Heading into day four of the first Test between England and New Zealand, the match hung in the balance.
England needed 60 runs to win, while New Zealand were after five wickets. Considering both sides had suffered collapses much more drastic than 50/5 in their first innings—neither team managed to reach 150 runs—this game was on.
It all came down to who wanted it more on that fourth morning.
And surprisingly, that team was England.
The ideal start for McCullum and Stokes
Nine times out of ten, you would have backed New Zealand to get across the line in a tight spot like this. They are, after all, the reigning Test Champions, much because of their ability to win these close matches.
To the delight of English fans, however, it was their team who knuckled in when it mattered and got the result. Some would say it was even quite out of character for an England team who had won only one of their past seventeen Test matches, specializing in disappointing performances.
Newly appointed coach Brendon McCullum, alongside captain Ben Stokes, have spoken a lot over the past fortnight about the importance of belief within the English side. To see England get across the line in gritty, pressure-filled circumstances is exactly the shift in culture they will have been after in this new era of English test cricket.
Though it’s still early days, both McCullum and Stokes will be ecstatic to have begun their tenures with a win.
A story of collapses
Ultimately, this match was a story of who could mitigate their batting collapses better.
New Zealand started off terribly, slipping to 4-12 and then 7-45. Tim Southee and Colin de Grandhomme swung the bat and added some cheap runs, but the Kiwi side was quickly scuppered for 132 within 40 overs.
England replied positively, racing out to 0-59 in their response. However, in typical England style, when the collapse happened, it was severe. Southee took four wickets, and the home team was bowled out for 141, holding the slimmest of first innings leads.
It looked like groundhog day for New Zealand in the second innings, with the visitors again losing their first four wickets cheaply. At 4-56, Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell were united at the crease, in a partnership that would defy the trend of the match, and last for 195 runs, putting New Zealand in a position of dominance.
A position that was just as soon thrown away, when the Black Caps crumbled from 4-251 to 285 all out.
Set a target of 277 to win, England were patchy, stuttering to 3-46 then 4-69. However, solid half-centuries from Ben Stokes and Joe Root saw them reach stumps on the third day at 5-216 with the game in the balance.
The fourth day drama that many expected didn’t eventuate, with England seamlessly chasing down the remaining 60 runs in the first session of the fourth day, and Joe Root picking up a century and 10,000 Test runs along the way.
Plenty to work on for both sides
By all means, England will be thrilled to get the result in this match.
Both sides still have plenty to work on though.
For England, they’ll be happy with Root’s century—an indication that life post-captaincy will be fruitful for him—as well as the performance of their seamers. Their dramatic first innings collapse, however, and the inability of both openers to capitalize on starts will be an ongoing concern to address.
For New Zealand, they have some soul-searching to do. What seemed like a rusty start to the new Test Championship has evolved into a significant drop in form, with a defense of their title looking less and less likely. Williamson’s lack of form, Collin de Grandhomme’s heel injury, and both openers failing will be notable alarm bells.
With the second Test beginning on Friday, both teams will have a point to prove. England will want to show fans this wasn’t just a one-off performance, while New Zealand will be determined to arrest their poor run of form and demonstrate they’re still worthy of the Test Championship title.
All will be revealed on 10 June.