Ben Stokes and Joe Root put England in strong position against New Zealand
A huge slice of luck for birthday boy Ben Stokes and a classy innings from Joe Root moved England into a winning position on a gripping third day at the first LV= Insurance Test at Lord’s.
Set 277 to win by New Zealand in Stokes’ first game as captain, England appeared to be heading towards another tame defeat when the new skipper fell to an ugly hack which briefly left the scoreboard reading 76 for five.
But his dismissal for just one run was scrubbed from the records when replays showed Colin de Grandhomme overstepping, a no-ball that changed the shape of the game as England rallied to reach 216 for five.
Stokes celebrated turning 31 by clubbing his way to 54, including three sixes and five fours, riding his good fortune to drag England back into contention before predecessor Rook took charge.
Root occupied the crease with calm authority as he finished with an unbeaten 77 and the hosts will be clear favourites to get the remaining 61 they need as long as he stays in.
Stuart Broad had earlier led the bowling attack in a vital fightback which saw the Kiwis lose their last six wickets for 34, including a maiden scalp for debutant leg-spinner Matt Parkinson.
At one stage the tourists coughed up three wickets in as many balls, with two for Broad and the forlorn De Grandhomme run out for a golden duck.
New Zealand held all the cards at the start of play, 227 ahead with six wickets in the bank and hundreds in sight for Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell. But they failed to capitalise on the pair’s 195-run stand and their 285 all out offered the hosts a fighting chance.
The stage was set for a top three with plenty of questions to answer to stand up and be counted, but one by one they wilted. Alex Lees mustered 20 before offering no shot to Kyle Jamieson and watched on helplessly as the ball tailed into his off stump.
Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope both received ringing endorsements from Stokes on the eve of the match but faltered in familiar style. Crawley’s weakness in the channel saw him caught at gully for nine before Pope was comprehensively cleaned up by Trent Boult on 10.
At 46 for three and the shine barely off the ball, England had boxed themselves into an awkward position. Jonny Bairstow attempted to ease the pressure by going on the front foot, lacing Boult into the off-side as to pick up 14 in a single over.
But the adrenaline rush got the best of him when he dragged on with a reckless drive, with the end of Jamieson’s superb spell just moments away. That brought past and present captain together with more than 200 still to get and the familiar feeling of a collapse in the air.
While Root exuded calm, Stokes was a bundle of nervous energy. He had one run from 19 balls when he sauntered down the pitch at De Grandhomme and played on with a crooked bat. Had the medium-pacer’s foot been a couple of inches further back, it would have been a hopeless way for his involvement in the game to end.
Stokes risked wasting his good fortune, attempting a dangerous single then slashing wantonly over the cordon. But he is a player who is never out of the contest and offered a reminder by slog-sweeping Ajaz Patel for the first six of the match.
Root’s measured approach offered a calming counterpoint to Stokes’ high-risk strategy, but more of his gambles started to pay off as he muscled a handful of boundaries.
Watching Stokes work his way towards England’s first half-century of the match was an edge-of-the-seat affair, with a constant sense of danger and moments of enjoyable brute force. Patel came off worst of all, swiped twice more into the stands and conceding four byes when he did beat the bat.
It was hard not to feel deja-vu when a stray throw diverted off Stokes’ bat as he made his ground – a callback to his World Cup final heroics against New Zealand on this ground three years ago – but this time he was not able to finish the job.
Instead he became Jamieson’s fourth victim, gloving an attempted uppercut to the keeper to leave Root in charge of the chase with another 118 still required.
His ability to work singles nudged the target down into double figures and eased him to a polished 50 but he was also able to cash in boundaries – whipping Tim Southee through square-leg then helping the follow-up to third man.
Every run was and crucial now and England got some assistance, with a rare inside edge from Root skipping away for four and a misfield from Kane Williamson adding three as Ben Foakes offered solid support.
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