Root falls at the last to leave England staring down the barrel

Rain relents on day four in Auckland as New Zealand move to brink of first Test victory

Trent Boult celebrates removing Joe Root with the final ball of the day in Auckland. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty

Trent Boult celebrates removing Joe Root with the final ball of the day in Auckland. Photograph: Stu Forster/Getty

 

New Zealand 427-8; England 58 ao and 132-3

Two Test captains fell within the space of five minutes in Cape Town and Auckland. It must have been an agonising experience for the demoted Steve Smith to ask Tim Paine where he should field against South Africa when play resumed there. It was almost as painful for Joe Root in the last over of the day at Eden Park.

Root had battled to 51 in England’s pursuit of the unlikeliest of draws when Trent Boult returned for a final fling. He was fast and on target. In that final over the ball leapt surprisingly and hit Root hard on the right index finger; he was in severe pain and medical assistance was sought. A canny option might have been to retire hurt but this did not occur to Root (or perhaps he thought it was not in the spirit of the game to do so).

After much treatment Root put his glove back on and girded himself for the last two balls of the day. In steamed Boult again; the ball rose steeply and it just brushed Root’s right glove before the gleeful BJ Watling took the catch down the leg side. It felt like a decisive moment.

Some odd things have been going on lately in the cricketing firmament and one of them is that this Test is still alive after four days and nights.

This may not be the game that is captivating cricket followers, the odd prime minister and the twitterati but it is most unusual for a side being dismissed for 58 to be in with the chance of saving the game on the fifth day/night.

Admittedly this came to pass because of a familiar impediment for captains striving for victory: rain. But on Sunday there was no more relief for England from the scudding clouds. In rare sunshine Kane Williamson was able to declare with a lead of 369 and a theoretical minimum of 148 overs left in the game. Five years ago England ended the fourth day in Auckland with four wickets down and Matt Prior valiantly came to the rescue on the fifth. This time with a day to go England had lost three wickets.

When England’s batsmen finally had the chance to atone for the 20.4 overs of chaos that was their first innings the assumption was that Alastair Cook would have to make a key contribution. He lasted for 11 uncertain deliveries, the last of which was also edged down the legside against Boult. Traditionally this is regarded as an unlucky dismissal but Cook’s head was falling over to the offside and his bat was dangling beyond his body.

Cook is in the autumn of his career, a time when a pattern often emerges among the top players: they fail more often early in their innings as they find it harder to bed in than they did in their hawk-eyed youth. But if set they are more likely to deliver the odd mammoth knock due to their vast experience and know-how. That was the nature of Cook’s output in Australia earlier this winter; in Melbourne he hit an unbeaten 244; his next highest score in the series – in Sydney – was 39. In truth his Ashes figures were flattering.

Yet England must hope that Cook can hang on for a while longer if only because his partner, Mark Stoneman, has yet to convince. On Sunday he achieved his second highest score in Test cricket – 55 – but the manner of his departure did him no favours. He became yet another victim of the Neil Wagner bouncer.

Stoneman had settled convincingly enough at the start punching his drives into the gaps neatly. When Wagner was first introduced he bowled a full-length before reverting to banging the ball into the middle of the pitch, which is his usual modus operandi. Stoneman was inclined to attack the short balls and he scored swiftly with a variety of pull shots but most of them hinted at vulnerability. On 49 a top-edged pull flew over the short boundary for six, prompting minor celebrations. Williamson now strengthened the legside boundary so that three men were now patrolling there. From around the wicket Wagner delivered another bouncer; Stoneman hooked again and the ball flew straight into the hands of Boult at long leg. Stoneman had fallen for the sucker punch. So all three England dismissals had come from three catches somewhere on the legside, confirmation that the ball was not hooping around wildly.

Boult had been the most dangerous paceman on view, far more so than any of the Englishmen earlier in the day. There was a hint of swing but neither Jimmy Anderson nor Stuart Broad could quite exploit it. Eventually Watling swished at a wide ball from Broad and was caught behind for 31. Colin de Grandhomme showed more urgency and hit one mammoth six over square leg before edging a rising delivery from Craig Overton. Todd Astle was bowled off the inside edge by Broad but Tim Southee stayed alongside Henry Nicholls, who would post his second Test century, and eventually Kane Williamson decided to declare on 427 for eight.

Henry Nicholls scored his second Test century against England in Auckland. Photograph: Ross Setford/AP
Henry Nicholls scored his second Test century against England in Auckland. Photograph: Ross Setford/AP

Anderson and Broad had shared six of the eight wickets to fall, the continuation of a worrying pattern. According to Test Match Special’s scorer, Andrew Samson – so this is right – this pair have now taken 34 wickets at 34.21 apiece in Test cricket this winter, the rest of the bowlers in the England team have 29 at 75.34. It may be true that Anderson and Broad tend to bowl at the best times – unexpectedly they shared both new balls here – but this remains another source of concern for an England side that travels as nervously as Dennis Bergkamp once did with Arsenal.

(Guardian service)

Scorecard

England second innings
Batsman Runs Balls 4s 6s
A N Cook c Watling b Boult 2 11 0 0
M D Stoneman c Boult b Wagner 55 91 6 1
J E Root c Watling b Boult 51 131 5 0
D J Malan 19 48 2 0
Extras 4b 1lb 0 5
Total for 3 132 46.5 overs

Bowler O M R W
T A Boult 13 6 24 2
T G Southee 13 1 40 0
C de Grandhomme 10 1 31 0
N Wagner 10 2 32 1

Fall of wickets
Order Name Runs
1 A N Cook 6
2 M D Stoneman 94
3 J E Root 132

New Zealand first innings
Batsman Runs Balls 4s 6s
J A Raval c Bairstow b Anderson 3 23 0 0
T W M Latham c Woakes b Broad 26 112 3 0
K S Williamson lbw b Anderson 102 220 11 1
L R P L Taylor c Woakes b Anderson 20 35 3 0
H M Nicholls 145 268 18 0
B J Watling c Bairstow b Broad 31 65 5 0
C de Grandhomme c Bairstow b Overton 29 39 5 1
T D Astle b Broad 18 35 3 0
T G Southee c & b Root 25 42 2 0
N Wagner 9 7 0 1
Extras 4b 9lb 0 6w 19
Total for 8 427 141.0 overs

Bowler O M R W
J M Anderson 29 10 87 3
S C J Broad 34 9 78 3
C Overton 25 7 70 1
C R Woakes 33 9 107 0
M M Ali 17 1 59 0
J E Root 3 0 13 1

Fall of wickets
Order Name Runs
1 J A Raval 8
2 T W M Latham 92
3 L R P L Taylor 123
4 K S Williamson 206
5 B J Watling 260
6 C de Grandhomme 309
7 T D Astle 341
8 T G Southee 413

England first innings
Batsman Runs Balls 4s 6s
A N Cook c Latham b Boult 5 21 0 0
M D Stoneman c Watling b Southee 11 20 2 0
J E Root b Boult 0 6 0 0
D J Malan c Watling b Boult 2 6 0 0
B A Stokes b Boult 0 8 0 0
J M Bairstow c & b Southee 0 4 0 0
M M Ali b Southee 0 8 0 0
C R Woakes b Boult 5 9 0 0
C Overton 33 25 5 1
S C J Broad c Williamson b Southee 0 6 0 0
J M Anderson c Nicholls b Boult 1 11 0 0
Extras 1lb 0 1
Total for 10 58 20.4 overs

Bowler O M R W
T A Boult 10 3 32 6
T G Southee 10 3 25 4

Fall of wickets
Order Name Runs
1 A N Cook 6
2 J E Root 6
3 D J Malan 16
4 M D Stoneman 18
5 B A Stokes 18
6 J M Bairstow 18
7 C R Woakes 23
8 M M Ali 23
9 S C J Broad 27
10 J M Anderson 58

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