They call Test cricket the purest form of the game, and this is why.
Heading into the fifth day of the second Test between England and New Zealand at Nottingham, the Kiwis hold a lead of 238 with three wickets in hand, and all four results are still on the cards.
It doesn’t get much better than this.
Given the proceedings of last week’s Test match, it’s surprising we’ve found ourselves at this stage—that match didn’t even reach the end of the fourth day.
Here’s a look at how this match has unfolded so far.
A tale of two Tests
The contrast between Nottingham and Lord’s couldn’t be more stark.
In the first Test, both sides suffered severe batting collapses, with New Zealand being bowled for 132, and England falling for 141 in reply. The highest first innings score by an individual across the two teams was Zac Crawley’s 43—the departure of whom triggered England’s batting collapse. Even in the second innings, when the batting was slightly more steady, neither side reached 300.
And yet, in the first four days of the second Test, both teams have crossed 500 in their opening accounts.
High run rates and even higher scores
Having been put in to bat first, New Zealand notched a weighty 553.
The top four batters all got starts, but couldn’t kick on, and it was again Daryl Mitchell (190) and Tom Blundell (106) who added the majority of the Kiwis runs. Bracewell fell one short of a half century, and Boult swung the bat, to give New Zealand a commanding total, achieved at a healthy run rate of 3.8.
In reply, England were equally impressive with 539.
Crawley fell early, but Alex Lees scored a useful half century, before a mammoth 187 run partnership between Ollie Pope (145) and Joe Root (176) took England past 300. Ben Stokes then added a quick fire 46 off 33, with Foakes also contributing a half century. A five wicket haul to Trent Boult wrapped up the England innings 14 runs short of the Black Cap’s total, but again, the run rate was impressive—England motored along at 4.2.
Racing towards a result
Two first innings scores of 500+ usually don’t make for an exciting Test.
Courtesy of rapid first innings run rates however, New Zealand were walking out to bat for a second time an hour before lunch on day four, with everything to play for.
All eyes were on them to see how they would approach the innings—1-0 down in a three match series, and only 14 runs ahead, would they continue pressing ahead at a healthy run rate to force a result? Or would they bat first to avoid a loss, and then look to consider a result later in the innings?
It’s hard to understand exactly what New Zealand’s approach was. They weren’t quite going for the jugular—moving along at a moderate 3.24 runs per over–yet by the end of the day’s play, they were 224/7 down, largely due to a handful of loose shots and unnecessary run outs.
Regardless, it’s all on for day five of this match—New Zealand have two-and-a-half wickets in hand (Kyle Jamieson has a back injury and is unlikely to bat), and a lead of 238.
Looking ahead to day five
The first session of play tomorrow should give us a good idea of how this match will play out.
Having lost quick wickets in the last session of day four, will New Zealand knuckle in and look to bat time, taking an England victory out of the equation? Or will they come out swinging, and add a quick fifty to their lead within the first half hour?
If England can knock over New Zealand cheaply—a real option, given they are essentially eight down due to Jamieson’s injury—then they’re every chance of securing a win. But if New Zealand post a lead of 270+, will England follow through on the rhetoric of recent weeks, and bat with intent to try chase it down?
With New Zealand needing a win to stay alive in the series, and the Stokes/McCullum duo having a point to prove, odds are we’ll have a cracking day of cricket tomorrow.