England appear set to concede a significant first-innings lead after their toils against New Zealand’s batsmen at Lord’s yesterday.
This first Investec Test of an Ashes summer was not going to plan for England after two days, as each of the Kiwis’ top three made half-centuries and No 4 was on course to follow them in a stumps total of 303-2 in reply to 389 all out.
A stand of 148 between Martin Guptill (70) and Tom Latham (59) was followed, after the two openers eventually went in successive overs, by an unbroken partnership of 155 between Kane Williamson (92no) and Ross Taylor (47no).
England’s bowlers found precious little of the aerial movement in evidence for their counterparts throughout day one – and when they did get the ball off straight, the tourists were well up to the task.
James Anderson, just three wickets short of becoming the first Englishman to take 400 in Tests, barely beat the bat as Guptill and Latham demonstrated exactly how best to go about their business – defending, leaving and often driving expertly.
England did not help themselves when debutant Mark Wood took what should have been a maiden wicket only to hear a no-ball call which chalked it off, and Ian Bell dropped a sharp but clear-cut chance at third slip off Ben Stokes as Guptill and then Latham were both reprieved in the 20s.
Stuart Broad also missed a close-range throw at the stumps in his follow-through which would have run out Taylor before he had scored.
The England attack did not lose its discipline, and Stokes in particular had little luck, but collectively they struggled against high-class batting in benign conditions.
In contrast to England’s difficulties against the new ball the previous morning, there was no hint of alarm as Guptill – in his first Test innings for almost two years, against these same opponents – batted as if he had never been absent.
At the other end, Latham drove especially well against pace but was undone finally when he missed one on the back foot from off-spinner Moeen Ali to be lbw.
Then, without addition to the total, Guptill was well-caught by Yorkshire’s Gary Ballance at cover off Broad.
England had a fleeting opportunity to battle back.
But Broad allowed Taylor to escape, and as the compact Williamson deflected and timed his way to the quickest of his team’s 50s, off 78 balls, it became clear New Zealand were running the show.
Taylor was occasionally vulnerable to lbw, shuffling across his stumps, but Anderson’s unsuccessful attempt to overturn one verdict on DRS was the closest England came to making it count.
Instead, Taylor was still in situ as Williamson neared his hundred and England badly needed the ‘time-out’ at stumps.
Their own last three wickets had earlier lasted 10.5 overs and added 35 runs, including 21 from last pair Anderson and Wood.
Moeen (58) became the fourth successive batsman in the home ranks to reach a half-century when he pulled Tim Southee in front of square for his ninth boundary.
But he then edged Trent Boult (4-79) behind and after the left-armer got Broad the same way, Matt Henry (4-93) bagged Anderson with a nonchalant one-handed return catch to leave England short of 400.
Six hours later, it was apparent their total was barely par on a very reliable surface as the Kiwis closed to well within a hundred and had massive power to add.
Moeen admitted England had been second best on day two.
“It’s New Zealand’s day, definitely. They batted really well and we found it hard to take wickets,” he said.
Moeen admitted England were “very clumsy” in the field, and added: “It’s the type of wicket where you have to take your chances.
“Jimmy (Anderson) bowled quite well (yesterday morning), and Stuart (Broad), but maybe a little short on that pitch.
“We’re not too far from the new ball so hopefully we can make some inroads.”
Also not far away, however, is the daunting figure of Kiwi captain Brendon McCullum, a man Moeen admitted is “a bit of a hero of mine at the moment” following his aggressive displays as batsman and captain at the World Cup.
Moeen’s score of 58 came from the unaccustomed position of No 8 but he said: “I’m happy to bat wherever. With (Ben Stokes) playing at six in the West Indies he deserves his chance.”
“I bowled quite well, I’m happy with how it came out. In the West Indies I maybe forced it a bit but I got a bit of a rhythm (yesterday).”
Debutant Wood’s celebrations of a maiden wicket were painfully brief as Guptill was reprieved by the no-ball call, but Moeen is confident the Durham pace bowler will put it behind him.
“He’s obviously very disappointed,” he said.
“It was a great catch, and would have been a really good wicket.
“But the guys said ‘you’ve nicked him off once, you can do it again’. He’ll be all right.”
Guptill recovered his composure to almost triple his score in his first Test innings for almost two years.
He said: “Obviously, it was a bit of a nerve-wracking time, waiting for the umpire’s decision. He started nodding his head, and I started walking because I thought he was going to give me out. I was lucky (Wood) over-stepped the line by a fraction, and I got a second life.
“But I thought he [Wood] has some good stuff, some good skills, and could be a very menacing international bowler.
“The partnership between Tom and me really set the game up for us ... then the one between Kane and Ross, the way they picked up where we left off has really cemented our dominance of the day.”