When Stuart Broad gets those long legs pumping and has a sniff of wickets in his nostrils he remains one of the most devastating bowlers in world Test cricket.
Broad got on one of his famous rolls here today as England moved to within sight of another remarkable victory in this first day-night Test after three compelling, all-action days.
They had already provided another big crowd at this picturesque Bay Oval ground with enough entertainment to last a series when they smashed their way to 374 all out, leaving New Zealand to make 394, the sixth highest successful chase in Test history.
The Black Caps may have had two hours under lights on the third night and two whole days to get there but they were never likely to be in with a chance of history.
Not with Broad in this mood. Not when both he and Jimmy Anderson have proved beyond doubt that, at 36 and 40, they still have important roles in this England side just as much away from home as in the English conditions that suit them so well.
Stuart Broad delivered with the ball for England, picking up four wickets on day three
The first wicket saw him and James Anderson become the most successful bowling partnership in Test cricket history
It did not take Broad long to clatter the ball into Devon Conway’s stumps and take the 1,002nd wicket he and Anderson have shared in tandem since they were first thrown together to replace Steve Harmison and Matthew Hoggard at Wellington in 2008.
That took the pair past Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne as the most prolific partnership in Test history, a landmark acknowledged by the big screen here to warm applause from the crowd, both English supporters and New Zealanders.
Broad did not stop there. Next came an absolute beauty to nip in and trim the bails of Kane Williamson and then, after Zak Crawley had dropped Tom Latham off him, Broad took the fielder out of the equation by crashing the ball into the left-hander’s stumps.
It was the first time any England bowler had clean bowled the top three in any order in any Test since Fred Trueman in 1960 and Broad had produced another of those great match-turning spells, like against Australia at the Oval in 2009 and Trent Bridge in 2015 and South Africa at Johannesburg in 2016.
Ollie Robinson got in on the act to claim Henry Nicholls before Broad was at it again to take a fourth wicket, and another one clean bowled, when he shattered the stumps of first innings centurion Tom Blundell.
New Zealand just about managed to hang on without further loss but, at 63 for five, victory should be a formality for a quite brilliant and brutal England team who continue to advocate the most positive brand of cricket imaginable and back it up with their deeds.
There has not been a better demonstration yet of the totally positive, totally entertaining methods England are employing to transform their Test cricket than this.
They just kept on coming at New Zealand on this third day even when there were times all cricketing logic was screaming out for them to gently reign it in and, with so much time left, just bat the Black Caps out of the game.
Ollie Robinson also took a wicket to leave England in a dominant position at the close of play
Not a bit of it. Not with an England side prepared to give their opponents a sniff of victory in their mission to put on a show. This was an even bigger endorsement of ‘Bazball’ than when they scored 506 in 75 overs on the first day against Pakistan in Rawalpindi.
Ollie Pope, Harry Brook and Joe Root should, really, all have gone on to centuries while captain Ben Stokes looked set to make a sizeable contribution when he hit Scott Kuggeleijn over the ropes in successive deliveries to become the most prolific six-hitter in Test history.
But all of them got out to shots that would once have been deemed careless at best and reckless at worst but which now are positively encouraged in the selfless interests of the bigger picture. And the bottom line is that Test cricket is all the better for it.
This was another utterly compelling, utterly gripping day’s cricket from the moment Pope started the onslaught by smashing Neil Wagner for two early sixes in the same over almost baseball style.
It was to be the start of a chastening day for the experienced Wagner as he kept on bowling his trademark short deliveries and kept on disappearing towards Mount Maunganui, going for 9.45 an over during nine bruising overs in the first session.
All talk on the first day was whether one of these extraordinary batters would finally beat Gilbert Jessop’s fastest Test century for England and there were again times today when a record of 76 balls set in 1902 looked under considerable threat.
Ben Stokes broke the record for number of sixes in Test cricket, going past Brendon McCullum
But first Pope fell for 49 off 46 balls, including three sixes, then Brook was dismissed for 54 off 41 balls that was decorated with shots of unorthodox genius and then Root made 57 off 62 balls before seemingly giving his wicket away on the stroke of the first interval.
By that time England had smashed 158 off 25 overs in the session – Stuart Broad was quickly knocked off his nighthawk perch – but only led by 256 with four wickets left.
It was the dismissal of Root that will cause most debate between conventional and new thinking. There is a strong argument to say ‘Bazball’ has slightly compromised England’s greatest ever batsman and here he fell to a reverse sweep off the innocuous spin of Michael Bracewell after being dismissed to one of his new reverse scoops in the first innings.
But it is significant coach Brendon McCullum made a point of singling out Root after his first innings indiscretion in front of the team to tell him that is exactly how he wants him to play. So do not expect the former England captain to change any time soon.
Joe Root returned to form with a fine half-century to put England in control
Harry Brook played another commanding innings, as he also went past 50 once more
Ben Foakes was the third England batter to hit 50 as the visitors set New Zealand 394 to win
When Stokes hit those two sixes, the first took him to 108 in Test cricket, going beyond McCullum’s world record in 11 fewer Tests, England again looked as though they would move out of sight. At least until the captain aimed a wild slog at Bracewell and went for 31.
It took Ben Foakes, promoted above his captain, to steady the ship, relatively speaking, with 51 off 80 balls and by the time Jack Leach became the last wicket to fall England had managed to set New Zealand a mammoth 394 to win and had given themselves two hours to bowl with a new pink ball under the Bay Oval lights.
It already looks way beyond them. When – and surely it is when rather than if – England complete victory on Sunday they will have won 10 of the 11 Tests since Stokes and McCullum came together with English Test cricket at one of its lowest ebbs.
And both that run and the manner in which they have done it is truly remarkable.
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