2nd test, day one – New Zealand 318-4 (Mitchell 81*, Blundell 67*), England yet to bat
In keeping with the philosophy of “freedom” and “fun” espoused by new coach Brendon McCullum and captain Ben Stokes, this was an entertaining opening day in Nottingham.
The only problem was that it was New Zealand’s batters who were doing most of the entertaining, playing with freedom to reach the close on 318 for four after losing the toss and being asked to bat first.
In all the tourists hit 45 boundaries on a free-scoring day that was punctuated by a few bursts of brilliance with the ball, notably from Stokes and James Anderson.
Just as in last week’s first Test, when they put on a second-innings stand of 195 for the fifth wicket, it was Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell who did most of the damage here, the pair uniting again to add an unbroken 149 after their team had been reduced to 169 for four midway through the afternoon session.
Stuart Broad, the partnership breaker at Lord’s who changed the course of that contest, was unable to conjure up another game-changing spell – or even a wicket – on his home ground where he famously took eight for 15 against Australia seven years ago.
For New Zealand, who don’t forget are world champions in this format, this was a fine response to the overnight news that Kane Williamson, their captain and best batter, was ruled out of this match following a positive Covid test.
Yet for all the adventure and application shown by the tourists, England know they made far too many mistakes to deserve being in a better position after the opening day of this match.
The first was surely to choose to bowl after winning the toss, with Stokes confident his team could make the new ball talk and get amongst an unsettled New Zealand top six. It was understandable and after a burst of two quick wickets in each of the first two sessions, not proven to be the wrong call until Mitchell and Blundell got cracking in the second half of the day.
Yet there were other mistakes, too, with two dropped catches – the first of the series from England – followed by two erroneous, many would say desperate, reviews, late in the day.
The costliest of those missed chances came from Joe Root, who shelled a regulation chance to dismiss Blundell for a duck. New Zealand would have been 170 for five if that catch had been taken. Still, Root won’t be judged too harshly by anyone following his match-winning century at Lord’s that gave England a 1-0 series lead heading into this Test.
There were other moments, too, notably Blundell, on 10, edging Matt Potts through a vacant third slip shortly after tea. Stokes’ look of frustration told of a captain who was cursing himself for curbing his attacking instincts at that crucial moment.
Frustration was writ large on the face of Anderson, too, when Mitchell swatted him away disdainfully for four early in his innings. England’s all-time leading wicket-taker wasn’t able to stop himself having words with the Kiwi, even coming in from his fielding position at mid-off between deliveries in the next over to keep the one-way verbal battle running. It carried on for much of the day thereafter too.
England were unlucky, too, with a Blundell surviving a marginal lbw review to Leach on umpire’s call and a ball that was swinging for much of the middle session suddenly offering no lateral movement whatsoever after Mitchell had hit the spinner for a six straight into a fan’s pint of cider.
For all the talk of enjoyment and positivity from England since their win at Lord’s, there will be much hard graft to do now if they are to get back into this match.
Their day was best summed up right at the end when, with Broad bowling with the second new ball, Blundell edged once again only to see Zak Crawley and Jonny Bairstow, at second and third slip respectively, both hesitate at the crucial moment.
Five key moments
Leach’s home comforts
When Jack Leach came on in the 20th over of the day it was the first time he’d bowled in a home Test since September 2019. In between the left-arm spinner had played 13 overseas Tests and, of course, last week’s opening match of this series before sustaining a concussion six overs in.
Just as New Zealand were threatening to get away, England hit them with two wickets in as many balls shortly before lunch. The first, Will Young edging Ben Stokes to second slip, broke an 84-run opening stand before an awful pull shot from Tom Latham, finding Matt Potts at midwicket, turned a James Anderson long hop into a wicket-taking delivery.
Crawley slips up
England had been brilliant in the field during the first Test at Lord’s. But they suffered their first drop of the series after lunch when Zak Crawley dived across first slip and spilled what would have been a simple catch for Joe Root to dismiss Henry Nicholls on 17 off Stuart Broad’s bowling. Root would later also drop Tom Blundell on nought off Stokes’ bowling.
Devon Conway, scorer of a double century on debut at Lord’s last year, was looking in the mood as he reached 46 off 62 balls. But he was undone by a delivery from Anderson that swung in violently and kissed his inside edge on the way through to wicketkeeper Ben Foakes.
Just as England were desperately looking for a breakthrough after tea, they decided to review an lbw appeal against Blundell, on 39 at the time, after he was hit on the pads by a delivery from Leach. Unfortunately for them not enough of the ball was hitting the stumps and it was turned down on an umpire’s call.
Buzz around Trent Bridge made pandemic feel like a distant memory
On a glorious day in Nottingham, a sold-out crowd were treated to a hugely entertaining day of Test cricket.
One of the highlights, for the mischievous among us at least, was the moment when Daryl Mitchell, deciding to take on Jack Leach’s spin after tea, struck a huge six into one unsuspecting punter’s plastic pint glass. It later emerged the punter, a lady called Susan, had been bought a replacement pint by the New Zealand team. No wonder they’re rightly regarded as the nicest team in world sport.
Like pretty much all international cricket matches in this country, drink was flowing for much of the day, especially on the concourse outside the famous Trent Bridge Inn – possibly the only pub in the world that’s located inside a Test ground.
Indeed, such was the buzz around Trent Bridge that the pandemic felt like a distant memory.
Unfortunately, the night before the start of this second Test we were all given a reminder that Covid is still very much here with the news that New Zealand’s captain Kane Williamson had been ruled out after testing positive on a lateral flow test.
Stead: We’re all feeling for Williamson
Gary Stead, New Zealand’s head coach, said: “It’s such a shame for Kane to be forced to withdraw on the eve of such an important match.
“We’re all feeling for him at this time and know how disappointed he will be. Hamish was with the Test squad earlier in the tour and has been playing for the Leicestershire Foxes in the T20 Vitality Blast.”
Williamson’s case was detected because New Zealand are committed to testing on this tour even for the mildest of symptoms.
After the best part of two years in suffocating bio-bubbles and invasive PCR testing on an almost daily basis on last winter’s Ashes tour of Australia, England – understandably – have stopped testing completely.
Still, Williamson’s absence has robbed this match of one of the best batters in world cricket – a real shame for everybody, not least the Kiwi himself. With five days of mandated self-isolation, he will at least be back for the third and final Test that starts in Leeds next Friday.
Yet maybe the Williamson news, coming the day before it was reported that Covid cases in the UK are rising for the first time in two months, illustrates just how far we have come in the past year. After all, it’s only nine months since India decided they didn’t want to play a Test match at Old Trafford because two of the team’s backroom staff had tested positive for Covid.
Here at Trent Bridge this first day was, for the most part, a wonderful worry-free distraction for everybody – even Susan in the Hound Road stand whose pint was obliterated.