Stokes, Root lead England charge

Ben Stokes in action for England against New Zealand. Photo: Reuters
Ben Stokes in action for England against New Zealand. Photo: Reuters
As the Black Caps well know, you never let Ben Stokes ride his cricketing luck.

At 76 for four in the chase for 277 to win the opening test at Lord's, the England captain charged down the pitch to Colin de Grandhomme and chopped on for one.

No ball!

Stokes sauntered back to the wicket to resume business in the 27th over.

As anyone in the sport well knows, a match ain't over until the bat of Ben swings.

The error cost 83 runs. The skipper eventually departed for 54 at 159 for five, looking to ramp Kyle Jamieson over the slips cordon. A short delivery chased him and he gloved to Tom Blundell.

Stokes' fury and Jamieson's euphoria made for a stark contrast.

England were 216 for five at stumps with Joe Root on 77 and Ben Foakes nine as the pitch continues to flatten.

Root gradually assumed command over the afternoon, unshackled for the first time since his captaincy tenure.

Until Stokes' bravado, the world champions looked poised to add another glorious chapter to the current era. New Zealand has had one test win at the home of cricket in 91 years and are aiming to emulate their 1999 compatriots.

Déjà vu also contributed to the theatre when Root pulled a ball off Trent Boult to mid-wicket. Stokes was ordered to return to his crease and the throw ricocheted off his bat as per the 2019 World Cup final, where overthrows helped England to victory. Smiles pervaded the outfield as Stokes raised his hands in jest. Nothing further was added to the score.

Rain is forecast ahead of a fourth day's toil. The match remains in flux, albeit knowing the hosts have only once chased more than the current target at the venue. That came in pursuit of 282, also against New Zealand, in 2004.

Rain caused a half-hour delay at the start, but the day still enabled both the world champions to showcase their prowess and coach Brendon McCullum's freedom blueprint to embed.

England have effectively been ahead three times in the game. They reduced New Zealand to 45 for seven in the first innings to eventually dismiss them for 132; they were 59 without loss in the second; and they had the visitors 56 for four with a lead of 47 in the third.

However, the New Zealand resolve has been indelible.

First, through Colin de Grandhomme's 42 not out. Without that, the first innings would have dissolved into a pool of mediocrity.

Second, through the response of the bowling attack, working in partnerships to raze any potential England first innings advantage by taking five wickets for eight runs in 28 balls to move from 92 for two to 100 for seven.

Third, through the 195-run fifth-wicket record stand for New Zealand against England between Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell. That looked like an outlier in the context of other partnerships in the match, barring perhaps the 90 between Stokes and Root.

Now it looks even.

The second innings buffer enabled Jamieson to return to his best, charging down the slope from the Nursery End.

He asked more questions of the England top-order contestants than Selwyn Toogood on It's In The Bag.

By hokey, what'll it be England? The outswinger, the off-cutter or the rising bouncer?

The hosts batters succumbed to his repertoire as the right-armer scythed through with figures of four for 59 from 20 overs. That performance takes his career record to 72 wickets at an average of 18.26 from 15 tests.

Mitchell was just as key to the cause, becoming the 15th New Zealander to score a test century at the ground and earn his gilded lettering on the honours board.

The 31-year-old reached the mark in 189 balls across 289 minutes by pushing Stuart Broad through the covers for three.

His euphoria was raw as teammates stood and applauded an innings that changed the course of the match.

Drama ensued shortly afterwards with a "team" hat-trick. Broad had Mitchell caught behind for 108. Colin de Grandhomme was run out by Ollie Pope from the slips amid an lbw appeal after he had emerged from a 244-ball padded-up hibernation. Broad then pegged back Jamieson's off stump. New Zealand went from 251 for four to 251 for seven.

Blundell was soon adjudged lbw for 96 off James Anderson, leaving the visitors on 265 for eight.

Irrespective of his agony at falling four runs short of a ton, Blundell's innings was as crucial as Mitchell's in the match context.

Add to that some of his best work with the gloves since taking over from BJ Watling. He conceded 14 byes in the first innings, through wild deliveries beyond his control, but three top-order catches played a key role in England's eventual slump.

However, the second innings pouching of Stokes looks paramount.


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