The focus of this series for Joe Root’s men is one of renewal with the goal of regaining the ashes in Australia in 2021.
One of the main pillars of this strategy is to learn how to occupy the crease for long periods of time.
New Zealand have provided England with an exact blueprint of how to do this by amassing a huge 615/9d and keeping them in the field for more than 200 overs. Their highest ever total against England in their 89 years of test cricket.
England began the day requiring four wickets to bring New Zealand’s innings to a close and again they started cautiously but to great assurance. Only 58 runs were scored in the morning session, but without the loss of a wicket.
Wicketkeeper BJ Watling sent records tumbling on the way to his maiden double century. He occupied the crease for more than 11 hours and combined with Mitchell Santner for New Zealand’s highest ever 7th wicket partnership.
Santner himself amassed his highest test score of 126 and when he was dismissed it was 73.2 overs since England had taken a wicket.
Watling was finally dismissed for 205 just before tea and a declaration followed shortly after. England will have been relieved to be no longer in the field after almost two and a half days.
Some would have been forgiven at this point for thinking that the flat pitch may not provide enough opportunities for a result in this match but New Zealand soon found ways to make inroads as England faced a daunting task of needing 262 to make New Zealand even bat again.
It was almost poetic that Watling and Santner again combined to take the first England wicket of Dom Sibley who was caught behind for 12.
The dismissal of Rory Burns occurred shortly afterwards for 31 and Jack Leach, the cult hero from last summer at Headingley, was given the unenviable task of night watchman- not an easy task considering he had bowled 47 overs of New Zealand’s innings.
Leach was out on the final ball of the day, also to Santner magnificently caught by Tom Latham at short leg. England, still 207 runs in arrears, now face a massive task to bat all day tomorrow to save this test match.
With Root and Stokes still to come, this will provide England with the perfect opportunity to practise what they have been preaching before the series began.
New Zealand will not make this easy though, especially with the pitch deteriorating and spinner Santner finding more and more assistance.
If the Kiwis do go on to win this match, ironically it will be because they followed England’s gameplan better than England did.
Play resumes tonight at 10pm.