At the start of day two in Hamilton it was a game very much in the balance, and for the first hour England went about their business like a side that knew they were in the contest. But by stumps, they had the air of a team clinging on as their hosts set about setting up another potentially brutal away defeat for Joe Root’s side.
A good first hour wasted
When Stuart Broad induced a misjudgement from centurion Tom Latham to peg back his off stump in the third over of the day, and then Sam Curran bounced out Henry Nicholls (the catch taken by Broad at deep square leg), it was just reward for the energy that England brought to the field in the first hour. But just as suddenly as that energy appeared overnight, it disappeared again as BJ Watling- England’s scourge in the first test- and debutant Daryl Mitchell put together a sixth wicket stand of 124 to shepherd New Zealand to a slightly more commanding position.
Where the tourists will quite possibly look back with some regret it that partnership, and their inability to disrupt it with the second new ball. The afternoon session should have been one where New Zealand were on the back foot, but instead it was still Mitchell and Watling at the crease and they were able to coast through to tea almost unharmed. It was only the very last ball before tea that England found a breakthrough, Broad again with a ripper than Watling couldn’t help but fend to gully.
Ground into the dust
That period of play that had once again ground England into the dust was kicked off by a meandering hour up until the new ball came in an extended first session. Ben Stokes, clearly not fit to bowl, was asked to steam in- or more likely he asked and wouldn’t take no for an answer- but was unable to produce anything as Watling and Mitchell got themselves set. Joe Denly, a serviceable leg spinner but a desperate option in these circumstances, showed little that would have alarmed the Kiwi batsmen. After a tidy first over, his second saw a decent enough delivery tonked back over his head for six by Mitchell. It kind of summed up England’s day.
England trundled through to the new ball and then they were unable to ramp up through the gears when it was needed until that Watling wicket. It was a period where England found their spark again- the final five wickets, started off by Broad’s brilliance, fell for 60 runs inside 13 overs, with Broad picking up his fourth after tea as Mitchell could only sky a bouncer to Jofra Archer at deep square leg. Archer himself had been England’s day in a microcosm- lively, quicker and a bit more menacing in that first hour, before being frustrated throughout the day and offering little.
A mini revival
He finally found a way through as Mitchell Santner became the third batsman of the innings to send a bouncer straight down the throat of deep square leg- this time it was Chris Woakes there to take the catch. Woakes himself had been second only to Broad of the England bowlers, and had got his third before Santner fell, as a good length delivery reared up and was gloved through to Ollie Pope by Tim Southee. Curran wrapped things up with a full toss on the pads of Neil Wagner that was chipped gently to Dom Sibley at midwicket, and suddenly England had dragged themselves back into a not-so-terrible position.
They would almost have wished they hadn’t as the New Zealand attack set about their task with control and precision. Sibley lasted just 20 balls before he was pinned in front by Southee, before Denly drove loosely at Matt Henry, feathering an edge through to Watling. It could have been much, much worse. Rory Burns had been dropped off Henry by Ross Taylor at first slip and then nearly clipped it straight to Jeet Raval at midwicket, who couldn’t hold on. He would survive until stumps, but only just. Captain Root, never more out of nick than he is now, nearly fell on the final ball of the day as he fended a Wagner bouncer just wide of leg gully.
Thankfully for England the damage was limited for now, and they reached stumps at 39/2. But they will resume on day three knowing they face an uphill struggle to stay in the contest, the size of the task not insurmountable but the capability of their batting very much in doubt. New Zealand, on the other hand, will relish tucking into the rest of the batting. That in itself says enough about how far England still have to go in this brave new world under Chris Silverwood. So far- and it is perhaps harsh to judge so early- it has yet to go as planned. Day three is an opportunity to prove England have what it takes but after a humbling first test and a gruelling first two days, expectations will be low. England, meet New England, same as the old England.