Monday, June 27, 2022

Mitchell and Blundell give New Zealand hope and punish Stokes’ costly screening error

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Daryl Mitchell received a lifeline after Ben Stokes opted out of an LBW review and restored his fruitful partnership with Tom Blundell at Headingley

Like a wrestler on screen, New Zealand were slowly strangled by England’s bowlers on the opening day of the third and final Test in Leeds.

3rd Test, Day One – New Zealand 225-5 (Mitchell 78, Blundell 45 | Lye 2-75) England have yet to bat

Captain Ben Stokes had used his media appearances on the eve of that game to recount how he had told his side they needed to be “entertainers” and not sportsmen this week. Brendon McCullum, speaking to a broadcaster from his native New Zealand, then admitted his mission as England manager was to make Test cricket “sexy” again.

But unlike the adult banging pyrotechnics of the last day at Trent Bridge, which England won that series last week, the cricket on the first day at Headingley was neither spectacular nor thrilling.

This was a day when England, after losing the draw, had to do the dirty work any team needs to bring about the moment of glory.

New Zealand, already 2-0 into this game in the series, didn’t really need to fold in the end, but they were pretty close before a 102-run undefeated six-wicket tally between Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell held the lead them to 225 for five until the end.

New Zealand’s situation is still in limbo, but it would have been grim without the intervention of Mitchell and Blundell, a pair who have managed over 1,000 balls combined in the series and scored nearly 600 runs.

Yet their stand should have been over before it even started after Mitchell survived a lbw complaint against Potts with just eight to his name.

It looked good but referee Marais Erasmus was unmoved. Having recently lost the first of their three reviews in questionable circumstances when Potts appeared to have caught Henry Nicholls lbw, England chose not to go up.

However, the ball pursuit showed the delivery of Pott’s cannons into the stumps. Mitchell should have been out for five for his lowest score of the series and New Zealand 97.

Given Stokes’ talk of being “even more positive” this week, it was a poor decision by the England captain that gave a costly life to a batsman who has averaged 150 this series. He finished the day undefeated at 78 and headed for a third century of the series.

Mitchell made the most of his luck, with the bizarre dismissal of Nicholls to the point of the tea that reunited him with his favorite partner at Blundell.

England would later burn their second rating on a lbw shout against Mitchell to 60 in the final session. They also previously missed Blundell’s wicket on the 31st when he successfully checked a catch-behind decision made against him by Erasmus.

On another day New Zealand might have been eliminated by under 200 but the world champions are nothing but fighters.

By stumps Mitchell and Blundell also had 10 overs saved with the second new ball, putting their team in a position where they would claim they are right back in this competition.

That might be true if England don’t put in the bat work in their first innings, but New Zealand will still be disappointed if they only hit 2.50 runs per over on a flat field.

England also struggled hard, with Stuart Broad capturing key wickets of Tom Latham and captain Kane Williamson before lunch and Jack Leach striking with his first ball to remove Will Young in his first game at the venue since Headingley’s Ashes miracle in 2019 before his freaky dismissal of Nicholls with the last ball off the tee.

There was also a debut wicket for Jamie Overton, an 87mph delivery that proved too good for Devon Conway when he watched the Devon bowler reduce the tourists to 83 for four after lunch.

Blundell and Mitchell rebuilt afterwards and made for a day in which England were more leeches than entertainers, not that the sold-out Yorkshire crowd at Headingley would have minded.

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