New Zealand marked the arrival of Test cricket in Bay of Plenty with an emphatic victory over England. These are times of rich promise for Kane Williamson’s side and they made light of the suggestion that the surface at Mount Maunganui might be too flat to provide a result, Neil Wagner’s ebullient five-wicket haul seeing them home with plenty of room to spare on the final day.
For England, it was a case of new coach, new approach, but largely the same result. Having won the toss and gained first use of the pitch, a first-innings total of 353 was soon shown up as inadequate by New Zealand’s more ruthless approach. The brittle nature of their batting was then exposed for a second time, with no one managing more than Joe Denly’s 35 as they crumbled to an innings defeat.
Needing to bat for most of the day in order to squeeze out of the game with a draw, England lost four wickets during the afternoon session to fatally undermine their cause. Wagner claimed three of them in a five-over burst before tea that ripped the guts out of England’s resistance, with a ninth-wicket stand of 59 between Sam Curran and Jofra Archer only serving to underline what might have been achievable.
New Zealand have not lost a Test at home since 2017, and the way they wrestled control in this match – through the record-breaking feats of BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner and a concerted team effort with the ball – ably demonstrated why they sit No. 2 in the ICC’s Test rankings. Watling was named Man of the Match for his marathon double-hundred and while Santner could not add to the three vital wickets he had claimed on the fourth evening, there was a flying catch to savour as New Zealand surged towards victory.
Although England did threaten to draw the game out, losing just one wicket in the first 41 overs of the day, it is a marker of New Zealand’s collective strength that someone always seems to stand up when required. Wagner, who looks like he would celebrate the successful purchase of a new hoover with a fist-pumping run towards the cashiers, charged into the fray during the afternoon session to break the tourists resolve.
England’s batsmen did, however, lend the odd helping hand. Perhaps most disappointing for Joe Root, the man hoping to help build a new era for England in Test cricket under Chris Silverwood, was his own dismissal and that of his vice-captain, Ben Stokes. Both departed to ill-judged strokes against balls that were not threatening their stumps, clearing the path for Wagner to run through the rest of the line-up.
The loss of Stokes, England’s top-scorer in the first innings, dealt the gravest blow to their hopes of saving the game. He and Denly had taken the score to 121 for 4, approaching the afternoon drinks break, when Tim Southee’s perseverance outside off stump was rewarded as Stokes was bowled off his inside edge trying to force a wide delivery.
New Zealand, and Wagner, sensed their moment. Denly’s 142-ball vigil was ended a few overs later, when Wagner went around the wicket and found some extra bounce from a length to flick the glove – Kumar Dharmasena declined the initial appeal but Williamson immediately, and confidently, reviewed.
Ollie Pope was then suckered in Wagner’s next over, mishitting what looked like a wide full toss but was actually a knuckleball towards cover, where Santner continued a memorable Test by clinging on a full stretch. When Jos Buttler opted to leave Wagner’s first delivery with the second new ball, only to see it crash into the base of off stump, the game was effectively up. Curran and Archer stitched together a partnership to extend proceedings into the final session, thwarting Santner’s attempts to add a five-for to his hundred; but Wagner returned to claim the last two wickets with consecutive balls and seal an impressive win.
The teams came back for the final day at Bay Oval with two outcomes on the table. Either New Zealand would take the seven wickets required, and possibly knock off a few runs, to claim victory and a 1-0 lead in the two-match series, or England and the pitch would conspire to deliver a draw in Mount Maunganui’s maiden Test.
The initial signs were that bowling out England for a second time would be hard work, despite the pitch increasingly offering assistance to spin – and the departure of Trent Boult for treatment on a side problem after bowling just one over must have been a concern for Williamson. New Zealand only managed one breakthrough during the morning, but the fact that the departing batsman was Root would have encouraged hopes that they could get the job done.
Root, fresh to the crease after Jack Leach’s dismissal from the final ball of day four, had looked reasonably assured, clipping a couple of fours off Santner but otherwise taking his time to get in. However, facing a field with three catchers in the covers, he was surprised by Colin de Grandhomme going short and steered limply to gully, departing having failed to make a significant contribution to the England innings for the second time in the match.