There are a few surprises today. First that we’ve had three days and the match is still going on, secondly that England are still in it, and thirdly that they’ve had a pretty good day. 62 needed and 5 wickets left, and most importantly Joe Root is still there. And that’s the key with this fragile England batting line up, that he’s the one genuinely world class batsman in the side – indeed the one obviously Test class batsman for that matter. If he scores runs, England have a chance. When he doesn’t, and he can’t do it all the time, they fold like a cheap suit. His game awareness pushing to take the second new ball out of the equation was just a small part of his continuing excellence. It really is a pity he’s having to carry this team all the time, because his record in a better one might be even greater.
Only 62 runs are needed, and if he’s there at the end, England will win it. Sure, it’s a statement of the bleeding obvious, but it emphasises how much they rely on him, or upon Stokes. With a normal side, and with so few runs required, there would be strong expectation of victory at some point in the morning, weather permitting, but this is the England team. If Root goes, getting 62 would be a tall order. Getting a dozen would seem challenging. So to that extent we’re learning nothing we didn’t already know – Root is a magnificent player, Stokes is a very fine one, and there’s not a lot else. The first innings collapse will leave New Zealand still confident that one wicket will get five.
That England have any shot at all is down to a fine bowling display in the morning session, particularly from Stuart Broad, who decided to do what he does and ripped a hole in the New Zealand batting order. Yesterday they went 60 overs without picking up a wicket, and the bowlers came in for some criticism for that. But it was a normal enough day, and the opposition are allowed to bat well. The only reason it ever stands out is because of the brittleness of England’s batting that requires the bowlers to skittle the opposition every single time without exception for England to get their noses in front. Let’s be pretty clear on this, the England seamers have been exceptional this match because they know damn well they have to be on their game constantly to have a sniff, and why it shouldn’t be a surprise when they fail to deliver sometimes having seen their own side shot out in a couple of sessions yet again.
Weather permitting, it’ll be a short day but a fun one tomorrow. Low scoring matches are exciting because every ball has a degree of peril attached to it, for both sides. But that doesn’t make this one a great game, it’s been far too flawed, and far too short. But England are still in it, thanks with one exception to their longer serving, class acts. Rage, rage against the dying of the light.