New Zealand’s raw bowling attack has been blinded by the ‘Bazball’ headlights and their batters are reeling, after the opening day of the first test against England at Mt Maunganui.
Led by Kiwi coach Brendon McCullum and Christchurch-born captain Ben Stokes, the English have swept all before them over the nine months since McCullum accepted the post, dominating rivals with their high-octane playing style.
They swept the Blackcaps 3-0 at home in McCullum’s first series in charge and have made the ideal start on his return to New Zealand, thumping 325/9 declared in their first innings and reducing the Kiwis to 37/3 at stumps.
NZ skipper Tim Southee won the toss and elected to bowl first in the day/night fixture, a decision that almost paid early dividends, when opener Zak Crawley nicked into the slips and was dropped by Michael Bracewell with no runs on the board.
Neil Wagner thought he had Crawley bowled with his first ball of the test, but was guilty of a no-ball that gave the England batter yet another life.
Fortunately for New Zealand, he could not take advantage, finally caught Bracewll, bowled Southee in the third over, leaving England 18/1 early.
But the tourists consolidated through opener Ben Duckett and Ollie Pope, who put on 99 runs, before Duckett became Blair Tickner’s first test scalp, again caught by Bracewell for 84 runs off 68 balls, including 14 fours.
England continued to score at an incredible rate, reaching six runs on over late in the second session, as Pope, Harry Brook and Ben Foakes all built valuable partnerships.
Talisman Joe Root and captain Stokes both misfired, with Root attempting an audacious reverse-sweep once too often and falling to sharp catch from Daryl Mitchell, off Wagner.
In a Blackcaps attack missing Trent Boult, Matt Henry and Kyle Jamieson, Wagner filled the unaccustomed role with the new ball and struggled for rhythm, but stuck to his task and got better as the innings progressed.
Reaching tea at 279/5, England self-destructed somewhat, after Brook played Wagner onto his stumps for 89, short of a fourth consecutive test century.
As night fell, the English tail looked more interested in having a crack at the NZ batters with the ball and Stokes eventually declared at the fall of the ninth wicket, sparing veteran bowler Jimmy Anderson the need to pad up.
Instead, Anderson, Broad and Ollie Robinson proceeded to torment the top order with deliveries that seamed both ways with ease.
Blackcaps opener Tom Latham made a 13-ball one, before he was caught off his pads by Pope, off Robinson. Kane Williamson was similarly unconvincing, departing for six off 21 balls, when he was trapped leg before wicket by Anderson.
Next, Henry Nicholls played Anderson into the slips, where Crawley atoned for an earlier drop of Devon Conway, as the NZ middle order was exposed.
After starring with the ball, Wagner was asked to fill the nightwatchman role and he was able to defy the England bowlers for the remaining 15 minutes to stumps.
Conway struggled as much as any of the Blackcaps batters, but survived to the end and will shoulder the responsibility on Friday, when the home side chase the first-innings target under more favourable conditions.
They’ll have to battle history. Eleven teams have previous scored 300 runs in the first innings of a day/night test – all 11 went on to victory.
England 325/9 (Brook 89, Duckett 84, Pope 42; Wagner 4/82) NZ 37/3 (Conway 18no; Anderson 2/11)
England lead by 288 runs
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