Close New Zealand 329 (Mitchell 109, Blundell 55, Leach 5-100) and 168 for 6 (Latham 76, Williamson 48) lead England 360 (Bairstow 162, Overton 97) by 137 runs
It’s a question that teams over the world will be asking themselves at this early juncture of the Bazball revolution. What’s the best means to fight England’s current mood? Someone at some stage will come at them head-on – maybe as soon as next Friday, when India rock up at Edgbaston for their postponed fifth Test, and then we’ll have a bunfight and a half. But for the time being at Headingley, it’s over to a familiar pairing, yet again, to do the needful to give New Zealand a puncher’s chance.
From the relative security of 125 for 1 at tea, a lead of 94, New Zealand limped to 168 for 5 at stumps, as England finished the day with the ball as they had begun it with the bat – with a rowdy home crowd revelling in every microscopic detail of the play, and with Jonny Bairstow once again the orchestrator, this time in a literal sense, as Ben Stokes used Yorkshire’s favourite son as the conduit for the fans’ affections, as the bowlers found themselves running into a wall of noise.
There was some fortune in England’s approach too – notably for Joe Root, whose one-off over had only come about because of the impending rain shower that interrupted it halfway through. His first ball back after a 15-minute delay was perfectly pitched outside Devon Conway’s off stump, and Ollie Pope at short leg stooped with outstanding reactions to scoop up the inside-edge in his left hand, and prise another vital opening.
It was a cathartic wicket for Root, too, who had gone into the tea break believing he had dropped a game-changing clanger. After the high-octane frolics of England’s own innings, New Zealand’s response had been one of commendable self-absorption, as their senior pairing of Latham and Williamson made light of the early loss of Will Young for 8 to grind out a second-wicket stand of 97, their first significant alliance of the series.
The policy of both men was to block out all the vibes. In the series to date, neither man had made a higher score than Williamson’s 31 in the first innings of this match, and Williamson’s struggles with a long-term elbow problem had been compounded by the Covid diagnosis that caused him to miss the Trent Bridge Test. And so both men set themselves for the long haul, in an old-school passage of play that challenged England to stay patient.
For Latham in particular, the policy seemed to be paying off as he eased along to a 70-ball half-century, with a notable willingness to wait for the ball to come to him, as evidenced by the first five of his 12 fours, all punched compactly off the full length. But, having seemingly ridden out his struggles to that round-the-wicket line from the seamers, back came the arch-exponent Broad with ten minutes to go until tea. Snick went the edge, but splat went the catch at first slip, as Root banged the turf in frustration.
It was a bad miss, but thanks to Overton’s pinpoint first ball after tea, it cost England just six runs. And, suddenly fuelled by adrenalin, having earlier missed out by just three runs on a debut Test century, Overton fired in a savage bouncer to the new man, Conway, who wore it on the badge and needed a lengthy time-out for both a concussion protocol and a repaired helmet. Overton didn’t add another wicket in a fiery spell from round the wicket, but the signs were promising as began to settle into his primary role.
Williamson was a silent witness to all of this – content to bide his time as he used this early part of his innings as an extended net. His first nine runs came from a leisurely 43 balls, with a solitary flick for four through square leg, though he picked up his pace in the second hour of the session, not least thanks to a wayward first spell from Stokes, who had been a notable absentee from England’s attack in the first innings, and looked short of a gallop as he was picked off for six fours in his first four overs.
But just when it seemed that an innings of substance was inevitable, Williamson fell victim in that post-rain-delay mini-session to the indefatigable Potts. After an excellent but under-rewarded spell of 1 for 34 in 26 first-over innings, Potts had already doubled his tally by inducing Young’s drive to third slip. Now, his aggressive full length and ability to bang movement out of even the most reluctant of balls landed New Zealand’s biggest fish. As at Lord’s, Williamson was lured by the back-of-a-length delivery just outside his eye line, and flung his head back in dismay as he followed the movement to feather an edge to Bairstow, standing in as keeper after Ben Foakes sat out the day with a stiff back.
The thrill of England’s evening chase mirrored another free-wheeling morning from their batters, who completed a remarkable comeback from the depths of 55 for 6 by adding a further 96 runs in 18 overs to finish on 360 all out. The one crushing disappointing for another rapt Headingley crowd, however, was the failure of Overton to push on from his overnight 89, and become the first England player – and only the 11th in Test history – to make a century on debut from No. 8 or lower.
All the positive mental attitude in the world could not quite prepare Overton for the scenario he faced this morning, after what must surely have been a fretful night’s sleep, and with history winking at him with every delivery. Despite the best endeavours of his partner Bairstow, who kept the strike rotating to offer him every chance to find his fluency, Overton’s resumption was a comparatively tentative affair, and one that was ultimately ended – three runs shy of nirvana – by New Zealand’s most constant menace, Trent Boult.
After throwing his hands through one cathartic square drive for his first boundary of the day, Overton chanced his arm once too often as Boult followed up with one of his classically tight-lined outswingers. A thin edge flew low to Daryl Mitchell at first slip, and as he turned to trudge back to the dressing-room, Bairstow sprinted up behind him to put an arm around his shoulder. No matter what those three runs may have meant personally, his contribution to a desperate team situation had already been invaluable.
Bairstow himself added 32 more runs to his overnight 130, but was content to play second fiddle to both Overton and Broad, who emerged – one day after his 36th birthday – in a mood for mayhem after suffering pad-rash for the entirety of that record-breaking seventh-wicket stand of 241. He belted a quickfire 42 from 36 balls, with six fours and two sixes, all of them courtesy of his trademark front-leg-clearing style, before Tim Southee ended the fun with a fine bail-trimmer.
Bairstow followed soon afterwards, caught at long-off sprawling Boult, having earlier reached his 150 from 144 balls, the second-fastest in England’s Test history. Southee duly wrapped up England’s innings after Jack Leach had picked off two more boundaries, but both Bairstow and Leach were back in harness far sooner than might have been anticipated – the former standing up to the latter, as Leach was handed the new ball in a two-over experiment before lunch. It was the first time a spinner had taken the new ball in England since Graeme Swann at Lord’s in 2009, and though it was not an immediate success, it was another sign of Stokes’ fertile mind. He’s willing to think as well as tonk in his new incarnation as England’s vibesman-in-chief. And on his watch, England are a team transformed.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket