England vs NZ, 2nd Test

It may take some time for the shock to wear off, but when it does it may strike New Zealand how close they were to winning this Test – which, given the final make-up of their XI – might have counted among one of their most remarkable wins.

A post-tea mishit to a fielder, a catch held earlier, and it is entirely possible that, of the two results all players thought possible at tea, New Zealand would’ve secured the right one for them.

They were effectively defending 299 with two bowlers and, even if one of them happens to be the indefatigable Trent Boult, that takes some doing. Hindsight is a tricky thing but from very early on in this Test, the omission of Neil Wagner was not looking like a wise move.

They still thought it should be enough. “We certainly believed it was,” Tom Latham said. “You have to have some belief when you get into a final innings. The way we started with the ball was outstanding and we were able to make those breakthroughs. At lunch they were three-down, and then we had a bit of momentum going into tea as well. If we were able to get a couple of breakthroughs after that, we’d get into the bowlers but we weren’t able to do that today.”

Much of the focus will fall on that mad half-hour just after tea. New Zealand decided to go at Bairstow and Stokes with bouncers and men on the leg-side boundary – a tactic Wagner would have been ideal for.

Bairstow tore through that tactic, raining sixes over the short square-leg boundary; in four overs after tea, England put on 59. There were still over a hundred runs to get but by the time New Zealand moved on, the game felt like it had shifted decisively.

“We tried a few different things,” Latham said. “But unfortunately, whatever we tried, they were able to negate that. Sometimes when the guys play special innings like that you just have to take your hat off to them. They played fantastically well.

“When someone is going like that you need some protection [on the boundary]. With the nature of the ground, a little bit smaller and a really high scoring rate, it was about the balance of having some guys in but also having protection on the boundaries. Some other days he might have hit one straight to one of the guys. Today was Jonny’s day and he played really well.”

Some of the control of the game had been ceded on the fourth day when New Zealand gifted a spate of wickets to England to end the day seven-down, with three wickets left. There were two run-outs and each of the wickets, to a certain degree, came from batting error.

Not only did that lower their ambitions for a fourth-innings target, it left plenty of time in the game – though time became a moot consideration ultimately, given England that won with more than 20 overs of the game left unused.

“Yeah, I guess you could look at a few different moments throughout the Test,” Latham said. “I guess you’d want to do a few things different. But, as I said heading into today, 300 on the board and with the breakthroughs we made in the morning, we firmly felt we’d have a good chance. We weren’t able to make the next couple of breakthroughs we needed into that middle and lower order. But it was a great Test to be part of.”

The nature of England’s chase, and that it had been so clearly signalled through the Test, makes all of this redundant, however. The first four days could have developed in any number of ways, but the manner in which it ended was, as Latham acknowledged, out of their hands.

“Obviously the way Jonny and Ben played took the game away from us. I guess after tea, two results were in play, we were confident we could get a couple of wickets and then you’re into the bowlers. But sometimes you have to take your hat off to the way guys played. And I think we have to do that today. Jonny, the clean hitting, the power-hitting he showed to take the game away from us was not ideal from our point of view. Full credit to them.”

Osman Samiuddin is a senior editor at ESPNcricinfo

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