England continued to scrap their way into the ascendency on a hard-fought second day of the first Test against New Zealand.
Having ground their way to a competitive, if not imposing, 353 all out with the bat, their bowlers maintained the pressure to leave the hosts 144-4 at the close, trailing by 209.
Sam Curran took the key wicket of New Zealand captain Kane Williamson in the final hour, having made the initial breakthrough to dislodge Tom Latham.
Jack Leach and Ben Stokes also took wickets on another attritional day of Test cricket in Mount Maunganui, leaving Henry Nicholls and BJ Watling to watchfully see off the final few overs.
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England fail to capitalise with bat
The tourists will be disappointed not to have a more substantial lead, having fallen from 277-4 to 353 all out – at one stage losing four wickets for 18 runs.
Going into the two-match series England spoke of adopting a more measured approach to batting in order to tire out the opposition attack and make run scoring easier for their middle-order strokemakers.
Here, though, a disciplined approach from the likes of Rory Burns, Joe Denly and Stokes on day one was squandered, and the end result was all too familiar – England once again failing to post a match-controlling first-innings total.
The mini collapse began when Stokes, who had looked in complete command of the bowling on his way to 91, came down the wicket to Tim Southee and slashed hard to first slip, where Ross Taylor took an excellent catch.
Ollie Pope (29) will be similarly disappointed to perish chasing a wide one, while Curran (0) and Jofra Archer (4) fell cheaply as Southee took three of the four wickets to fall.
Jos Buttler, in his first Test as England’s wicketkeeper since displacing Jonny Bairstow, intelligently shepherded the tail from there – putting on 52 with Leach for the ninth wicket before carving a simple catch to Mitchell Santner at deep cover.
Stuart Broad lasted just 10 balls, meaning England fell to 353 all out on a pitch where they might have expected 400-plus.
“England would have started the day saying they were on course for 430 or more, so they were restrained a little by New Zealand,” said Test Match Special commentator Jeremy Coney.
Curran leads England’s bowling attack
New Zealand, though, made similar mistakes while using the same tactics.
Jeet Raval and Taylor were particularly culpable as they played horrible shots to pick out fielders at mid-wicket and on the square leg boundary respectively.
Williamson played nicely for his 31st Test half-century, although England will be cheered by the half-chances they created with clever fields designed to nullify the opposition captain’s strengths through gully and third man.
Twice Williamson escaped playing chipped cuts through that area before he was surprised by a lifting delivery from Curran that suggested the wicket will become two-paced the further this match goes on.
Opener Latham, who like Williamson is ranked among the world’s top 10 Test batsmen, was also dismissed by Surrey all-rounder Curran.
He was out lbw to one that straightened, walking off without reviewing despite replays showing a thin nick before the ball hit the pad.
Slow left-armer Leach, too, will be pleased with his wicket. While it was gifted by a poor shot, he will know New Zealand is not a country that traditionally favours spin bowling.
None of the last 101 wickets taken by New Zealand in their home country have fallen to spin – the last one being when England last toured in early 2018.
The day ended with Archer delivering a hostile spell of short-pitched bowling including hitting Nicholls on the head.
‘Root had a good day’ – analysis reaction
Former England batsman Mark Ramprakash on Test Match Special: “Joe Root has had a good day as captain. He’s got a real vote of confidence from Ashley Giles (England’s director of men’s cricket) and they’ve talked about building a team for the next Ashes series down under.
“At times in the past you’ve felt he’s been one step behind the game but he’s rotated his bowlers really well today.
“He brought Sam Curran on when it wasn’t working with the new ball and he struck early.
“He got Jack Leach into the attack early and that will give him confidence and make him think he’s a wicket-taking option.”
England’s Jack Leach: “The ball from Sam Curran to get Kane Williamson misbehaved and that’s a good sign when you’ve got runs on the board.
“We would have liked to have got more runs, we were aiming for at least 400. We wanted that big score and we wanted a century in there and that’s something we’re working hard to do. Hopefully that’ll come in the second innings.”
New Zealand’s Tim Southee: “It would have been nice to be three down tonight but we’ve still got batting to come.
“I thought we bowled well yesterday and we got our rewards for that today. We would have taken 6-112 at the start of the day.”