Another unconverted half-century for Joe Root. This time with added pain.
With three balls to go on the fourth day at Eden Park, Trent Boult was coming to the end of an exacting final burst with the pink ball under lights. Almost every delivery had demanded attention from the batsmen. From round the wicket, he sent down a short-of-a-length ball which climbed and smacked into Root’s right glove.
Wringing his hand, he immediately moved to the side of the pitch and the physio was quickly on. The glove came off and the right index finger, now throbbing red, was prodded and pulled as Root winched. Eventually, as the clock moved towards the close-of-play at 9.30pm, Root prepared to face again.
Boult delivered shorter, this time angled into the rib cage. Root tried to jump inside the line but he couldn’t get out of the way. The ball brushed the glove through to BJ Watling. As one the New Zealanders roared.
A disconsolate Root, now in pain in more ways than one, trudged, head down, back to the dressing room and had not emerged by the time Stuart Broad was speaking to the cameras.
“I’ve not seen him – I think he’s still sat in the toilet,” Broad said. “We were watching from the viewing area, he came straight in and put his bat down and went straight into the back room. He’s probably doing a few breathing techniques to calm himself down at the minute.”
Could Root have retired hurt, let the pain settle, and ensured he lived to fight another day? Craig Overton was padded up as nightwatchman. He may not have seen out two deliveries, but having Root for the final day may have been a price worth paying.
“We mentioned it,” Broad said, “but when a bloke has been out there for 120 balls on 50, he’d have been backing himself to see off those last two balls. Trent Boult has got a bouncer bang on. I think it was a really good short ball, at the left shoulder.
“That’s a really tricky one to deal with. Maybe I’m in the bowler’s union, but you’ve got to credit him sometimes – good bouncer to rap a batter on the finger, and then a good follow-up – well bowled. It was a real shame to lose Joe to the last ball of the day. We all felt it, after he’d played so brilliantly as well.”
Boult’s plan to Root paid off and the wicket perhaps also owed something to Kane Williamson’s declaration. New Zealand could have called an end to their innings earlier than they did – and the ultimate judgement on the timing has to wait until the final day – but they had factored in still wanting a reasonably hard ball late in the day under lights.
Pull out 10-15 overs earlier and Root would have been facing a 60-over old ball. Instead, Boult was able to get enough bounce from the 47-over one to dismiss England’s best batsman. If day-night Test cricket continues to evolve, such thinking may become more common place in declarations.
“We wanted the ball to be nice and hard under lights so we could hopefully get the bounce and kiss off the wicket that Trent did, so it was nice that the planning came through,” Henry Nicholls explained. “The wicket of Joe tonight is huge so credit to the guys, the way they put them under pressure in that last half an hour.”
With eight wickets in hand and Root at the wicket, the draw would have been a far more realistic prospect for England. Still, they can look back at not-too-distant history for inspiration. Five years ago on this ground they began the final day four down and saved the game thanks to one of Matt Prior’s finest innings, a bail that refused to budge, Broad’s 77-ball 6 and Monty Panesar’s dive for the line. They batted 143 overs; when this innings began 148 were left in the match. This time, runs could also be a factor.
“We’ll need a hero tomorrow,” Broad said. “Five years ago, Matt Prior was the hero with a hundred, and someone’s got that chance tomorrow. I’d prefer not to bat but we’ll wait and see.
“If you’d said at 27 for 9 there was a chance of drawing the game we’d have bitten your hand off. Obviously the rain has helped a lot. But there’s a chance, and we’ve just got to make sure we’re good enough to do it.”