One of the most bizarre dismissals in cricket history was followed by an all-too-familiar counterattack by Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell as New Zealand eked out 225-5 on day one of the third test against England on Thursday.
Henry Nicholls couldn’t believe his misfortune when his straight drive careered into the outstretched bat of Mitchell, who was attempting to take evasive action at the non-striker’s end, and rebounded all the way across to mid-off where Alex Lees was alert enough to take the catch.
There were looks of bewilderment across the faces of England’s players — notably Jack Leach, who claimed his second wicket of the day — as Nicholls trudged off for 19 and with New Zealand stuttering on 123-5 at tea at Headingley.
That, however, brought together Blundell and Mitchell, who have shared partnerships of 195 and 236 already in this three-match series in which England holds an unassailable 2-0 lead.
They put on an unbroken sixth-wicket stand of 102 to be there at stumps, giving the tourists renewed hope of a consolation victory. Blundell was on 45 while Mitchell was on 78 and closing in on his third century of the series.
Mitchell capitalized on being given a life — when on 8 — by England captain Ben Stokes, who chose to not review when the New Zealand batter was trapped shin height in front of the stumps from a full delivery by Matthew Potts that swung in.
Had Stokes made the signal, Mitchell would have been on his way and the tourists would have been 97-5 and without their best player over the past month.
Stuart Broad set the tone for an impressive bowling performance by England, ending the day with figures of 2-45 off his 17 overs as the pacer relished the responsibility of being the senior man in England’s attack in the absence of fellow veteran Jimmy Anderson.
After New Zealand won the toss, Broad removed Tom Latham for a duck off the sixth ball of the day and got another edge to remove Kane Williamson for 31 before lunch.
Between those wickets, the first ball of Leach’s left-arm spin drifted and straightened up, trapping Will Young lbw for 20.
New Zealand had plenty of work to do at 65-3 at lunch, but Devon Conway (26) had only got started when he dragged a seaming delivery from debutant Jamie Overton onto his stumps with a loose drive. Overton was applauded from the balcony by twin brother Craig, who was edged out of the starting team but came on briefly as a substitute fielder early in the day to ensure the siblings were out there at the same time for an over or two.
“We used to talk about this as kids — playing test match cricket is the ultimate goal,” Jamie Overton said. “He was delighted for me.”
Potts was looking to elbow his way into the story but was unlucky to see a pair of lbw shouts waved away. The first, against Nicholls on 4, was turned down on review as the slim possibility of inside edge could not be ruled out.
Then came the costly second, against Mitchell, which Stokes refused to look at.
Mitchell made England pay as he played with the same energy he has shown since touching down in England, sweeping and pulling well before the second of two spiraling sixes off Leach took him past 50.
Meanwhile, Stokes stayed mysteriously out of the attack, perhaps to save energy with the series won and with a one-off test against India coming up next week.