Wagner bears brunt of England assault but New Zealand chip out four

Wagner bears brunt of England assault but New Zealand chip out four

Tea England 325 for 9 dec and 79 for 2 (Pope 14*, Broad 6*) lead New Zealand 306 (Blundell 138, Conway 77, Robinson 4-54) by 98 runs

Neil Wagner went to the third-day tea break nursing the eye-watering figures of 11-0-104-2, as England’s batters went into overdrive, even by their recent unfettered standards. And yet, as Joe Root fell to the reverse-sweep in the final over, to become the fourth wicket to fall in the session, it gave New Zealand another chance to stay, just about, in touch.

By the interval, England had added 158 runs in 25.1 overs, with Ollie Pope‘s 49 from 46 balls giving way to a brace of half-centuries from Root and the man of the moment, Harry Brook, who went past 600 runs in just his eighth Test innings, and at a career strike-rate a tick below 97.

But in picking off their chances as they came – including the self-styled “Nighthawk” Stuart Broad, bombed out by a bouncer in Wagner’s second over of the day – New Zealand kept themselves in contention against a team that seemed intent, one way or another, on bowling again by the evening session.

Broad’s wicket, however, was as good as it got for Wagner’s habitual short-ball tactics, as Pope set the tone for an astonishing session of batting, in which England lashed 14 fours and six sixes to march from their overnight 79 for 2 to 237 for 6, an overall lead of 256.

For a few hairy moments after Broad’s dismissal, it seemed as though New Zealand had a chance to turn the screw, with Root inside-edging the excellent Tim Southee for his first boundary in a cagey start to his innings. Pope, however, faced up to the first ball of Wagner’s next over with two mighty launches up and over fine leg for six, to signal his team’s intent to climb back onto the offensive.

Two more sixes followed in Wagner’s next over – one apiece for Pope and Root this time, who had found his own timing with a clip for four off Southee. Both disappeared in the same direction, high down the leg side as Wagner’s left-arm, body-battering line was used against him to mighty effect.

Pope’s next trick was to take Wagner down the ground, retreating to leg to open up his options with a brace of tennis-smashed fours, and though he succumbed in the same over, gloving another pull down the leg side with his half-century beckoning, the arrival of Brook – whose first-innings 89 from 81 had been within touching distance of his fourth hundred in as many Tests – was not exactly a sign that England were about to change tack.

Like Root before him, Brook took an over or two to find his feet on what, in spite of the evidence, remains a slightly two-paced deck. He might have fenced to Henry Nicholls in the gully when Scott Kuggeleijn surprised him with a rare full-length delivery, and was inches away from holing out to square leg on the pull as well. But he too turned up the volume when Wagner came back into his sights, crushing two more fours and a huge six over cow corner to get fully into the swing of things.

Brook saved his most startling fireworks for the 11th and final over of Wagner’s spell, however, belting four, four, four, six in an 18-run over that set him on course for a 37-ball fifty. Wagner retreated with the most-expensive analysis from a bowler’s first 11 overs since ESPNcricinfo’s ball-by-ball records began – knocking Bryce McGain off top spot. But before Brook could go much further, Blair Tickner caught him in two minds with the fuller length, and Daryl Mitchell clung on well at slip.

England’s response to that dismissal was to send out Ben Foakes ahead of Ben Stokes – a slight admission, perhaps, that their tempo was a touch too excitable for a team that wants, according to Root’s morning comments to the broadcaster, to reassess at the dinner break, and ideally get New Zealand in under the floodlights, as happened on the first evening.

But, the dismissal of Root – England’s closest thing to an anchor in this brave new world – set up an intriguing scenario for the afternoon resumption. Facing up to the spin of Michael Bracewell in the final over of the session, Root unfurled his reverse sweep – a similar choice of shot to his first-innings dismissal – but the ball bobbled off the keeper’s gloves and into the waiting hands of slip.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket

(With Inputs from ESPN)

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