, Chris Silverwood, after flying home early from the tour due to a family bereavement.

It was built around the first England partnership north of 150 since the retirement of Alastair Cook in 2018 as for four-and-a-half hours Burns and Root repelled New Zealand’s attack and turned an overnight score of 39 for two into the platform for the bat-once-bat-big strategy.

Burns was a new batsman to the one who had offered two chances the evening before and looked frantic at the crease, settling into his work with some meaty pulls and clips, bringing up his half-century from 97 balls and three figures from 208.

Root was more restrained than usual, channelling his inner Watling, perhaps, knowing the surface was reward focus. Wagner’s looping knuckle ball – the kind of trick needed with the old ball – caused a couple close shaves, while Mitch Santner got one to spin past the outside edge.

When Burns was run out 30 minutes before tea, having survived another such chance on 87, it left England 201 for three and brought to mind Root’s words on the eve of the match when he spoke about “making good decisions for long periods of time”.

Root had been asked to explain the team’s new mantra of batting time and replied that it was a case identifying tricky periods to that needed to be overcome, rather than a one-size-fits-all approach for a team of players with differing styles.

Burns had just experienced an adrenaline rush when celebrating his second Test century with a bow and, with he and Root best placed to take on a second new ball just seven overs away, here was a time to re-double concentration out in the middle.

But two balls later Burns was trudging off back to the pavilion, having clipped one into the leg-side, jogged the initial run and then been called through for a now tough second by the more impish Root. Jeet Raval’s throw was precise, Watling whipped off the bails and, after much deliberation by the third umpire, Bruce Oxenford, Burns was deemed short by millimetres.

New Zealand managed to inflict two more strikes after tea to peg back their guests and improve their chances of the series win. Ben Stokes looked in glorious touch but a beauty from Tim Southee found his outside edge on 26.

Wagner, who had hammered away all day – literally at one point, helping the groundsman flatten some footmarks – then got his reward when nicking off Zak Crawley for one. The debutant will never forget his first run either, having been forced to dive to complete it.

This collective stumble before the rain, kickstarted by the run out, was England’s latest reminder about switching off for a split second. But with Burns backing up his maiden Test century from the summer, and the captain in the runs, they’d finally had a decent day. – Guardian

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