Day 3 of 5: New Zealand 553 (D Mitchell 190, T Blundell 106, M Bracewell 49, W Young 47, D Conway 46; J Anderson 3-62, B Stokes 2-85, S Broad 2-107, J Leach 2-140) lead England 473-5 (J Root 163no, O Pope 145, A Lees 67, B Stokes 46; T Boult 3-89) per 80 tracks
As Joe Root and Ollie Pope blasted off a pair of princely centuries on day three at Trent Bridge, pushing England towards parity with New Zealand by stumps, Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum could have been forgiven for flouting the anti-smoking policy in the old pavilion and triggering a couple of Romeo y Julietas.
The big call at the start of their alliance as captain and head coach topped the list. Root was restored to his preferred position at No 4, while Pope was asked to move to a place above, despite never having done so before in first-class cricket and after a winter of technical confusion. Many onlookers wondered if England’s new mantra of positivity was trying a little too hard.
These are the early days of the new regime, of course, and the combination of flat ground and a snooker table at Trent Bridge should also be borne in mind. Nonetheless, with England responding to New Zealand’s 553 hitting 473 for five at the end, and the bulk of those runs coming through Pope’s 145 and an equally sparkling 163 not out of the relentless Root, the reshuffle has some respite.
Stokes certainly appeared in good spirits when he came to the crease after tea with the score 344 for four, although his 46 from 33 balls were a little careless. New Zealand had just fought back thanks to the excellence of Trent Boult, bouncing off Pope and teasing a gauntlet behind Jonny Bairstow for eight. First surprised by the onslaught of Stokes, tourists suddenly celebrated once more.
Although Stokes instead offered Michael Bracewell a first Test wicket on his debut, attempting a third six out of the spinner, Root’s cool head was still there. The former captain had already spoken of his 27th Test century – coming from 116 balls, also his fastest to date – and from 405 for five in the 95th he took over last week’s winning alliance with Ben Foakes.
The pair raced the final hour under the lights with relative confidence for an unbroken stand of 68, although Foakes got one life out of nine when Will Young made a whirlwind catch from deep. The wicketkeeper will start day four on the 24th, although the bulk of New Zealand’s nightly talk will focus on Root and a player who, after that 115 not out at Lord’s, they last removed some 278 races there are.
Pope had previously played magnificently in what was his second Test century in his 25th appearance and a first since the start of the pandemic, his skill either side of the wicket well suited to Nottingham conditions. Gone is the player who signed a sinister Ashes series with an inverted Rory Burns – rolled around his legs by Pat Cummins in Hobart – and in his place the hitter they so admire in Surrey.
After picking up the first thing on his 51 overnight – a stint that benefited one life in 37 – Pope rose to the challenge of New Zealand’s four-pronged attack by starting well, filling the gaps gaps and deploying clear cover discs. At 1:53 p.m., he was raising his bat in all corners after a two cut to the leg from Matt Henry took it into triple digits. The 24-year-old’s relief was palpable; likewise to the delight of his teammates, Root sprinting a good 40 yards to offer a warm embrace.
Root, half of a 187-run stand with Pope, was simply at his heavenly best once again. He flirted with disaster a few times, admittedly, seeing a misjudged cut on 27 knocked over the bar by Tim Southee and a slog sweep on 52 from the same man somehow land safely. But otherwise, it was Root vintage, its cover readers worthy of gracing the walls of the Louvre and its guides passed back so dreamily effortlessly.
It meant that for the second time that day, at 3:33 p.m., New Zealand applauded an opponent’s effort. With the second new ball moments away, Root saw an inside advantage on Daryl Mitchell’s average pace just escaping the stumps to turn 99 into 103. His 13th Test score north of 150 was at least more convincingly secured when, 25 minutes from the stumps, he cut Southee at half wicket for four.
Like their English counterparts over the previous two days, it was hard work for the touring bowlers. Boult was generally wasted for his three for 89, but Southee and Kyle Jamieson offered little threat, the latter of which also cut out his 17th due to lower back pain. Henry beat at bat but went to nearly five and his occasional deployment as an enforcer highlighted the absence of Neil Wagner’s flatweight.
Henry at least produced the only wicket in the first two sessions and, given the way things went afterwards, that might annoy Alex Lees. Not that Durham’s opener didn’t further his fledgling career in England. Picking up the 34, already his highest Test score in his ninth inning, Lees drove the third ball of the morning through extra coverage for four and continued that positivity en route to 67 from 125 balls.
Lees ultimately perished playing away from his body – Mitchell atoning for his falls on the first slide the night before – but the southpaw’s graph is pointing in the right direction. As with the smoke that might have met Pope’s century, Stokes and McCullum hope his sense of place in the testing arena follows that upward curve. – Guardian