Black Caps fight back after slow start

Black Caps Trent Boult and Tom Blundell celebrate a wicket during last night's first day of the...
Black Caps Trent Boult and Tom Blundell celebrate a wicket during last night's first day of the second test against England. Photo: Getty Images
An opening session of struggle quickly turned into two sessions of success as New Zealand fought back on the first day of the second and final cricket test against England.

Heading to lunch with England at 67-0, having opted to bat first at Edgbaston, the Black Caps looked in for a hard day's toil, but recovered as England reached stumps at 258-7, still in a solid position but not nearly as dominant as they would have hoped after their opening salvo.

New Zealand's fightback was an impressive response from a team shorn of many stars due to injury and rest, with six changes from the drawn first test.

The expected absences of skipper Kane Williamson, Mitchell Santner and Colin de Grandhomme were compounded by the resting of frontline seamers Tim Southee and Kyle Jamieson, while wicketkeeper BJ Watling was ruled out before play with a back injury.

That led to test returns for Will Young, Daryl Mitchell, Tom Blundell, Matt Henry, Ajaz Patel and Trent Boult.

With two or three spots up for grabs for the team to play against India in next week's World Test Championship final, there was plenty to play for – most notably a New Zealand test win in England (which would be their sixth) and a New Zealand test series win in England (which hasn't happened since 1999).

Yet for a test of historical significance, the New Zealand absentees added to an England team already missing Ben Stokes, Jos Buttler, Jonny Bairstow, Moeen Ali, Chris Woakes, Sam Curran, Ollie Robinson and Jofra Archer – leaving a slightly underwhelming tinge to proceedings. After all, how could the result be that important if both teams were resting their stars for greater ambitions?

Still, half-strength teams or not, there was a series to be won, though the first hour of play was hardly inspiring, with the much-criticised English top order again, this time more logically, in no particular rush to score.

After an hour they had nudged along to 25-0, but picked up after drinks, while Patel was introduced in the 20th over; stand-in skipper Tom Latham happy to call on the spinner much earlier than Williamson utilised Santner.

Perhaps that had to do with having worse bowling options – Mitchell continues to be unconvincing as a test all-rounder with a wicketless 11 overs – but despite the seamers beating the bat a few times, there were no real chances as England sauntered to lunch.

That all changed after the break, when Henry produced a flash of brilliance which underlined why the New Zealand selectors persist with him at test level.

Coming into the match with a bowling average of 51.5 in 13 tests, Henry struck with his first over after lunch, with Dom Sibley edging a catch behind, before claiming the prized scalp of Joe Root with a ball that nipped away late and caught the edge of his defensive prod.

In between, Neil Wagner removed the horrendously out of form Zak Crawley for a duck, and England had slumped from 72-0 to 85-3.

Shortly after, an ugly swipe outside off stump from Ollie Pope gifted Patel his first test wicket since August 2019, before Boult came to the party in his anticipated return.

Rory Burns, who has stayed steady throughout the collapse, fell on 81 as Boult enticed a drive which only went low to Latham at second slip, and an over later James Bracey followed his duck on debut with a golden duck in his second test, also slicing a drive which went high to Mitchell at third slip to reduce the hosts to 175-6.

That exposed a long England tail, but some fight from established batsman Dan Lawrence and Olly Stone, mixed with some good luck through an array of edges through the vacant third man, saw England add 47 for the seventh wicket.

Lawrence brought up a solid half-century and played some shots against the second new ball to end the day unbeaten on 67, while Mark Wood provided more resistance than his usual big-hitting offerings as England survived until stumps to maintain an advantageous position going into day one.

But, from where the Black Caps were at lunch, they'll be happy to still be firmly in the hunt.

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