After five sessions in the field, the bulk of which was spent watching Daryl Mitchell deliver a masterful 190 as New Zealand amassed their highest Test total on these shores, it was over to England’s top order to soften the analysis of their bowlers.
The tourists stuck 553 all out on the board after being inserted on Friday – Tom Blundell, like Mitchell, registering his third Test century with a well-crafted 106 – and there were 29 overs to negotiate. Given England’s recent exploits against the new ball, the mood among the Nottingham crowd was one of hope rather than expectation.
But though groans soon followed when Zak Crawley was nicked off by Trent Boult for four – a beautiful delivery that squared up the right-hander on the back foot and feathered the edge – a partnership of substance formed. Alex Lees and Ollie Pope demonstrated the ease of this pitch as they steered England to 90 for one at stumps.
There was fortune along the way for both men, it must be said, and a reminder that Test cricket remains a great leveller. Mitchell, having earlier played such a dominant hand, put down Lees at first slip off Tim Southee and then snatched at a tougher chance off Pope on 38 when Boult found the edge of a crooked defensive poke.
As such, excitement over England’s initial reply should be tempered and there is a good deal of work still to be done. In contrast to the first Test at Lord’s, here at Trent Bridge the Dukes ball has offered more lateral movement once its initial lacquer has worn off.
Nevertheless, with Lees set to resume on 34 and Pope delivering his first half-century from his new role at No 3 through a glossier unbeaten 51 that featured two sixes, something resembling a foundation has been laid for those lower down the order.
Though doubtless chewed up by the drops, Mitchell could still reflect on a memorable day. After last week’s 108 at Lord’s he modestly said his name “didn’t deserve” to sit alongside some of the greats of the game. Having backed that century up with a career-best first-class score here, perhaps he is starting to feel he belongs.
Certainly he and Blundell look at home together out in the middle. The pair resumed on 318 for four and turned their overnight stand of 149 into 236 from 67.2 overs, the highest by a New Zealand pair in England – overtaking Martin Crowe and Bruce Edgar’s 210 at Lord’s in 1986 – and also the country’s all-time record for the fifth wicket.
They complement each other superbly too, with Mitchell’s front-foot preference and Blundell’s more nuggety style disrupting lengths. Mitchell, starting on 81 to his partner’s 67, was first to three figures, squirting Matt Potts to third man to claim two honours boards in the space of a week – not too shabby for a player who only got his chance this series through an injury to Henry Nicholls.
It should have ended soon after but after four dropped catches on day one England produced another, Mitchell staring in disbelief after a mistimed heave off Jack Leach on 104 went to Potts at long-on only to evade his hands, strike his knee and go for four. Mitchell biffing a couple more off the youngster’s follow-up over was salt in the wounds.
They also brought up the 200-run partnership, with Blundell soon banishing the heartache of last week’s 96 at Lord’s. The right-hander became the first New Zealand wicketkeeper to make a century in England when he took Leach for a couple of fours to reach 99 and then fiddled the all-important single around the corner.
Leach, manhandled at times in figures of two for 140 from 35 overs, finally got his man when a clothed drive flew to Ben Stokes at mid-off. But further resistance formed, Michael Bracewell delivering an impressively languid 49 on debut in a stand of 91 with Mitchell that saw Stokes finally move to stem the runs and call for negative lines.
Delivering on these orders, a visibly stiff Jimmy Anderson still produced a fine spell to separate the pair after an hour’s pause for rain, nicking off Bracewell for his 649th Test victim to make it 496 for six and starting a run of four wickets in 22 balls.
Like Anderson, Stuart Broad had spent much of the day grazing after a brief burst first thing in the morning and was digesting the news that the pub in nearby Upper Broughton he part-owns had suffered a fire overnight. But he returned to wipe out Kyle Jamieson and Southee in quick succession, with Matt Henry soon falling to Leach.
Mitchell was the last man out, mugged by a slower ball from Potts, but over the course of eight hours at the crease had creamed 23 fours and four sixes. In keeping with the spirit of this series, England were quick to congratulate the right-hander as he walked off, acknowledging the quality of his innings.
The interpretive dance that is Boult with bat in hand had also added a useful unbeaten 16, drawing him level with Muttiah Muralitharan’s world record of 623 runs from No 11. Anderson has a chance of overtaking the pair in this match – he sits on 609 runs when acting as tail-gunner – but will be in no rush to strap on the pads.