Anderson makes inroads after England’s bold declaration in New Zealand


There is more than one way to climb Mount Maunganui. For glorious views of Tauranga and the Bay of Plenty, take either the slow and steady base track or, for a quicker ascent, albeit with more puff required, charge up the steep stairs of the summit track.

Cyclone Gabrielle’s recent rains meant both paths were shut off from the public until the first morning of this day-night series opener against New Zealand. Even so, it’s not hard to imagine the route this England team would have chosen had the opportunity presented itself this week.

Marching up the more ambitious track means more stumbles along the way, however, and on a rollicking opening day at Bay Oval – one with supporters lining its inviting grass banks and enjoying a festival atmosphere – this proved the case out in the middle.

England scored at five-and-a-half an over, a rate in keeping with their past nine months, once Ben Stokes lost a toss he was in two minds about. Leading the yomp was Harry Brook, who muscled an 81-ball 89 after Ben Duckett’s equally punchy 84 from 68.

But wickets fell regularly and come the final session, with storm clouds rumbling away in the distance, it prompted a swerve in tactics from the ever-instinctive Stokes. At 325 for nine from 57.3 overs, and with 90 minutes to go under lights, the England captain declared and asked his seamers to get the pink Kookaburra talking.

Only Pakistan’s Intikhab Alam, at Lord’s in 1974, had pulled out sooner in a Test first innings – that was after 44.5 overs – and the upshot here was a position of strength. The hosts closed on 37 for three, Ollie Robinson winkling out Tom Latham to short-leg before Jimmy Anderson made it a 21 successive years of Test wickets by pinning Kane Williamson lbw and persuading Henry Nicholls to edge to slip.

Vindication for Stokes then, even if the outcomes from his side’s desire to entertain and innovate had not always matched their intent. Take Joe Root, who after a low-key Pakistan tour attempted a second reverse scoop off Neil Wagner on 14, only to fluff the contact and fall to a smart piece of anticipation from Daryl Mitchell at slip.

Stokes also skewed a front-foot pull to short midwicket on 19 to gift Scott Kuggeleijn the first of two wickets on debut, while Ben Foakes, the understated half of an 89-run sixth-wicket stand with Brook, flapped at a short ball from Wagner on 38 as England lost four wickets for 27 after the second interval.

All this despite a New Zealand attack that, beyond Wagner, who finished with four for 82, and his captain, Tim Southee, had two newcomers in Blair Tickner and Kuggeleijn. All four seamers leaked runs in blustery winds that were drying an initially green-tinged pitch, as first Duckett and then Brook gave it a nudge.

Ben Duckett on his way to a rapid-fire half-century on the opening morning at the Bay Oval
Ben Duckett on his way to a rapid-fire half-century in the opening session at the Bay Oval. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty Images

Brook was eyeing his fourth century in his first seven Test innings, arriving at the crease at 153 for threeafter Ollie Pope was nicked off by Southee for an impish 42. Brooks crackled in whites as lightning flashed away to the south. The Yorkshireman was toying with his opponents at times, cutting Tickner either side of deep point in successive deliveries like a young Robin Smith in a 43-ball half-century. There was no doubt about the pick of his 16 boundaries, a lofted straight six off Southee that was borderline perfection.

Not for the first time in his nascent England career, it looked like Brook might break Gilbert Jessop’s 120-year-old record for the fastest Test century by an Englishman – 76 balls – such was his control. But having reached the second break on 79 from 64 balls, and England 279 for five, he lost his way a touch.

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The floodlights taking over possibly played a role, Brook struck on the jaw by a short-ball from Wagner that he did not pick up. In the left-armer’s following over he was undone by another bumper, taking it on, under-edging on the ground and then seeing the ball deflect on to the stumps via his backside.

Jessop had also been namechecked earlier when it looked for all money like Duckett would beat him. That was until 15 minutes before the first break when he chipped the mulleted Tickner to cover. A coffee shop owner from Hawke’s Bay, the debutant had given one of the regions most badly affected by the recent cyclone some cheer.

It was a galling end to a gem of an innings, Duckett having punched and pulled both sides of the wicket to further cement his place at the top of the order. His 36-ball half-century was the joint-fastest by an England opener, the others being Stokes against West Indies in the bubble summer of 2020 – a third-innings thrash up the order – and Zak Crawley against South Africa at the Oval last year.

The latter was not nearly so fluent here. His 14-ball stay was tortured before he walked down the pitch and edged Southee to slip with a hard-handed push and a degree of inevitability. He had been dropped off the second ball of the match and bowled by a beauty from Wagner that was scrubbed for a front-foot no-ball.

Crawley’s day appeared to get worse, putting down Devon Conway on nine during the late push for wickets. It might have prompted a good few stares from England teams of the old, but this bunch are at peace with the odd stumble along the path. When the ageless Anderson teased an edge from Nicholls to Crawley, a degree of redemption followed.

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