James Vince steps up to bat England into strong position in Christchurch

New Zealand 278, England 307 & 202-3: The Hampshire batsman's 76 leaves the tourists firm favourites to win their first Test of a miserable winter

Chris Stocks
Christchurch
Sunday 01 April 2018 09:03
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James Vince batted England into a strong position in Christchurch
James Vince batted England into a strong position in Christchurch

James Vince may still be waiting for his maiden Test century but he at least appears to have secured his immediate international future after helping to put England in a strong position in this series finale against New Zealand.

Vince had been dropped for last week’s first Test in Auckland, which Joe Root’s side lost by an innings after they were bowled out for 58 on day one.

He was recalled for this Test, his 13th, with an average of 22.70 and the very real threat of losing his place again for the coming English summer unless he produced in a match his team need to win to break a record-equalling 12-match winless streak overseas.

Broad was the best of England's bowlers

The Hampshire batsman has struggled to convince at the pivotal position of No3 and doubts remain about his technique, especially as he eventually perished here via his favoured mode of dismissal – caught in the slips after a loose waft outside off-stump, this time to Trent Boult.

But his innings of 76 helped England reach the close of day three at Hagley Oval on 202 for three in their second innings, a lead of 231.

With Root unbeaten on 30 alongside Dawid Malan at stumps, England, who had only managed a 29-run first-innings lead, are now firm favourites to win their first match of a miserable Test winter.

And they can thank Vince for stepping up when this contest was firmly in the balance.

Vince was in dire need of a score

England’s first-innings lead really should have been substantial. Yet New Zealand, who were 36 for five at one point, ended up posting 278.

By the time Vince walked to the crease following the dismissal of Alastair Cook early in the afternoon session, that lead was only 53.

However, the 27-year-old, who had made 18 in the first innings, held his nerve and dominated a 142-run second-wicket partnership with Mark Stoneman that tilted this intriguing contest back in England’s favour.

Stoneman had made his highest Test score of 60 before he edged Tim Southee behind in the final session. This was his second half-century of the series and fourth of a difficult winter, even if he was lucky to survive drops on 48 and 57.

Nevertheless it was an encouraging innings for the opener that will surely also see him keep his place heading into this summer.

Stoneman played positively to push England into a strong position

“James Vince and Mark Stoneman went out there in a confident manner,” said England batting coach Graham Thorpe. “Their partnership was vital.

“You can tell when they were both walking off they were disappointed. They’ve played a certain amount of Test matches, getting experience under their belts, but the disappointment will be there for them. They’ll want to get a Test century.”

On a good day for England that also saw Stuart Broad take his first five-wicket Test haul in more than two years, there remain significant concerns over the form – and future – of Cook.

The opener may be his country’s all-time leading runscorer, but at the age of 33 he is showing worrying signs of decline.

Cook was England’s first second-innings wicket to fall, making just 14 before he tentatively edged Boult behind in the fourth over after lunch.

Southee removed Stoneman

It was the fourth time the New Zealand left-armer has dismissed Cook in this series. Although this is only two matches, Cook’s 23 runs at 5.75 is the worst average he has returned in the 45 Test series he has played to date.

Surely, England will give their former captain and leading century-maker the benefit of the doubt for the first series of the summer against Pakistan.

But he is in a run of form that is either feast or famine. In 17 innings from the start of August he has scored double hundreds against West Indies at Edgbaston and Australia in Melbourne.

Yet other than those two standout knocks, he has failed to score more than 39.

Only Cook will know if he has the hunger to carry on. But it is likely he will search for form and confidence with Essex at the start of the upcoming County Championship season and hopefully enter the first Test against Pakistan at Lord’s next month in a good frame of mind.

On Cook, Thorpe said: “I do see a guy still hungry. He got a good ball and played at one outside off stump. No-one will be more disappointed than him.”

New Zealand, 115 behind overnight on 192 for six, brought this match close to first-innings parity thanks to some fine batting from Southee, who made his fourth Test half-century.

Cook failed again to leave his place in doubt

He lost BJ Watling as a partner on 85 when James Anderson produced a stunning delivery with the second new ball that swung in and took out middle and off stump.

Broad then removed new man Ish Sodhi for one, wicketkeeper Jonny Bairstow taking his fifth catch, to seal his first five-wicket haul since January 2016.

That had come in Johannesburg when Broad took 6-17 to set up England’s last overseas Test series victory.

He was rewarded with another six-wicket haul when Boult was caught in the deep to wrap up New Zealand’s innings and end a frustrating 39-run final-wicket stand.

Anderson had removed Southee before that, the two leaders of England’s attack taking all ten wickets between them.

Boult and Southee had done the same for their side too, making this the first time since 1912 and just the third time in Test history that the four opening bowlers have taken the first 20 wickets in a match.

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