England staring at New Zealand defeat after losing late Joe Root wicket on day four

England 58 & 132-3: Mark Stoneman made 55 as the hosts look to bat out for the draw

Chris Stocks
Auckland
Sunday 25 March 2018 10:07
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England hopes of saving this first Test against New Zealand were dealt a severe blow when they lost captain Joe Root to the final ball of the fourth day at Eden Park.

Root had batted superbly to register his 38th Test half-century before being hit on the right index finger by Trent Boult in the last over.

However, the very next ball, he edged Boult behind to wicketkeeper BJ Watling to send England into the final day on 132 for three, still 237 runs behind and realistically needing to bat out the majority of the remaining 98 overs to save the game.

Despite being bowled out for 58 in the first session of the match, England’s chances of heading into next week’s final Test in Christchurch level in the series were greatly enhanced firstly by the rain that has blighted this match and then a much-improved batting display on this fourth day.

Root went with the final ball

In total, they have been tasked with surviving 148 overs to avoid defeat after New Zealand declared their first innings on 427 for eight – a lead of 369.

Fifty of those have now been chalked off for the loss of three wickets, Root following Alastair Cook, whose poor form continued when he was dismissed by Boult for two, and Mark Stoneman.

Yet despite the late blow of losing Root, the 38th time he has failed to convert a Test half-century, England will still be hopeful they can escape defeat.

Five years ago at this ground, they memorably salvaged a draw in the final Test of the series after heading into the final day with just six wickets in hand.

It will still be a big ask, though, to repeat that great escape in this day-night Test, especially as New Zealand have a second new ball due in 40 overs and will also have one session under lights if needed to finish off their opponents.

Tent Boult was again England's tormenter 

The torrential rain that had seen just 26 overs bowled in the previous days had given what was shaping up to be a non-contest an edge it really shouldn’t have had.

Yet New Zealand, resuming 229 for four, still dominated proceedings as they added to their lead of 175 with a minimum of fuss.

England did at least take four wickets but they were powerless to prevent Henry Nicholls making his highest Test score of 145.

Nicholls, who batted on all of the first four days, ended the innings unbeaten when the home declaration came halfway through the second session.

Broad, dismissing BJ Watling and Todd Astle, Craig Overton, having Colin De Grandhomme caught behind, and Root, removing Southee with a smart return catch, did at least take wickets.

But this was another example of just how toothless this one-dimensional England bowling attack have been this winter.

Root hurt his hand during the dismissal

Including the Ashes, Root’s side have so far spent 1,143 overs in the field across six Tests, bowling out the opposition on just three occasions.

During the 141 overs of this New Zealand innings, Chris Woakes, Moeen Ali and Overton returned combined figures of one wicket for 236 runs. It simply isn’t good enough.

If Mark Wood, a bowler with a genuine point of difference thanks to his extra pace, does not play in the second Test in Christchurch then you really do have to wonder what the point of selecting him in the first place was.

England’s hopes of saving this game suffered an immediate setback when they lost Cook in the third over of their second innings, the former captain caught behind after chasing a Boult delivery down the legside.

That saw Root come to the crease on a pair but either side of the dinner interval he steadied the innings with an 88-run stand with Stoneman.

The Durham opener had reached his fourth Test fifty – and first since being hit on the helmet by Australia’s Josh Hazelwood in the third Ashes Test in Perth – with a pulled six off Neil Wagner.

Stoneman made 55

Stoneman had a brain fade, though the next ball, as Wagner came around the wicket, attempting the same shot despite the change of angle and picking out Boult in the deep.

Despite the reckless nature of the shot, Stoneman could probably point to the fact that his 55 almost matched England’s first-innings total.

Still, it left his team, now 94 for two, up against it and relying on Root and Dawid Malan to see them through to the close without any further damage.

Unfortunately, those hopes were scuppered right at the death.

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