Second Test: Careful Alastair Cook takes foot off tourists' throats as Nick Compton suffers more agony

England 354 & 116-1 New Zealand 174 (England with nine wickets left lead by 296 runs): England captain refuses to enforce follow-on, allowing fellow opener more misery in middle

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The Independent Online

England had New Zealand at their mercy here. The tourists were in that deeply unglamorous and physically challenging position where their backs were against the wall while the opposition's foot was on their throat.

A finish to the second Test match in two days of play looked distinctly possible. For the second successive Sunday, England bowled mightily, New Zealand batted limply, a thunderous climax was in prospect, a message was pleading to be sent to Australia and anybody else who happened to be watching.

Then England relented. Although his team were utterly dominant, the captain, Alastair Cook, presumably with the backing of the brains trust inside the dressing room, decided not to impose the follow-on.

It was deemed that a lead of 180, with, nominally, 47 overs left in the day was too risky a proposition, and this after dismissing New Zealand for 174 in 43.4 overs either side of lunch.

Instead England batted again, reinforced their control by extending their lead to 296 as the match drifted along, hindered further by a woefully slow over rate, and ensured that the first Investec series of the summer is in the bag.

There was another hugely significant negative effect. The decision to bat again gave another opportunity to Nick Compton, the opening batsman whose place is under imminent threat because he is so far short of form and Joe Root is full of it.

Compton's contribution to a first wicket partnership of 72 was seven from 45 balls. This was not especially culpable since Cook was plundering runs at will against an attack without fast bowler Trent Boult, who went off with a side strain.

Jonathan Trott batted with a similar lack of adventure, but Compton looked besieged by doubts, not daring to take the initiative and his last 22 balls were scoreless.

He was out caught off bat and pad at short leg and although he was given not out the decision review system sent him on his way. Compton is desperate to play against Australia in the Ashes series and had somebody told him weeks ago that his place was safe he might have approached it all differently.

The system does not and cannot function like that. But the result is that the selectors may shortly be telling him the opposite of what he craves to hear.

England have an uncompromising decision. If they stick with Compton at the top of the order, it may well be because they are not that well endowed with middle order options where Root at present is easily their leading exponent.

Root's maiden Test century on Saturday deserved all the plaudits it received and the rapturous reception it was accorded at the ground was not simply because Yorkshiremen wanted to hail one of their own. It was because they knew they were witnessing the start of something extremely special.

If the weather holds for a little longer England should secure a 2-0 win and they will consider their strategy justified. But it was not the manner in which they could have chosen to assert their superiority.

Enforcing the follow-on has become unfashionable. It is frequently considered to be too taxing on bowlers (poor lambs), offers opponents the chance to build a lead and leaves the enforcers to bat fourth. Usually in Test cricket the lead has to be 200 for a follow-on to be allowed but with the first day of the match washed out it, the Test became a four-day game and thus the follow-on figure dropped to 150. Cook might have thought 180 was not enough.

In Test history, the side following on has won only three times, the first 118 years ago. Cook cannot possibly have had in his mind the legendary second occasion it happened, at Headingley in 1981. Can he? Ian Botham, hero of that improbable English victory was one of the many who derided England's choice of action. If it should end happily in victory today or tomorrow, then the alternative will be forgotten quickly. But it said something about Cook's fledgling captaincy – as New Zealand's first innings wickets tumbled apace he briefly left the field perhaps for a call of nature, perhaps for a chat with the coaches – and England's modern state of mind. It may also, though they would definitely protest, have had one eye on the next Test series, which happens to be the Ashes.

Save for a cavalier approach to the finish of their first innings in the morning, England were in full control. Maybe they sensed that with the ball swinging it would do no harm to have New Zealand batting as soon as possible and the last three wickets duly fell for 17. Then, lo and behold, the ball did not swing. Not a jot. Jimmy Anderson, their specialist, recognised this early in the piece and managed to persuade the umpires to replace it. Still, it did not swing and nor did it matter. Not a jot.

Steve Finn, disappointing but fruitful at Lord's, came off his long run and bowled fast, banging the ball in hard and letting the bounce do the rest.

Finn took the first three wickets to fall after a racy opening stand of 55, all his victims undone by or wary of bounce. Peter Fulton's essayed pull ended in a leading edge, Hamish Rutherford was beaten three balls in a row before driving to gully, Ross Taylor was on the back foot and saw the ball take an inside edge.

Enter Graeme Swann and some more ways for Kiwis to get out. Dean Brownlie and Martin Guptill were both bowled through the gate by elegantly flighted balls which turned: lovely bowling, lousy batting. Swann then had three for one in seven balls when he won a reviewed lbw decision against Kane Williamson.

A flurry of belated resistance was ended when England won another review for lbw against Tim Southee. A last-wicket partnership of 52 in 28 balls spoiled Swann's figures and delayed the inevitable when Trent Boult hit him for three sixes as he and Neil Wagner took the total along to 174.

Had England taken the last wicket immediately after the ninth fell at 122, Cook would have found his choice more complicated.

Timeline: How the third day unfolded at Headingley


Wicket: Prior c Taylor b Southee, 39. England 345-8

The tourists make the early breakthrough they need – Matt Prior departing for Tim Southee's second wicket with just eight runs added.


Wickets: England 354 all out

Trent Boult wraps up England with two wickets in four balls – Steven Finn going for six and James Anderson nought.


Wicket: Fulton c & b Finn, 28. New Zealand 55-1

Just as the Kiwis settle in the sunshine, England strike – Finn taking Peter Fulton with an easy catch off his own delivery.


Wicket: Rutherford c Bell b Finn, 27. New Zealand 62-2

Finn's on a roll, picking up a second wicket before lunch to swing the match England's way. Bell takes the catch down low after a fine delivery.


Wicket: Taylor b Finn, 6. New Zealand 71-3

Finn gets a third – Ross Taylor drives to Stuart Broad at mid-off with the hosts on top.


Wickets: New Zealand 82-6

Graeme Swann's devastating spell leaves NZ facing the follow-on. The spinner takes three in seven balls, Brownlie, Guptill and Williamson departing.


Wickets: New Zealand 122-9

Things aren't getting any better for the Kiwis – Doug Bracewell becoming Swann's fourth victim either side of two for Lord's hero Broad. England are rampant.


Wicket: Wagner b Anderson, 27. New Zealand 174 all out

Anderson joins the party after some belated NZ resistance. England opt to bat again, despite a lead of 180.


Stumps: Eng 116-1, lead of 296.

England ram home the advantage after tea, Alastair Cook eases to 88 with Jonathan Trott (11 not out). Nick Compton departs for seven.

Vital statistics: Day in numbers

1 Swann took his first Test wicket at Headingley, followed by three more.

1985 Swann's figures of 4 for 42 were the best by an England spinner at this ground for 28 years.

30 Cook's fifty was his 30th half-century in Test cricket – and his first at Headingley in five years.

54 Nick Compton's combined total from his last six Test innings – since his century in Wellington in March.

30 Cook's fifty was his 30th half-century in Test cricket – and his first at Headingley in five years.