England vs New Zealand – 3rd Test, Day 1 review: Mitchell and Blundell combine to punish Stokes review error

3rd Test, day one – New Zealand 225-5 (Mitchell 78, Blundell 45 | Leach 2-75) England yet to bat

Like a wrestler on the canvas, New Zealand were subjected to a slow strangulation by England’s bowlers on the opening day of the third and final Test in Leeds.

Captain Ben Stokes had used his media appearances on the eve of this match to say how he’d told his team they needed to be “entertainers”, not sportsmen this week. Brendon McCullum, speaking to a broadcaster from his native New Zealand, then admitted his mission as England coach was to make Test cricket “sexy” again.

But unlike the X-rated batting pyrotechnics of the final day at Trent Bridge that won England this series last week, the cricket on day one at Headingley was neither spectacular nor stirring.

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This was a day when England, having lost the toss, had to do the dirty work that every team needs to engineer the moment of glory.

New Zealand, who came into this match already 2-0 down in the series, didn’t actually have to tap out in the end, but they were pretty close before an unbeaten 102-run sixth-wicket stand between Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell guided them to 225 for five by the close.

New Zealand’s situation is still in the balance yet it would have been dire without the intervention of Mitchell and Blundell, a pair who have faced over 1,000 balls together in this series, scoring almost 600 runs in the process.

Yet their stand should have been over before it had even begun after Mitchell survived an lbw appeal against Potts with just eight to his name.

It looked good but umpire Marais Erasmus was unmoved. Having lost the first of their three reviews shortly beforehand in questionable circumstances when Potts looked to have trapped Henry Nicholls lbw, England chose not to go upstairs.

However, ball-tracking showed the delivery from Potts cannoning into the stumps. Mitchell should have been out for his lowest score of the series and New Zealand 97 for five.

Given the talk of being “even more positive” this week from Stokes, it was a bad decision from England’s captain that allowed a batter who is averaging 150 in this series a costly life. He ended the day unbeaten on 78 and heading for a third century of the series.

Mitchell made the most of his good fortune, with the bizarre dismissal of Nicholls on the stroke of tea reuniting him with his favourite partner in Blundell.

England would later burn their second review on an lbw shout against Mitchell on 60 in the final session. Before that they also missed out on the wicket of Blundell on 31 when he successfully reviewed a caught behind decision given against him by Erasmus.

On another day, New Zealand might have been bowled out for under 200 but the world champions are nothing if not fighters.

By stumps Mitchell and Blundell had also seen off 10 overs with the second new ball, moving their team into a position where they would argue they are right back in this contest.

That might be true if England don’t do a job with the bat in their first-innings, yet New Zealand will still be disappointed to go at just 2.50 runs an over on a flat pitch.

England, too, fought hard, with Stuart Broad taking the key wickets of Tom Latham and captain Kane Williamson before lunch and Jack Leach, in his first game at this venue since the 2019 Ashes miracle of Headingley, striking with his first ball to remove Will Young before his freak dismissal of Nicholls with the last ball before tea.

There was also a debut wicket for Jamie Overton, an 87-miles-per-hour delivery that proved too good for Devon Conway seeing the bowler from Devon reduce the tourists to 83 for four after lunch.

Blundell and Mitchell rebuilt thereafter, making for a day when England were more grafters than entertainers, not that the sell-out Yorkshire crowd at Headingley would have minded.

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