Day three is often seen as the “moving day” of a test match, but England saw their attempts to get a first Test win in New Zealand since 2008 ground to a halt in the face of a defiant BJ Watling century.
England began the day in a strong position, dismissing New Zealand’s top four for just 144/4 by the end of day two, raising hopes their troubles with the Kookaburra ball were a thing of the past. 90 overs, and 250 runs later, with just two more wickets taken, those hopes were well and truly dashed.
It began with a fifty partnership between Watling and Henry Nicholls, a sign of things to come as they negotiated the rather unthreatening English bowling with ease. When Nicholls was eventually dismissed for 47, missing a straight one from Joe Root, the pattern for the day’s play had already been set.
Root, having shuffled through his pace options during the morning, had brought on first Jack Leach- who thought he had trapped Nicholls lbw with one that kept low, only for Hawkeye to show the impact was outside off on review- then himself at the other end. His second ball saw Watling dropped on 31 by the usually dependable Ben Stokes, before his fourth rapped Nicholl’s pad- there would be no reprieve second time round for the number five.
England fail to deliver with the new ball
England took the new ball after lunch, despite it being available for the last four overs of the morning session, and Sam Curran and Stuart Broad gave Watling and Colin de Grandhomme a little more to think about after the restart. But the new Kookaburra never stays new for too long, and despite early swing and seam the session was comfortably negotiated by the pair, who each brought up their half centuries in combining for a century partnership.
A theme throughout the day was lethargy- lethargy in the field, lethargy in the crowd and even more lethargy in England’s bowling. Curran’s pace has always been on the gentle side but it seemed contagious amongst Broad and Jofra Archer, who throughout the first half of the day found themselves clocking in at under 130kph far too often. Archer in particular was a disappointment throughout the day, rarely hitting the speeds he is capable of, in the kind of situation England will often look to him for inspiration.
Too little too late
Both picked up speed later on in the day but it came at a point where New Zealand had settled and Root had already had to turn to Stokes- the pick of the bowlers on a day where there was little to shout about- to break the 7th wicket partnership. The first ball after tea was a loosener truth be told, but de Grandhomme slashed it to gully, where Dom Sibley took a spectacular flying catch to bring about hopes of an evening session revival.
If there was any alarm for New Zealand, then the presence of Watling still at the other end should have reassured them. He tucked, nurdled and drove his way to 100, bringing his ton up with a nudge into the leg side as England were worn down and the evening session ticked on.
Mitch Santner proved to be equally as stubborn and unmovable at the other end, ending the day on 30 off 101 despite a Stokes bouncer barrage causing him more problems than any other Kiwi batsman had faced.
By the close of play Watling’s unbeaten 116, with the help of that de Grandhomme knock and Santner’s company through to stumps, had dragged New Zealand into a 41 run lead. It’s a lead England will need to apply some heavy bandaging to in order to stem the bleeding on day four if they are to end that long wait for a test win in these parts. Root and his bowlers will need to ramp up the intensity to have any hope of doing so.