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Wisden Almanack 2023

England v New Zealand in 2022 – Almanack report

Jonny Bairstow 162
by Almanack Archive 15 minute read

New Zealand toured England in 2022 for three Test matches, a series England swept 3-0. The reports by John Etheridge, Steven Lynch, James Coyne, and Andrew Alderson originally appeared in the 2023 edition of Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack.

Review: John Etheridge

With a new captain, head coach, managing director and attacking approach, the England Test team began their new era with three startling victories and a clean sweep of world champions New Zealand. Even Ben Stokes, Brendon McCullum and Rob Key could not have imagined they would embrace the positive philosophy so quickly and so successfully. After winning just one of their previous 17 Tests, England were suddenly playing a style of cricket that not only exhilarated the public but actually won games.

The victories were achieved with pursuits of 277 at Lord’s, 299 at Trent Bridge and 296 at Headingley, the last two after spectators were let in for free on the final day. No team had ever overhauled targets of 250 or more in three back-to-back Tests, and England would soon go even higher, against India. Some called it “Bazball”, in homage to the coach, although “Baz” McCullum thought the word “silly”, and the players didn’t use it.


Put simply, Stokes and McCullum – both inveterate risk-takers – wanted England’s cricket to reflect their personalities. It meant being aggressive with bat and ball, and in the field. Jonny Bairstow took this request to levels rarely seen in Test history, with innings of 136 from 92 balls and 71 not out from 44 in the chases at Trent Bridge and Headingley. In between, in the first innings at Headingley, his home ground, he thrashed 162 from 157.

Stokes himself signalled his intent – and the way he wanted others to play – by regularly dancing down the pitch to try to hit New Zealand’s seamers. His men were happy to follow suit. Joe Root reverse-lapped Tim Southee and Neil Wagner for sixes, and continued the prolific form of the last 15 months of his captaincy. His match-winning 115 not out in the first Test was perhaps the most significant innings of the series, instilling belief and providing an instant winning return on the new methods. Even Alex Lees, virtually strokeless in his debut series in the Caribbean a few weeks earlier, was driving and cutting and advancing towards the bowlers.

Meanwhile, Stokes asked his seamers to bowl full lengths, giving maximum opportunity for the ball to swing. Stuart Broad and James Anderson, both reinstated after being dropped for the Caribbean, obliged; in the quest for wickets, they were prepared to go for more runs than they would normally like. Stokes introduced Jack Leach into the attack for the 13th over at Leeds, after he had been removed from the first Test by concussion, and pounded for 226 in the Second. Leach, his sometimes shaky confidence seemingly raised by the captain’s faith, took a wicket with his first ball, and five in each innings. He even opened the bowling in the second.

Stokes set more attacking fields than any of his recent predecessors, and England captured all 60 wickets. His bowling changes and fielding placings were often shrewd; his tactical nous and instinct for match situations and opponents’ vulnerabilities perhaps surprised even his own players. Any talk of him having too much on his plate as captain and premier all-rounder, or being troubled by the mental health issues that persuaded him to take a break from cricket in 2021, quickly disappeared.

Another dictum was to choose the best XI for the next match, rather than worry about rest, rotation and planning, in the way that muddled the thinking of the previous regime. What a novel idea! Broad, who turned 36 during the series, played all three Tests, which would surely have been unthinkable with Chris Silverwood and Root in charge, or with Ed Smith as national selector.

Stokes increased the self-belief of his players with regular public assurances of support, to make them feel “ten feet tall”, as he put it. He said Ollie Pope was “an amazing player”, and promoted him to No. 3. Pope responded with 145 in the second Test after one score above 35 in his previous 25 Test innings. Zak Crawley struggled, but heard only praise from his captain. Matthew Potts, though, a Durham team-mate of Stokes, looked a durable, big-hearted and skilful seam bowler in his first three Test appearances, and took 14 wickets at 23 apiece.

For the first time in two years, England players were out of bubble life and pandemic restrictions, and performed like men freed from captivity. They did need a Covid sub, though, when Ben Foakes tested positive at Leeds, and Sam Billings took over. In the first Test, Lancashire leg-spinner Matt Parkinson had become England’s first concussion sub when he stepped in for Leach.

Other changes included the captain and coach trying to make the grind of daily warm-ups more relaxed. Players were allowed to prepare in their own way and, sometimes, if England were batting that day, to hardly warm up at all. They scrapped the regular huddle 45 minutes before play, because Stokes and McCullum saw little point in waffle or calling everyone together when they might be better engaged. At practice, McCullum did nicks – catches for the wicketkeeper and slip fielders – but generally he just observed, and spoke only when necessary. His media appearances were rare: he insisted he did not want to take credit away from the team.

The speed at which all this happened was extraordinary. Key was officially appointed on April 17, confirming Stokes as captain on April 28, and McCullum as coach on May 12. They didn’t begin working with the players until May 30, three days before the Lord’s Test. The identity of their opponents added another subplot: Stokes had lived in New Zealand until he was 12, while McCullum had for many years captained them in dynamic and heroic fashion.

To add to the drama, New Zealand were on top at various points in each Test. At Lord’s, they were 242 runs ahead in their second innings with six wickets standing. At Trent Bridge, they scored 553. At Headingley, they had England 55-6 in reply to 329, only for Bairstow and debutant Jamie Overton to put on 241 in 45 overs.

England turned the matches around with relentless positivity that could persuade other Test nations to play in similar fashion. Stokes and McCullum maybe got a touch lucky with Root’s continued brilliance and a couple of freak innings by Bairstow, but it was clear England would always attack. McCullum admitted: “I’m aggressive, but Ben’s got me covered.”

New Zealand had won the World Test Championship a year earlier by beating India in England, having just beaten England themselves. But they were unable to take advantage of their strong positions. Their main problem was a lack of runs from the top order, though Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell took up the slack by totalling 538 and 383 respectively, and nine of their side’s 12 scores of 50 or more. Mitchell made a century in each Test, and his aggregate was the highest by a New Zealander in a three- or four-match series.

But the tourists suffered two significant injuries: all-rounder Colin de Grandhomme hobbled off at Lord’s, and out of the series, with a heel problem, and Kyle Jamieson missed the last Test and a half with a stress fracture of the back. Kane Williamson sat out the second Test after testing positive for Covid, and managed just 96 runs in four innings, with Potts dismissing him three times.

Trent Boult arrived in the UK from the IPL less than 72 hours before the series began, and bowled beautifully; his spell of swing at the start of England’s first innings at Headingley was peerless. But Southee managed only nine wickets at 59 apiece, and New Zealand kept picking the wrong team. Slow left-armer Ajaz Patel bowled just two overs in all, while part-time off-spinner Michael Bracewell delivered nearly 48 and was plundered for a run a ball.

Stokes told his players to imagine they were in the entertainment business rather than sport. “I knew everyone would buy into the new mentality that Brendon and myself set out, but I didn’t think it would go this well,” he said. McCullum’s post-series verdict left fans wanting more: “I hope we take this aggression too far, because then we’ll know exactly where the line is. Until you do that, you’re not really sure.” Between them, they might have changed the way Test cricket is played.

New Zealand touring party: KS Williamson (c), TA Blundell, TA Boult, MG Bracewell, D Cleaver, DP Conway, C de Grandhomme, CD Fletcher, MJ Henry, KA Jamieson, TWM Latham, DJ Mitchell, HM Nicholls, AY Patel, HD Rutherford, TG Southee, BM Tickner, N Wagner, WA Young. Head coach: GR Stead. Batting coach: L Ronchi. Bowling coach: SJ Jurgensen. Assistant coach: DD Ebrahim. Strength and conditioning coach: C Donaldson. Doctor: J Cameron. Physiotherapist: V Vallabh. Team operations manager: R Müller. Communications manager: W Nicholls. Digital manager: A Morrison. Security manager: T Minish.

De Grandhomme suffered a heel injury during the first Test, and withdrew. Williamson tested positive for Covid ahead of the second; Latham acted as captain, and Rutherford was added. Jamieson (back) and Fletcher (hamstring) were injured before the third Test, and replaced by Cleaver and Tickner. JA Duffy and R Ravindra, initially named in the party, were released before the first Test.

At Hove, May 20–23 (not first-class). Drawn. New Zealanders 342-7 dec (90 overs) (TWM Latham 65, WA Young 55, HD Rutherford 31, MG Bracewell 51, TA Blundell 51) and 40-0 (8 overs); Sussex 247 (79.1 overs) (AGH Orr 59, TJ Haines 41, FJ Hudson-Prentice 34, OJ Carter 31, OE Robinson 36). Attention focused on Ollie Robinson, striving for fitness and a return to the England team. After the first day was washed out, he bowled 18 wicketless overs on the second, as four New Zealanders retired with half-centuries. A tidy all-round bowling performance helped earn the tourists a lead of 135 by the end of the third day, but the rain returned on the fourth.

At Chelmsford, May 26–29 (not first-class). County Select XI won by seven wickets. New Zealanders 362-9 dec (100 overs) (WA Young 46, DJ Mitchell 58, C de Grandhomme 39, CD Fletcher 50*, MJ Henry 65, AY Patel 36*; LA Patterson-White 3-60) and 148 (43.2 overs) (TG Southee 34, N Wagner 36, KA Jamieson 36; JA Porter 5-31, BJ Gibbon 3-36); County Select XI 247 (74.2 overs) (BG Compton 39, TJ Haines 42, LW James 52, JA Porter 31; AY Patel 3-32) and 264-3 (88 overs) (BG Compton 119, DP Sibley 34, NRT Gubbins 67*). Two remarkable performances clinched this match for the counties’ team after they had conceded a first-innings lead of 115. Jamie Porter, in his ninth season for Essex and yet to receive an international call-up, reduced the New Zealanders to 19-6, and kept the fourth-innings target chaseable. Then Kent’s Ben Compton, with four Championship centuries already under his belt in 2022, hit another timely hundred to seal victory.

First Test at Lord’s, June 2-5, 2023: England won by six wickets

England 12pts. Toss: New Zealand. Test debuts: MW Parkinson, MJ Potts.

Report: Steven Lynch

England’s previous series, in the Caribbean, had been touted as a “red-ball reset”, but Ben Stokes, the new captain, now preferred to talk of a “blank slate”. There was a new managing director (Rob Key), a new coach (former New Zealand skipper Brendon McCullum) and, somewhere in the pipeline, a new ECB chief executive; Tom Harrison’s last act was to ring the five-minute bell on the final morning. An attacking approach had been promised, and everything started well when New Zealand, the world Test champions, were demolished for 132 halfway through the first day.

England, who had won one and lost 11 of their previous 17 Tests, couldn’t avoid another of their own trademark collapses. But they averted a second, and ended up winning a seesaw encounter by knocking off the third-highest run-chase in a Lord’s Test, to garnish the Queen’s Platinum Jubilee celebrations.

It wasn’t all change. England were indebted to Root, whose 26th Test century – and first in the fourth innings – sealed the deal. He was back in the ranks after giving up the captaincy: “I’d thrown everything at it, and it was starting to take an unhealthy effect on the rest of my life.” At 31, he looked impossibly boyish again, and was rarely in trouble during his match-clinching innings.

The zero to Root’s hero was de Grandhomme, who after top-scoring in New Zealand’s first innings, had a third-day nightmare. Dozily run out first ball while distracted by an lbw appeal, he later made Stokes drag on, only for the third umpire to spot a no-ball; a few minutes later, he limped out of the series with a heel injury. He played no further part in the series, and in August called time on his international career. England should have been 76-6, and might have subsided to a three-day defeat. Instead, Stokes crashed 54, often shimmying down the pitch, and put on 90 with Root. He also hit slow left-armer Ajaz Patel out of the attack, launching him for three sixes in two overs separated by an hour. There was even a repeat of the throw-deflecting-off-bat incident from the 2019 World Cup final; Stokes didn’t quite time this one, and the ball stopped well short of the Warner Stand boundary. All the players laughed after he declined to run overthrows, demonstrating the spirit between the teams.

When his frenetic innings ended, England still needed 118, with a fragile tail. But Foakes stood firm, in his first home Test after 11 overseas, and Root added urgency, spotting the need to reduce the target significantly before the second new ball became available. He had 34 from 89 deliveries when Stokes departed, but then rattled along at a run a ball; he and Foakes put on 57 by stumps on the third evening.

The weather added spice next morning: overnight rain meant the covers were late coming off, and overcast conditions suggested the ball ought to swing as England hunted down the 61 they required; the new ball was 15 overs away. It was not needed. The ball hardly deviated, and Root glided to his hundred – and completed 10,000 Test runs – just before the end, which came when he swung Southee through midwicket for his 12th four. A decent crowd cheered – and cheered again when told there would be a full refund because fewer than 15 overs had been bowled.

Any play at all on the fourth day had seemed unlikely after the match got off to a frenetic start. Seventeen wickets clattered on the first, on a pitch that offered a little to the seamers but was no devil. Initially, England’s new look seemed familiar: the opening attack was Anderson (in his 26th Lord’s Test, equalling Alastair Cook’s record) and Broad, both recalled after controversially missing the West Indian tour. They promptly reduced New Zealand to 7-3 in the eighth over – all caught at third slip by Bairstow, starting with a stunning one-handed grab diving across second.

In his first Test since November after elbow trouble, Williamson soon followed, a distinguished maiden scalp – with his fifth ball – for the energetic Matthew Potts. He owed his debut to injuries to others, but soon looked at home, and snapped up two more wickets, as New Zealand staggered to lunch at 39-6. At least they had excited mathematicians when their scorecard briefly produced a Fibonacci sequence – 1, 1, 2, 3, 5 (before Mitchell spoiled it by hitting a four).

England had suffered a loss, too. In the sixth over, Leach – in his first home Test since the 2019 Ashes – chased a ball towards the Pavilion and banged his head as he fell across the boundary. After showing signs of concussion, he was ruled out of the match, and replaced by Matt Parkinson, the Lancashire leg-spinner who had been carried around like a spare wheel on various winter tours, and was confirmed as England’s latest Test cricketer while packing for a trip to the Lake District. New Zealand, meanwhile, had sprung a surprise by including Boult, newly arrived from the previous Sunday’s IPL final, but they probably erred in choosing Patel – for his first Test since taking all ten against India in December – instead of the aggressive seamer Neil Wagner.

When Jamieson top-edged a pull off Anderson immediately after lunch, it was 45-7, but de Grandhomme dragged them to three figures, helped by cameos from Southee and Boult. Anderson, whose figures before the break were 8-6-5-2, was carted for 8-0-61-2 after it. England’s openers sailed past 50 but, just as spectators were contemplating a huge lead, seven wickets disappeared for 41 in a slide triggered by the impressive Jamieson, whose size and air of quiet menace conjured up thoughts of Curtly Ambrose. Five went down in 28 deliveries, including Lees after an adhesive 25, and Potts – looking over-placed at No.8 – bounced out second ball by Boult.

Next morning, Parkinson’s first Test runs gave England a slender lead, and the wickets kept coming. Anderson again removed Young with his seventh ball, before Potts again snagged Williamson. He added Latham, caught behind after an edge so slight Foakes hardly appealed, and New Zealand were 38-3 at lunch; 23 wickets had cascaded in four sessions.

Suddenly, a proper Test match broke out. Conway was back on the scene of his debut 200 the previous year – only once, at Sydney in 1882 and 1883, had two teams started a Test on the same date in successive years on the same ground – and looked solid until he was strangled by Broad. But the unheralded Mitchell (playing only because Henry Nicholls’s recovery from a calf injury had been slowed by Covid) and Blundell hunkered down in a stand eventually worth 195. Mitchell was beaten by successive balls from Anderson, and Blundell looked edgy at first, but they gradually changed the complexion of the match, batting responsibly for the rest of the second day, which ended with both in the nineties.

Mitchell, an upright 31-year-old who had played for Middlesex in 2021, reached his second Test century in the first over next morning after the start was delayed half an hour, but then edged Broad to Foakes. Next ball, de Grandhomme’s bad day at the office began: after being rapped on the pads, he strayed out of his crease, and Pope threw down the stumps from gully. A rare team hat-trick was completed when Broad knocked back Jamieson’s off stump, and three overs later Anderson trapped Blundell for 96. “In Test cricket, you’re constantly saying it’s a big hour,” said Broad. “I feel like we’ve said that every single hour here.”

England were back in it and, though Southee slogged a few, the eventual target was an attainable 277, with time no object. Parkinson ended a tidy spell, and the innings, with his first Test wicket, although there were worries that – at around 45mph – he was too slow to trouble top batsmen. Lees, sometimes taking guard well outside off, made a bright start before allowing one from Jamieson go down the hill and shatter the stumps, and England fans feared the worst when Jamieson also removed Crawley and Bairstow through airy drives. In between, Boult snared Pope, batting at No. 3 in this match for the first time in first-class cricket. Stokes joined Root and, on one, received a 31st-birthday present from de Grandhomme: reaching for a wide delivery, he bottom-edged into his stumps, only for replays to show he had overstepped.

Stokes calmed down a little, but occasionally strode down the pitch for a swish. He muscled Patel for six, and square-cut Jamieson to reach his first half-century as captain, but gloved an attempted upper-cut later in the over. He left the stage to his predecessor – and Root was equal to the task. His century was his ninth in Tests since January 2021, when he hit 228 against Sri Lanka at Galle. Since then, his co-galacticos – Williamson, Virat Kohli and Steve Smith – had not managed a century between them.

Player of the Match: JE Root. Attendance: 104,416.

Second Test at Trent Bridge, June 10-14, 2023: England won by five wickets

England 10pts (after 2pt penalty). Toss: England. Test debut: MG Bracewell.

Report: James Coyne

Jonny Bairstow arrived at Trent Bridge with his place not in immediate jeopardy, but familiar arguments doing the rounds. Rolling-eyes emojis had pinged across club-cricket WhatsApp groups after he was bowled twice at Lord’s. And while armchair punditry is cheap, surely no frontline Test batsman would wish to have been bowled in a quarter of his innings. Another twin failure, and calls for Harry Brook, his Yorkshire team-mate, to replace him would have grown louder.

Bairstow left Trent Bridge close to a national hero, after a stunning exhibition of stand-and-deliver hitting. “He had his ‘Jonny Eyes’ on today,” said Stokes, who joined him in the decisive stand. “When he gets those eyes on, you know you’re on to something.” Once the story of Brendon McCullum’s tenure is set down, the passage of play just after tea on the fifth day of this Test will figure prominently. Stokes went as far as to say: “That blows away Headingley [2019]; it blows away the World Cup final.” England were chasing 299 in 72 overs, which a few weeks earlier would have been considered too difficult, even on a ground where they had regularly topped 300 in one-day internationals, and 400 twice. The sublime Boult had helped reduce them to 93-4, and was threatening to carry a threadbare New Zealand bowling line-up to victory.

Had Bairstow and Stokes been dismissed soon into the last session, it would surely have signalled the end of England’s chances, if not their charge. Both teams had made it clear a draw was of no interest, but an England defeat would have reinforced murmurs of scepticism about the McCullum–Stokes Method.

Most Test batsmen would have eased back in gently after tea. But Bairstow, refuelled by a cheese and ham toastie and a cup of coffee, sensed the moment to crush an ailing attack. It was hard to believe, as you watched him swivel-hooking Boult and Henry 20 rows back into the Bridgford Road Stand, that he was once considered vulnerable to the short ball. But if New Zealand were reflecting honestly, they would admit they were suckered into playing “Bazball”. True, Bairstow was more upright at the crease than in recent years, but after tea they barely attempted a length ball at his stumps – the delivery which, when it nipped back, had beaten him so often on the drive. Instead, Henry’s barrage from round the wicket allowed him to pepper the short boundary behind square on the leg side. He and Stokes plundered 59 runs in the first four overs of the last session – and the series was won.

Bairstow’s 77-ball century was one slower than Gilbert Jessop’s in 1902 – history doesn’t record what he ate for lunch at The Oval before his assault on Australia’s Hugh Trumble – but this was strokeplay and mindset transferred directly from T20. The run-rate in the last session was exactly ten an over, as England beat their own record for the highest successful chase in a Trent Bridge Test: 284 against the same opponents 18 years earlier.

Bairstow said his performance justified returning from the IPL only a few days before the series. Facing the world’s best in rapidly changing scenarios certainly helped prepare him for a white-ball-style run-chase. But, as with so many modern debates, reasonable people were crying out for compromise. The same day, the BCCI secretary was insisting on further widening the IPL window. Only recently, the ICC chairman had suggested fewer Tests would be played in a decade’s time. All this, just as T20 was helping make the oldest format a richer spectacle than ever.

Throughout this match, the normal rules of English Test cricket did not quite apply. The pitch retained excellent bounce and carry; a lightning-fast outfield sped the ball to relatively short boundaries; glorious sunshine meant little need for the floodlights. Among the avalanche of statistics, perhaps the most telling was the absence of a single lbw. The cricket came to resemble something almost Australian in a Kiwi-sized arena, but with Nottingham wobble after the ball passed the bat. New Zealand’s wicketkeeper, Blundell, was in all sorts of bother; Foakes coped much better, but said he had never seen movement like it.

A positive Covid test had ruled out Kane Williamson the night before, handing his similarly out-of-form deputy, Latham, a responsibility he could have done without. Stokes chose to bowl, hoping to exploit a light topping of grass on a humid morning. But the reason both sides passed 500 was the shelling of catches. Somehow, Stokes managed to balance his own workload while posing the biggest threat among England’s four seamers. Though New Zealand’s top seven all passed 20, they underachieved. Conway looked in superb touch in reaching 46, only for his closed face to bring his downfall yet again: 92 percent of his edged shots in Test cricket had been off the inside of the bat. The ball was starting to jag about as Mitchell and Blundell resumed their stubborn alliance. It was noticeable how easily Mitchell – reared on chin music in Perth club cricket – brushed England’s bouncer tactics off. This time, he and the flintier Blundell put on 236, a fifth-wicket record for New Zealand, beating 222 by Nathan Astle and Craig McMillan against Zimbabwe at Wellington in 2000/01. That added pressure on Leach, but he lacked the changes of flight or pace to force an error. Mitchell hoisted the first of his three sixes off him into a spectator’s pint of cider in front of the pavilion; his team-mates and host county Nottinghamshire each bought her a replacement drink. Live on Test Match Special, Moeen Ali reversed his Test retirement, though the circumstances probably required a wrist-spinner.

Debutant Michael Bracewell was no leggie either, but proved the most energetic batsman of the four Test cricketers in his family, chipping in with 49 as New Zealand ploughed on to a seemingly impregnable 553 – the highest total in which all ten wickets were caught.

Overnight came the news that the Tap & Run, the gastropub part-owned by Broad and his former Nottinghamshire team-mate Harry Gurney in nearby Upper Broughton, had burned down. After being told at 6am, Broad soldiered on uncomplainingly.

Any prospect of England crumbling in the face of scoreboard pressure dissipated, especially after Mitchell missed both Lees and Pope at slip. Lees cover-drove with an assurance missing from his debut in the Caribbean, and scored his maiden Test fifty. To the extent that it’s ever possible, Root looked destined for a century, so quickly did his glides and deflections speed to the boundary. Considering he needed just 211 balls to compile 176, it was an innings of staggering orthodoxy – the exception a scooped six off Southee from his second ball of the fourth day. Earlier, with Root on 27, Southee – who finished with his worst Test figures – dropped him in the slips.

Pope, meanwhile, showed what he could do at No.3 when the conditions were set fair, and top edges were flying for six. This was his 14th first-class hundred, and first north of the Thames, though it was hard to conceive of more Oval-like conditions. He faced almost non-stop seam, as Latham delayed introducing Bracewell until the 69th over. For someone who started bowling serious off-spin only in 2019, he had impressive command of flight and turn; and with England keen to crack on, he enjoyed bowling to the left-handers. Boult inked himself on to the honours board in his first Nottingham Test, and England’s last five fell for 23, handing New Zealand a small lead.

Even so, their game-plan was starting to unravel. Jamieson broke down late in the innings, and they needed to bat England out of sight, rather than dangle a carrot. They looked well placed at 104-1 on the fourth afternoon, only for third-innings nerves to set in. While Stokes and his bowlers deserved credit for dragging the run-rate below three for the first time in the match, there was an element of donation about the first seven wickets.

Mitchell hung around to hammer late runs, though he had been culpable in the amateurish run-outs of Young and Southee. As Boult – half-skill, half-slapstick – overtook Muttiah Muralitharan’s 623 to become the most prolific No. 11 in Test history, the away balcony lapped it up. But New Zealand ought to have scored more than 284.

After years of Tests in England hurtling along like Wacky Races, the prospect of a fifth day caught everyone by pleasant surprise. There were still 17 wickets potentially left in the game when Nottinghamshire announced that entry would be free. If that seemed generous, the ECB had encouraged the decision after complaints about high prices at Lord’s, and general accusations of exclusivity. With the match falling during exam leave, Nottinghamshire were able to attract a younger demographic than usual, and shift a few T20 Blast tickets in the bargain. For those unaccustomed to sitting through a day’s Test cricket, a 179-run partnership in 20 overs, and a target of 299 knocked off in 50, might have been the best kind of gateway drug.

Bazball did not kill off all the verities of Test cricket. After Bairstow finally edged Boult, a direct hit would have run out Stokes with 21 needed, and Foakes was dropped at extra cover with 14 needed. Had New Zealand batted another ten overs for, say, 50, it might have been enough. But that missed the point. English cricket was too busy wallowing in the fever dreams of a Test revolution.

Player of the Match: JM Bairstow. Attendance: 71,265.

Third Test at Headingley, June 23-27, 2023: Drawn

England 12pts. Toss: New Zealand. Test debut: J Overton.

Report: Andrew Alderson

A final-day blitz of little over an hour was a microcosm of England’s clean sweep. After the first session was lost to rain, Root and Bairstow scythed through the 113 further runs required in 15.2 overs, adding 296 to the totals England had brushed aside in the first two Tests. Their cartoon-like run-rate of 5.37 in the first innings was trumped by 5.44 in the second. This was cricketing funambulism, seemingly without a safety net.

If the New Zealand bowlers had served up spheres of papier-mâché, they might still have been pasted to the ropes. A third successive fourth innings of such dominance beggared belief, as England backed up chases of 277 at Lord’s and 299 at Trent Bridge.

Two areas showcased the triumph. The first was the use of spin, with Leach delivering a maiden ten-wicket haul, in his 25th Test. Confidence imbued by Stokes helped him flight the ball and generate false strokes. Meanwhile, New Zealand’s own left-arm spinner, Ajaz Patel, sat in the pavilion. The third man in Test history to take all ten in an innings, the previous December at Mumbai, he had since bowled two overs. The onus fell instead on the part-time off-breaks of Bracewell, who entered his second Test with a first-class record of 30 wickets at 46. England targeted him, and he finished with match figures of 2-163 from 22.2 overs. Enthusiasm and energy were no substitute for experience.

The second point of difference was the psychological unshackling of Bairstow, supplemented by the first-innings defiance of debutant Jamie Overton, and second-innings flourishes from Pope and Root. Bairstow’s 162 off 157 balls, after coming to the wicket at 17-3 – soon 21-4 – in front of his home crowd, picked up the rhythm he set at Nottingham. It was the first time England’s No.5 had made a century after the top four had been dismissed in single figures.

Even when New Zealand asserted their authority – they were world champions, after all – and England collapsed to 55-6 in reply to their 329, Bairstow remained unflinching. He and Overton, with 97, posted a national-record seventh-wicket stand of 241, eclipsing 197 between MJK Smith and Jim Parks against West Indies at Port-of-Spain in 1959-60, and spooking their opponents. By the fourth innings, no goal seemed too audacious.

The contributions of Bairstow and Root were a fillip for the Yorkshire cricket community, and for a venue given an international reprieve. The racism exposed by Azeem Rafiq had destroyed reputations, but this fixture effectively formed part of a suspended sentence for the mishandling of the affair; Headingley’s aim was to earn back hosting rights on a regular basis. The ECB had overturned a ban because of Yorkshire’s commitment to building a culture of equality, diversity and inclusion, and zero-tolerance for discrimination. Messages of intent clung to railings around the perimeter. One read: “Challenge It. Report It. Stop It. Leeds No Place For Hate.” Rafiq’s visit to the ground during the Test was another stride towards détente.

New Zealand had changed the balance of their team. With Williamson fit to resume the captaincy from Latham after missing Nottingham because of Covid, he and Wagner replaced Matt Henry and the injured Kyle Jamieson. For England, Stokes was passed fit after recovering from a cough picked up during a visit to his old club, Cockermouth. Jamie Overton entered in place of James Anderson, who had a “puffy ankle”, securing the spot ahead of his twin, Craig.

Momentum twisted and turned like the ever-present beer snake across the Western Terrace. Williamson’s decision to bat on a fawn pitch looked correct, but the top order struggled once more, and Broad began with a wicket-maiden, coaxing Latham to edge to Root at first slip. Young played all round Leach’s first delivery, and Williamson fiddled Broad to Foakes. Nicholls laboured to 19 off 99 balls, but his dismissal summed up New Zealand’s inability to seize the advantage. Moments before tea, he drove Leach in the air to the leg side of umpire Richard Kettleborough – safely, it seemed. Trying to sway out of the way at the non-striker’s end, Mitchell inadvertently middled the ball into the hands of the alert Lees at mid-off. New Zealand were 123-5, and in danger of folding.

But Mitchell and Blundell remained thorns in England’s side, putting on 120 (and, in the second innings, 113). Mitchell’s strength was in disruption, constantly ensuring bowlers strove for rhythm by hitting spin down the ground, and standing outside the crease. Blundell, a consummate touch player, whipped balls into gaps using the power of his wrists, and kept a still head for precise, low-risk stroke-making. By the end of the game, they had faced the second-most deliveries of any partnership during a Test series – their 1,417 bettered only by the 1,511 between Carl Hooper and Shivnarine Chanderpaul for West Indies against India in 2001/02.

Mitchell became the fifth of his compatriots, after Mark Burgess (1969/72), Ross Taylor (2013), Latham (2018/19) and Williamson (2020/21), to score hundreds in three successive Tests, but the first entirely overseas. He also joined Don Bradman as the only visiting batters to score centuries in the first three Tests of a series in England. But he eventually skewed Leach to deep cover in the last over before lunch on day two, and after the break Leach quickly completed his first five-for in a home Test, inducing miscues from Southee and Wagner.

Boult now exhibited stealth and fury to dismantle England’s top order, swinging the ball through narrow drawbridges to clatter the castles of Lees, Pope and Crawley. (The last time the same man had bowled each of England’s top three in a Test innings was in 1926, when Australia’s Arthur Mailey removed Jack Hobbs, Herbert Sutcliffe and Frank Woolley at The Oval.) Stokes drove Wagner’s second ball to mid-off, and Foakes was trapped by his fifth. Had New Zealand reviewed his lbw shout against Overton soon after, England would have been 63-7, and possibly done for.

Instead, Bairstow and Overton built their stand out of the embers, summoning the courage to plant their feet and hit through the line as the bowlers tired. By stumps on the second day, they had added 209 in 37 overs. Overton fell for 97 early next morning, but Broad biffed 42 off 36, before Bairstow finally picked out long-off, having hit 24 fours. A total of 360 was a monumental recovery, and gave England a lead of 31.

After Leach opened the bowling, Potts quickly removed Young, but Latham and Williamson knuckled down to a 97-run partnership. Latham’s clinical 76 was welcome, after eight innings without passing 26 since a match-winning 252 against Bangladesh in January. However, in another pivotal moment, Overton tempted him into an edge from the first ball after tea.

Root had Conway smartly caught by Pope at short leg, and Williamson offered a poised 48, but got bogged down after Latham’s exit, making 11 runs from his last 34 balls. Potts eventually tempted him to flirt outside off, and an edge behind sealed his fate; Bairstow held the catch because Foakes, already suffering with a back twinge, had tested positive for Covid; Sam Billings arrived on the fourth morning to take over. It meant Williamson had fallen to cordon catches in each of his four dismissals, three times against Potts. When he threw his head back in anguish, it was as demonstrative as he gets.

The rest of the innings, either side of more resistance from Mitchell and Blundell, was about Leach. He removed Nicholls shortly before the close on the third day, then wrapped up the innings before tea on the fourth – the first England spinner to take five wickets in both innings of a home Test since Derek Underwood against Pakistan at Lord’s in 1974. With England observing their new mantra – entertainers as much as sportspeople – the chase overcame the early losses of Lees, run out by Williamson’s throw from mid-off and the alertness of Boult, and Crawley, driving loosely at Bracewell. A punishing workload loomed for Southee, Boult and Wagner in the fourth innings, with Bracewell looking overwhelmed.

The highlight of the chase came when Root reverse-scooped Wagner for six to bring up England’s hundred. The lowlight was two dud lbw reviews by Southee against Root from consecutive deliveries in the 14th over. By stumps, Pope and Root had lifted the score to 183-2. Taking a leaf out of Nottinghamshire’s book, Yorkshire announced free admission for the final day.

Any late conjuring tricks proved beyond the New Zealanders. Southee did bowl Pope for 82 with an off-cutter from the fifth ball, ending a stand of 134 with Root, but that only brought Bairstow to the crease. His half-century came in 30 deliveries, two shy of Ian Botham’s England record, and he finished on 71 from 44. Root reached 86 off 125 in an unbeaten 111-run stand.

Such was the ease with which they batted, the pair could have been placing their strokes into an acreage as spacious as the Serengeti. The second over of the day, from Boult, saw 17 runs whistle across the savannah. England’s unwavering will, described within the dressing-room as “attacking the danger”, ensured their destiny.

Player of the Match: MJ Leach. Attendance: 74,598.
Players of the Series: JE Root (England), DJ Mitchell (New Zealand)

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