A majestic middle-order revival gave New Zealand a prime opportunity to steal an unlikely jump-start victory in their first Test against England on Friday.
Daryl Mitchell (97 not out) and Tom Blundell (90 not out) combined for an unbroken fifth-wicket partnership worth 180 on day two of the first Test at Lord’s to continue a sterling fightback from the Black Caps.
After a disastrous beginning to their three-Test series, the visitors reached stumps at 236-4, a lead of 227 with six second-innings wickets in hand and three days remaining.
Black Caps were in deep trouble against England but their bowlers dragged them back into the first Test. When Devon Conway was caught down the legside off Stuart Broad in the 23rd over to leave NZ reeling again at 56-4, there was a legitimate chance the five-day encounter would be over with three to spare and all the unsold tickets would count for nothing. But Blundell and Mitchell registered the first individual half-centuries of the match before both drew close to tons at stumps.
Resuming their first innings at 116-7, England were dismissed for 141 as Tim Southee took 4-55 to limit the hosts’ advantage to just nine runs – something the Black Caps would have been delighted with after slumping to 12-4 within the opening hour of the encounter. Twenty-three wickets had tumbled in the first four sessions as searching bowling lorded it over substandard batting. It was the first time in 68 years that both teams were bowled out for less than 150 in the first innings of a Test at Lord’s. Mitchell helped knock England out of the Twenty20 World Cup semi-finals last year and again proved a frustrating foil for the hosts and new coach Brendon McCullum, hitting 11 fours from 188 balls. Blundell’s innings was an ugly grind to begin with, as he hunched over his bat and pushed himself to simply stay in with his batting partner.
But after surviving for 50 balls, the wicketkeeper had played himself in and began to flourish, with his attacking game emerging as he struck 12 fours from 182 balls.
England, desperate for a breakthrough after tea, resorted to a short-ball approach from skipper Ben Stokes to a stacked leg-side field, but it produced no reward. With his score on 22 and NZ still perilously placed at 73-4, Mitchell launched an extravagant drive at James Anderson, which caught the edge of his bat and flew narrowly high and wide of third slip to the boundary. He then played and missed the next ball with another loose drive, and given England’s slip catching had been excellent, the slightest reversal of fortune to those deliveries would likely have put the hosts in a position of power.
While he is only playing his 10th Test, Mitchell is still a crafty veteran who knows his game precisely. He has certain well-defined strokes and areas for scoring, and combines them with dogged head-down defence. Standing out of his crease, the right-hander nullified Anderson, Stuart Broad and impressive debutant Matthew Potts and was rarely troubled by wayward rookie leg spinner Matt Parkinson.
Not only did the huge fifth-wicket partnership put New Zealand in a position to dictate terms, it gave their quick bowlers a longer break than the hosts had. Veterans Anderson and Broad weren’t as sharp on day two as they had been on the opening day of the series, while Southee, Trent Boult and Kyle Jamieson were able to put their feet up all afternoon. Left-arm spinner Ajaz Patel may also now figure in England’s second innings after not being required in the home side’s first turn at bat.