England take charge of third Test with late Headingley burst but Daryl Mitchell remains a familiar obstacle

·3 min read
England took control of the third Test with a late flurry of wickets  (AFP via Getty Images)
England took control of the third Test with a late flurry of wickets (AFP via Getty Images)

For a happy half-hour deep into the final session of day three, the sun shone between rain delays and England’s entertainers made hay.

It is too soon to say whether this inspired passage of play, in which every player was revving up the sodden souls in the Western Terrace and England found three key wickets, will be enough to take them to victory, because New Zealand’s best batters all series, Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell are still at the crease.

But England enter day four in charge, with the tourists just 137 in front with only five wickets in hand. England have chased 277 and 299 with five wickets to spare so far in this series, so New Zealand will fancy a fair few more yet.

When play was halted at 4.48pm for a short shower, New Zealand had forged a very strong position. Having been 31 behind on first innings and having lost Will Young – to the excellent Matt Potts – before they took the lead, they had quietly built very nicely.

Tom Latham and Kane Williamson, both desperate for form, had shared 97. Even with the loss of Latham to the first ball after tea, from Jamie Overton, they still looked comfortable. When the rain came, they were 152 for two, 121 in front. Williamson had 48.

Again, the delay worked in England’s favour. First ball back, Joe Root – completing an over he only started because the light had been poor – had Devon Conway brilliantly caught at short leg by Ollie Pope, diving to his left. It was a bonus wicket, a bit of a freak. Next over, Potts had Williamson caught behind, which was not a freak, it was just excellent, relentless bowling.

The catcher, by the way, was the centurion Jonny Bairstow, who had turned his overnight 130 to 162 earlier in the day, and taken over from Ben Foakes, back at the team hotel nursing a stiff back.

Bairstow, and the rest of the team, were still clapping and revving the crowd up when Stuart Broad – chasing his 550th Test wicket – came on to bowl. The crowd were fully engaged, cheering every delivery, many of which threatened to take wickets. The crowd had become especially excited by Overton’s first ball to Conway, which hit him on the helmet, leading to a lengthy delay.

It was not Broad, or Potts, who took the next vital wicket, but Jack Leach, who dismissed Henry Nicholls for the second time in the match. This one was also from a shot played down the ground, but was a little more orthodox, with Leach taking a smart return catch. As Mitchell and Blundell came together, with work to do after another profligate effort from the top five, New Zealand led by just 130.

Jack Leach has six wickets to his name in the Test so far (Getty Images)
Jack Leach has six wickets to his name in the Test so far (Getty Images)

That England had enjoyed a first innings lead at all was remarkable, really. Bairstow and Overton had come together on the second afternoon with England 55 for six. By the time Overton was dismissed on the third morning, agonisingly three runs short of a debut century (from No8!), England were just 33 behind. Overton was caught behind off Trent Boult, excellent again, and was consoled by Bairstow has he left the field, gutted.

The end of the partnership did not signal the end of the fireworks. Out came Broad, who launched a series of smites, mostly off Neil Wagner. In a stand of 55 in seven overs, Broad made 42.

He was bowled by a nice delivery from Tim Southee, and Bairstow went next ball, trying to hit Michael Bracewell’s spin into the Rugby Stand. It had been a terrific innings, perhaps the best of an ever more storied Test career. He passed 150, celebrating as vigorously as he had his hundred, but could not pass his Test best 167.

When Southee pinned Leach lbw, England were all for 360, an appropriate number for an innings that had gone full circle.

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