Innings break New Zealand 329 (Mitchell 109, Blundell 55, Leach 5-100) vs England
Things came more quickly after lunch, as Jack Leach claimed the final two New Zealand wickets in the space of three balls to complete a five-wicket haul – his first in at Test on home soil. Tim Southee and Neil Wagner both fell swinging for the fences as England picked up the last three wickets at a cost of just four runs to limit New Zealand to 329.
Despite enjoying another improbable moment of good fortune in the early dismissal of Tom Blundell for 55, it looked set to be unequivocally New Zealand’s morning as Mitchell and Southee pounded out a brisk eighth-wicket stand of 60 in nine overs.
But, with the interval looming, Stokes played with Mitchell’s mind with a series of tempting field changes, then told his spinner to come round the wicket to change the angle. Mitchell duly attempted to take on the vacated straight boundaries, but skewed an outside edge to deep cover, where Stokes himself backtracked to hold onto a vital chance.
It was the end of another superb innings, and one that has now carried his tally for the series to 482 runs in five innings, a record for New Zealand against England. In a slow-burn resumption, he mustered just five runs in the first 15 overs of the day, before unleashing his levers in partnership with the hard-hitting Southee, and went to his latest landmark in now typical fashion, with a high-elbowed launch for six down the ground off Leach.
Even before getting his man in the end, however, Leach had already been causing problems out of the leg-side rough in a sign that runs on the board in this first innings could yet be a decisive factor as this Test wears on. Southee for his part reached the break on 33 from 27 balls, including the 76th six of his remarkably hard-hitting career.
Despite adding the scalp of Michael Bracewell for 13 in the second hour of the morning, it was another session in which England were made to rue the moments that got away, with Mitchell himself receiving another crucial let-off early in his stay.
After resuming on his overnight 78, Mitchell could and should have fallen in Matt Potts’ first over of the morning, and for the addition of just two runs. However, after scuffing a full ball towards Joe Root at first slip, Mitchell was saved by the flying glove of the keeper Ben Foakes, who dived across his team-mate and palmed the chance away to safety.
It didn’t take long, however, for Potts to get some overdue luck – although the manner in which it arose was contentious in the extreme. For the second time in the match, a glitch in the Decision Review System meant the teams were briefly left with no recourse to reviews, and in the very first over after the umpires had relayed this information to the players, Potts unleashed another surprise inswinger to the steadfast Blundell, who had just notched up his third fifty of the series.
Potts’ delivery was very similar, in fact, to the ball to Mitchell that England had fatefully failed to review on day one, but this time umpire Richard Kettleborough upheld the appeal – and as Blundell traipsed off shaking his head, it was clear that he would have taken a second opinion had one been available. To the naked eye, the ball was clearly leg-sided, and there may have been a suspicion of inside-edge too. But at 243 for 6, with the end of New Zealand’s most steadfast partnership of the series, it was a pivotal moment of their innings.
England, however, struggled to capitalise on the incision. They had begun the day’s play with a 10-over-old ball, but Stokes – who once again chose not to bowl himself – chose to trust the day’s opening honours to Potts and Jamie Overton, whose initial four-over burst was typically energetic but arguably less refined than the wily old pro Stuart Broad might have been.
Not for the first time this series, England were also distracted by their concerted efforts to instigate a ball-change – a point on which the umpires did not relent until the 17th over. By that stage, Broad had entered the attack and endured another dropped catch – this time a one-handed effort by Jonny Bairstow, diving across second slip from third to the left-handed Bracewell. But armed at last with his replacement ball, Broad needed two more deliveries to prise Bracewell out in his habitual round-the-wicket fashion, as Zak Crawley this time clung on low at second slip.
For all that Bracewell’s departure seemed to be the gateway to New Zealand’s lengthy tail, Southee saw it instead as an opportunity to take some lumps out of the England attack. His first scoring shot was a slog off Leach that skimmed inches over Bairstow’s head at mid-on, before he moved to within two blows of MS Dhoni’s sixes tally with a hoist over backward square.
But Mitchell’s late misjudgement handed England a toe-hold going into the afternoon, and they hauled themselves back into the contest with two quick wickets after the resumption. Southee, like Mitchell, holed out to Stokes at mid-off, before Bairstow reeled in a brilliant catch at wide long-on in front of the Western Terrace to hand Leach a hard-won fifth.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket