Good news. We’re not going to lose this game. Ok, there’s a remote possibility that we might get bowled out in a session, ahem, but even the most pessimistic England supporters should feel pretty relaxed with our situation overnight. There’s even a slim chance that we might force a win. Although I’d whisper this one very quietly lest we jinx it.
Once Root and Pope had navigated the first session the nerves completely dissipated. New Zealand’s ambitions were reduced to merely reducing the run rate. The only question was how big a lead we’d amass. In the end we managed to get our noses in front by 101 runs – a handy advantage indeed.
However, this lead probably could (and should) have been a few more. When the skipper and our makeshift keeper were cruising along at 455-5, a lead of 150+ wasn’t out of the question. But a flurry of wickets fell as we searched for fast runs on a slow pitch – always a tricky endeavour – and we lost our last five wickets for just 26 runs. Hmmm. At least the collapse occurred when we already had a decent score on the board for once.
When Raval and Latham were dismissed with New Zealand still well in arrears, an unlikely victory seemed on the cards. Indeed, the game finally came alive when Jofra Archer bowled a hostile spell at Kane Williamson. It was the most intense passage of the match for days, but sadly the Kiwi skipper showed his class by surviving a succession of well-directed throat balls. Drat.
With Williamson and Taylor surviving until the close, and our lead all but wiped out, a draw looks very likely tomorrow. However, if Archer can produce another vicious spell in the first hour, and this time actually pick up a wicket or two, then New Zealand will be very nervous indeed. Let’s just hope that Root actually gives the ball to Jofra first up! Sadly there’s no guarantee he’ll make the obvious move.
However, let’s focus on Root the batsman today. After all, yesterday was very much Joe’s day. He batted superbly; he toyed with the field; and that boyish smile was back. It was great to see Root play with so much freedom and real panache. We’ve missed this so much.
Ollie Pope also impressed. In fact, his stance and trigger movement are somewhat reminiscent of the skipper’s. They’re slightly different players though. Although they both cut the ball superbly, Pope is more pugnacious in his stroke-play. Root has elegance whereas Pope is slightly more cut and thrust. They’re a nice combination to watch, and I hope we’ll see plenty more huge partnerships between the two in the coming years. This one was worth 193 in the end.
Although some will point out that the pitch was incredibly docile – it was the kind of surface that Alastair Cook would’ve batted on for three days straight – these runs will give both Root and Pope a huge lift. Young OIlie’s form also creates an interesting dilemma for the selectors and management. Will they persevere with Pope at 6 in South Africa (because they feel he’s the future) or will they recall Jonny Bairstow to keep wicket and move Buttler to six?
Many will argue with some legitimacy that Pope is now the man in possession so there’s no need to make a change. However, I wasn’t particularly impressed with Buttler’s keeping at Mount Maunganui, plus we can’t ignore the fact that Bairstow is already in South Africa practicing at a special camp for England’s young fast bowlers. The rumour is that Jonny is working on his technique and acclimatising to South African conditions. It very much looks like a recall is on the cards.
However, if Bairstow comes back then who will miss out? It surely won’t be Ed Smith’s favourite son, Jos Buttler? The latter always seems to have friends in high places and has batted quite well since his recall to the Test side last year.
It’s also worth mentioning that Ben Foakes is apparently in the frame for the Sri Lanka tour in March. Therefore it looks like England might vary their keeper according to conditions. So we might have Bairstow in South Africa, Foakes in Sri Lanka, and presumably Buttler in England. I guess it would make a nice change from no keepers at all in Hamilton.
I’ll leave you with news that Keaton Jennings might also be recalled for the Sri Lanka series. I kid you not. There’s nothing funkier than recalling a guy who’s already been dropped twice I suppose. Oh Ed. You don’t half make it difficult for us to like you sometimes.
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