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New Zealand v England: First Test poised after Tom Blundell hundred

Tom Blundell bats for New Zealand
Tom Blundell has now hit four centuries in his first 23 Tests
England 325-9 dec (Brook 89, Duckett 84; Wagner 4-82) & 79-2
New Zealand 306 (Blundell 138; Robinson 4-54)
England lead by 98 runs

England’s first Test against New Zealand is fascinatingly poised after Tom Blundell’s superb century kept the hosts afloat on day two in Mount Maunganui.

Responding to England’s first-innings 325-9 declared, New Zealand found themselves 83-5 and 182-7, either side of Devon Conway being dismissed for 77.

But wicketkeeper Blundell battled to his fourth Test century to ensure that England’s first-innings lead was only 19 despite Ollie Robinson bowling superbly to claim 4-54 in New Zealand’s 306 all out.

Even though England’s second innings started under lights, openers Ben Duckett and Zak Crawley added 50 in just 52 balls.

Duckett fell for 25 and Crawley 28, the latter signalling the arrival of Stuart Broad as England’s ‘nighthawk’ for the first time.

Comically, Broad got away with skying Scott Kuggeleijn from his second ball – Kuggeleijn and Blundell watched as the ball dropped between them – leaving England 79-2, leading by 98.

Day-night conditions add intrigue to fascinating Test

The day-night conditions and pink ball were criticised by Robinson and James Anderson in the run-up to this Test, yet there is no doubt the challenge of batting in the twilight is adding extra intrigue to a superb contest.

New Zealand should have been able to bat well early in the day in warm sunshine on a good pitch, but instead came close to imploding.

Blundell, though, was able to drag 124 runs out of the last three wickets. He added 53 with both debutants Kuggeleijn and Blair Tickner – last man Tickner’s contribution to the 10th-wicket stand was just three.

With the deficit negligible, New Zealand arguably had the upper hand, especially with England having to start their second innings just as darkness was falling.

England did not take a backward step, staying true to their attacking instincts against some below-par New Zealand new-ball bowling.

It is the tourists who should have the advantage in the daytime on Saturday, eyeing the opportunity to have New Zealand begin a run chase under lights on the third evening.

Brilliant Blundell holds New Zealand together

The run map shows Tom Blundell scored 138 with 1 six, 20 fours, 1 three, 11 twos, and 27 singles for New Zealand

Blundell has form against England – he was prolific last summer despite New Zealand going down to a 3-0 series defeat in the UK – and he has kept his team in this Test.

While many of his team-mates gifted their wicket away in blameless conditions, Blundell was compact, patient and determined.

He overturned being given caught behind off Anderson on 74 and had moved to 82 by the time he was joined by last man Tickner.

Blundell attacked the spin of Jack Leach, taking 14 off an over, then watched Tickner keep out Robinson, with every defensive stroke cheered from the spectators on the grass banks.

After Blundell swept Leach to go to three figures, he changed gear. His first 100 runs came from 143 balls, his next 38 off 37.

He was dropped by flying wicketkeeper Ben Foakes off Ben Stokes on 117 and a miscue evaded a flailing Broad at mid-on off Anderson when Blundell had 130.

England also failed to review when Tickner edged Broad behind before Blundell heaved a caught-and-bowled to Anderson.

England fight to hold off Black Caps

Ollie Robinson (right) celebrates dismissing Daryl Mitchell (left)
Ollie Robinson trapped Daryl Mitchell lbw for a duck with a fine delivery that jagged back in

Bowling was always going to be harder for England in the sunny daytime conditions than when they reduced New Zealand to 37-3 the previous evening.

While Anderson and Broad took a wicket apiece on Friday to go to 1,001 in Tests they have played together, equalling the record of Australia greats Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne, Robinson was the pick.

Twice he produced nip-backers – one to have Daryl Mitchell lbw offering no shot and another to bowl Kuggeleijn, while a low full toss was well caught by Duckett at long leg to account for Tim Southee.

Crawley had a torrid time on the first morning, effectively out three times in 14 balls, but looked more comfortable here, while Duckett picked up where he left off in his first-innings 84.

Both men eventually offered edges, Duckett poked Tickner to first slip and Crawley bottom-edged a pull off Kuggeleijn through to Blundell.

The entrance of Broad was pure theatre. He charged his first ball and got away with the missed chance off his second, In the next over he was hit on the head by Southee and smeared a boundary.

The entertainment was perfectly in keeping with this compelling Test and England’s fearless style.

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