The final day in Mount Maunganui began with Stuart Broad telling BBC Test Match Special listeners before play that he didn’t just believe England could save the first Test with New Zealand, he expected it.
Come 4.42pm, however, the No 11 was strolling out with bat in hand. His side were 197 for nine – still 65 runs behind with 21.5 overs left – and the Black Caps were hunting the final wicket that would deliver a 1-0 lead in this two-match series.
Broad lasted just one ball. Neil Wagner crashed a fast full toss into his pads from around the wicket and England’s new era under the head coach Chris Silverwood had begun with an all too familiar innings defeat when considering similar such recent reversals in Barbados, Auckland, Sydney, Perth, Chennai and Mumbai.
For Wagner the winning moment wrapped up figures of five for 44 – the 33-year-old left-armer’s eighth Test five-fer – and New Zealand could celebrate a winning start to life at Bay Oval, their newly inaugurated ninth Test venue.
This was also the home’s side 11th victory in their past 16 on home soil (during which time they have lost just once) and, in keeping with the resourceful character traits that have taken them to No 2 in the world, they had done so without their spearhead Trent Boult on the final day because of a side injury.
From the moment England collapsed on the second morning from 276 for four to 353 all out they lost control of the Test and a hammering resulted. They made early inroads into New Zealand’s lineup but BJ Watling’s 205 from 11 hours glued to the crease, amid a total of 615 for nine from 201 chastening overs, was their latest brutal lesson in batting and batting and batting some more.
There was collective excellence in New Zealand’s execution, too. Mitchell Santner’s maiden Test century was one half of the spirit-sapping seventh-wicket stand of 261 from 83.2 overs with Watling. He also picked up three wickets on the fourth evening before performing a flying catch to remove Ollie Pope on the final day.
And then there was Colin de Grandhomme, the all-rounder who combined with Watling for a partnership of 119, in which he made 65, and twice removed Joe Root with ball. Just 13 runs made it Root’s worst Test as captain when he has batted twice and his average has now dropped below 40 in the role for the first time.
In all a grim start to England’s new era pointed to a team some way short of producing remorseless batting displays or taking 20 wickets on flat batting tracks. It is already apparent that Jofra Archer, whose day was marked by a tweet that he had received racial abuse as he was leaving the field, is still finding his feet at Test level.
Root was unrepentant over his tactical use of the fast bowler during England’s 201 overs in the dirt at Bay Oval and though there was praise for Archer’s efforts after his 42 overs, one for 107, it came with the slightly troubling suggestion from Root that he believes the quick’s 90mph-plus speeds can simply be turned on and off.
“He’s got all the attributes that can be very successful here and he’s got to learn that sometimes you’ve got to make sure every spell counts,” said Root. “You really have got to run in and use that extra pace to your advantage.
“I think there are certain spells where he can just unleash a little bit more. That will come with experience and time.”
Root’s dismissal an hour into day five rather summed up England’s predicament. They had begun on 55 for three and, given a deficit of 207 runs, didn’t necessarily require just blocking: runs had a value, too. For a team with attacking instincts, but under new orders to bat time, it all seemed too confusing. And on a previously dead surface now starting to play tricks, Root prodded meekly to gully.
Asked whether his own returns with the bat have been affected by the captaincy, in a year where he averages only 27.4, Root said: “I’m not looking too deeply into marrying them up together. I’ve had a bit of a rough time, bit I’m working extremely hard on it and sometimes it doesn’t always come that easy to you. The fact that I’m captain at the same time is an easy excuse to use as a player.”
There were echoes of the match-defining first-innings collapse when Ben Stokes and Joe Denly – England’s two most assured batsmen – were separated after lunch. Here Stokes chopped Southee on to his stumps on 28, to kickstart a similar cascade of four wickets for 17 in 69 balls.
With Santner monopolising one end, Wagner then took over from Southee and barged through the door his teammate had unlocked. The left-armer isn’t subtle with his tactics but only Denly could count himself unlucky: he shouldered arms to one that reared off the surface and was shown to have tickled the glove on review.
Limping to tea on 161 for eight, the travelling England supporters did get to witness a mini-fightback as Sam Curran (29 from 59 balls) and Jofra Archer put on a sprightly 52 for the ninth wicket. But when the latter holed out on 30 off Wagner, it brought Broad to the crease.
With Boult unlikely to be fit for the second match in Hamilton, a potential Test debut awaits for the uncapped and fiery Lockie Ferguson as New Zealand, now with 99 Test wins in their history, look to chalk up another century. With talk of similar conditions at Seddon Park, who’d bet against it?