AUCKLAND, New Zealand (AP) – England suffered a major blow when it lost captain Joe Root to the last ball of the fourth day Sunday as it strove to save the first cricket test after trailing New Zealand by 369 runs on the first innings.
Root had batted more than three hours for 51 to rally England’s resistance in the face of that heavy deficit but his dismissal on the brink of stumps swung the match back in New Zealand’s favor.
The England captain was struck on the hand by a delivery from Trent Boult one ball earlier and required lengthy medical treatment before deciding to bat on with two balls to face. The next ball also rose sharply but was well down the leg side but Root was then drawn into an unnecessary shot that resulted in a catch to wicketkeeper B.J. Watling.
New Zealand’s Henry Nicholls signals his century against England during the first cricket test in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, March 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)
Dawid Malan was left on 19 not out and England was 132-2, still trailing New Zeland by 237 with Ben Stokes due at the crease on Monday.
New Zealand earlier declared on 427-8 in reply to England’s first innings of 58, leaving the tourists with the tall task of batting through four and half extended sessions to save the day-night match.
England suffered an early blow when Alastair Cook (2) was out with his side on 6, caught down the leg side from the bowling of Boult who was England’s destroyer in the first innings with 6-32.
But Root put up stiff resistance, sharing an 88-run partnership for the second wicket with Mark Stoneman (55) who holed out one ball after posting his fourth test half century.
New Zealand timed its declaration, at the drinks break in the second session, to take advantage of what it expected to be advantageous bowling conditions late in the day. But the pitch at Eden Park had become relatively docile until Boult caused two balls to rear sharply at the end of the day, finishing with 2-24 to improve his match figures to 8-56.
Earlier Sunday, Henry Nicholls posted his second century and highest test score before New Zealand’s declaration. Nicholls was 145 not out, beating his previous best of 118, when captain Kane Williamson called his batsmen in.
“(Root’s) was a big wicket to finish the day on,” Nicholls said. “He was batting nicely so that late stuff from Boulty was huge.
“It was nice to contribute with the bat and to give us a lead which was big as we wanted with time to take 10 wickets.”
The match has been significantly shortened after rain allowed only 23.1 overs on the second day and 17 balls on the third.
Nicholls, resuming at 52 not out Sunday, continued a marathon innings that built on the foundation established by captain Kane Williamson who made 102 – his 18th test century. He reached his century in 10 minutes short of six hours, from 228 balls and with 11 fours in an innings that spanned three days.
Nicholls first came to the crease around 8pm on the first day and has batted, at least briefly, on each of the next three days before reaching his century Sunday.
His was a feat of concentration as he was either batting or had to be padded up and ready to bat at times on most of the first four days. He showed extraordinary powers to continually re-compose himself to bat through the fragments of play that were achieved between showers on Friday, during the 10 minutes of actual play on Saturday and the hours spent waiting to see whether the rain would clear.
Nicholls gave few real chances. He was tested at times by Craig Overton who bowled a good spell in the middle of the first session. But he went through the 90s relatively swiftly, moving from 90 to 94 with a four through midwicket off Stuart Broad and from 94 to 98 with another boundary off long-on from Moeen Ali.
There was a nervous moment as the umpires checked to see whether the ball, which had disappeared into the shadow of the main grandstand, had carried all the way for six, which would have brought up his century.
It fell just short and Nicholls composed himself again, reaching three figures when he square drove Ali for two a few balls later.
Nicholls had support throughout the day from B.J. Watling, who went from 18 not out overnight to 31 in a partnership of 54 for the fifth wicket. Colin de Grandhomme then made 29, adding 49 for the sixth wicket, Todd Astle scored 18 to put on 32 for the seventh wicket and Tim Southee 25 in a stand of 72 for the eighth wicket.
New Zealand’s Henry Nicholls leaves the field at tea after reaching a 100 against England during the first cricket test in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, March 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)
England’s Joe Root bats against New Zealand during their first cricket test in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, March 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)
England’s Mark Stoneman bats against New Zealand during their first cricket test in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, March 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)
England’s Alastair Cook is out for 2 to New Zealand’s Trent Boult during their first cricket test in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, March 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)
New Zealand’s Trent Boult, left, celebrates with captain Kane Williamson after dismissing England’s Alastair Cook for 2 during their first cricket test in Auckland, New Zealand, Sunday, March 25, 2018. (AP Photo/Ross Setford)
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