BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner combine to grind England down

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Nov
24

England 353 and 55 for 3 (Denly 7*) trail New Zealand 615 for 9 declared (Watling 205, Santner 126, de Grandhomme 65, Williamson 51) by 207 runs

The inaugural Test at Mount Maungenui was always likely to likely to be a memorable occasion for New Zealand cricket, but BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner ensured it would be one with multiple entries in the history books after their monumental contributions sent records tumbling and left England facing an uphill task to save the game.

Speaking of uphill, there had been some debate about the correct billing of the promontory that overlooks Bay Oval, an extinct volcano known locally at “The Mount”. But there was no disputing that New Zealand had amassed a mountain of runs, as Watling bent himself to the task of batting for almost 11 hours for a maiden double-hundred, while Santner converted to three figures for the first time in his Test career. The innings produced another new peak, with New Zealand’s 615 for 9 declared their highest total against England in 89 years of Test competition.

With the deficit a daunting 262, and realistically needing to bat their way through the majority of four sessions in order to emerge with a draw, England lost both openers and their nightwatchman before the close. There was something appropriate about Santner and Watling combining for the initial breakthrough, and although England could cling to the hope that a slow surface might help pave their way to safety on the final day, increasing signs of up-and-down bounce will doubtless nag at the tourists overnight.

There was no doubting about who were the stars of the show for New Zealand, even if it was a couple of the most unassuming players in a team that has built a reputation for low-key excellence. If there were bragging rights at stake, it would have been impossible to tell, despite Watling and Santner ticking their way through a slew of records.

Both notched career-best scores, as the pair eclipsed the previous highest seventh-wicket stand for New Zealand – initially against England, and then overall. Watling surpassed his own record for the most balls faced by a New Zealand wicketkeeper; Santner set a new mark for balls faced by a New Zealand No. 8. For England, kept in the field for more than 200 overs, it was a relentless grind.

Only the urgency of an impending declaration contributed to Watling finally being dislodged. By then, he had become the ninth wicketkeeper – and first for New Zealand – to score a double-hundred in Tests, the milestone reached a few minutes before tea with a nudged single off the bowling of Joe Root, England’s increasingly vexed captain.

ALSO READ: The records Watling broke

Having at least limited the scoring rate during the morning session, England were left chasing leather in the afternoon sunshine as Santner showed his claws. His half-century reached from 170 balls, he required only another 82 to convert to three figures for the first time in Tests, taking particular toll on his fellow left-arm spinner Jack Leach, who was three times deposited over the ropes. When Santner finally slogged Sam Curran to long-on for 126, it had been 73.2 overs since England had previously taken a wicket, with the first ball after tea on day three.

As Santner buckled his swash, Watling continued to buckle down. He had already demonstrated his appetite for crease-occupation by batting throughout day three, and he slipped straight back into the groove. The nearest England came to ruffling him was when a Jofra Archer bouncer glanced the top of his helmet, as he went past his previous highest score – 142 against Sri Lanka in 2015 – and on to his longest Test innings, surpassing the epic rearguard against India at Wellington in 2014.

The end came via a declaration shortly after tea, as Kane Williamson exacted maximum punishment on England. It also allowed for the crowd to salute Watling’s efforts one final time, as his 473-ball epic ended with an edge behind. Watling walked off to an ovation and New Zealand’s last two batsmen jogged the same way an over later.

New Zealand resumed on day four in control but not in a hurry. Watling and Santner had adopted a circumspect approach during the morning session, when only 58 runs were scored from 30 overs, but the lack of impact on the wickets column was the chief concern for Root.

England dutifully went through the motions with the ball, but there was an air of fatalism about their attempts to finish off the innings. Archer strung together five maidens in a row at the start of the day, but England’s attack rarely threatened a breakthrough as New Zealand set out their stall to try and bat only once in the game.

The wisdom of that ploy was proven during the evening session, as Santner stepped into the spotlight with the ball. Dom Sibley and Rory Burns had compiled a watchful 48-run stand to ease English fears about the deterioration of the pitch – only for New Zealand’s spinner to produce a three-wicket burst before stumps. First Sibley, who had already survived one tough chance to Watling, succumbed to a thin outside edge, then Burns was lured into sweeping out of the rough and sent a tame top edge to square leg.

In the final over of the day, Tom Latham’s brilliant catch at short leg removed the nightwatchman Leach, though replays suggested he had not actually got any bat on the ball. Leach walked off without using a review, however, to leave England facing an even steeper climb if they are to escape Bay of Plenty with the series still level.

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