Auckland: New Zealand’s lower middle order rallied superbly to drive them into the lead, as they ended the third day of the opening Test in Mount Maunganui on 394/6, 41 runs ahead of England in the first innings.
Having started the day playing catch-up after being reduced to 144/4 at the end of day two, New Zealand had lost just two more wickets when they ascended into the lead. And it was BJ Watling, the wicket-keeper, who led their fightback, with his eighth Test century. By stumps on Saturday, 23 November, he had moved to an unbeaten 119 and had Mitchell Santner, batting on 31, for company.
Watling, who resumed on 6, first extended his fifth-wicket stand with Henry Nicholls to 70, as the duo saw off the first hour and a bit. After 18 wicketless overs, Joe Root turned to his spinner, Jack Leach, who trapped Nicholls in front with one that stayed low, with his fifth ball. Umpire Kumar Dharmasena ruled Nicholls out, but DRS came to the batsman’s aid, as it showed the impact to have been outside the off-stump.
The new lease of life was a short one, though, as Root brought himself on from the other end in the next over and hit Nicholls’ pad again, with HawkEye showing that the ball would have thudded into leg stump this time around.
But Colin de Grandhomme, whose impressive batting form had earned him a promotion to No.4 in the T20I series, continued to produce good work with his willow, as he partnered Watling in a sixth-wicket stand of 119.
Five balls into the partnership, Watling creamed Leach through backward point for four to bring up the New Zealand 200, and from there began a frustrating period for England.
De Grandhomme shed all his attacking instincts to buckle down with 4 off the first 20 balls he faced, before slapping Leach through backward point for his first boundary.
England opted to go into lunch without having availed the second new ball that had become available three overs earlier, but immediately after the break, Dharmasena flashed the bright new cherry. Sam Curran made first use of it, but off his second over, de Grandhomme cracked back-to-back fours.
The 91st over brought up the fifty of the partnership, as well as the New Zealand 250. Jofra Archer was reintroduced in the next over, but de Grandhomme was unfazed, launching the fast bowler for a six and four, as New Zealand collected 38 runs in nine overs against the second new ball.
Archer continued to bowl at pace, hitting speeds of 152kph, but that did not deter de Grandhomme from calmly pulling him for a brace and bring up his half-century. Watling, too, showed no respect to Archer’s pace as he punished lapses in length. A four from his bat, off Leach in the 103rd over, raised the hundred of the partnership, and a single next ball gave New Zealand their 300.
De Grandhomme was dropped on 62 by Rory Burns at gully, but fortunately for England, it did not cost them much, as he added just three more runs before a full-blooded cut in the first ball after tea was intercepted by a diving Dominic Sibley, who grabbed a one-handed stunner at gully.
England’s plan against Mitchell Santner was a no-brainer, as they exploited his weakness against the short ball, at one point even striking him on the chest, when Stokes pitched one short but Santner overestimated the bounce.
He looked far more comfortable against the spinners, creaming Leach through the covers and launching Root, with a skip down the track, over long-on, even as Watling moved towards his hundred. The wicket-keeper batsman flicked Sam Curran past Stokes at leg slip to bring up New Zealand’s 350 and level the scores.
Another four in the bowler’s next over took him to 98, before a neat clip past mid-on gave him the hundred.
With the fast bowlers worn out and Root turning to his spinners, Santner settled down, quietly having moved on to 24 by the time the fifty-run stand between him and Watling came up. Archer, Stokes and Broad returned for a final burst late in the day, but Watling and Santner stuck on until stumps, putting New Zealand in sight of a substantial first-innings lead.