WICKET! Kuggeleijn b Robinson 20 (NZ 235-8)
Got him! Kuggeleijn finally looks like a tailender as Robinson’s nip-backer arrows into middle stump.
68th over: New Zealand 235-7 (Blundell 80, Kuggeleijn 20) And again Anderson restores order, conceding just a leg-bye and a single to Kuggeleijn, who has gone rather quiet after that explosive start.
One brings two! Emails, that is. “Morning Tim,” says Kim Thonger. “Just woke up after a marvellous dream about finding my rucksack in a Swiss railway lost property office after intervention from a tealady from the station cafe who was dressed like Catwoman, and spoke English with a Somerset accent and now I have just read the OBO to catch up and am experiencing similar deep joy and I have a confession to make, after serious initial scepticism arising from 55 years of watching ‘normal’ Test cricket I may be a belated convert to the madness that is Bazball. “ Ha. Ben Stokes really has changed the world. “PS the link has your email address wrong.” Ah damn, sorry – should be fixed now.
67th over: New Zealand 233-7 (Blundell 80, Kuggeleijn 19) Robinson is back on the field and back into the attack as Broad takes a breather (16-2-70-1). Blundell drives for two to bring up the fifty partnership off 65 balls. It’s been a very good one – first playful, then watchful.
There’s a hold-up while the ball is changed. This allows me to report an astonishing development: we have received an email. “Thought you might appreciate some company in the wee small hours,” says Brian Withington. Ah thanks. “And I certainly need a break from contemplating my own mortality whilst drafting a complicated expression of wishes letter to pension trustees (first world problems, eh?).
”Talking of (im)mortality, how splendid to see Jimmy Anderson taking another new year in his metronomic stride – may he defer his pension indefinitely (never mind passing it on).” We need to know more about Jimmy’s pension. Must be the biggest fund in sporting history.
66th over: New Zealand 230-7 (Blundell 77, Kuggeleijn 19) Ollie Robinson is trotting off the field, so maybe he has a niggle that explains why both the old gents are bowling. Or perhaps he’s just gone to remonstrate with his folks for wearing those shirts. Anyway Anderson continues and this time he does gets Aleem Dar to raise the finger, for caught behind against Blundell – only to find the review showing that the ball just brushed the trouser. Blundell celebrates again, with a measured clip for two.
65th over: New Zealand 227-7 (Blundell 74, Kuggeleijn 19) It’s STILL Broad, as Stokes silently wonders why on earth he didn’t pick Olly Stone. The sun is out, the ground is a picture postcard, it’s a moment for a young person to be bowling. But this is a better over from the old warhorse, not so short and going for just a couple of singles.
64th over: New Zealand 225-7 (Blundell 73, Kuggeleijn 18) Anderson raps Blundell on the pad, for the second time in a row, and although Aleem Dar shakes his head firmly Stokes decides to review. The shape is good, angling in, but the ball is surely going down… Yes, not even umpire’s call, so England are down to their last review. Blundell celebrates in characteristic fashion, with a controlled guide for four, and that brings the deficit down to 100.
63rd over: New Zealand 221-7 (Blundell 69, Kuggeleijn 18) Broad continues, though it’s not clear why. Blundell says thank you very much and helps himself to a late cut for four. The partnership is already 39 off only seven and a half overs: I don’t know what England had for drinks, but it seems to have included a dose of their own medicine.
62nd over: New Zealand 216-7 (Blundell 64, Kuggeleijn 18) And of course Anderson restores order.
61st over: New Zealand 215-7 (Blundell 63, Kuggeleijn 18) It’s still Broad, it’s still the short stuff, and it’s still these two having no trouble swatting the pink ball away, though this time they have to settle for ones and twos. Time for something more sophisticated: heeeere’s Jimmy.
60th over: New Zealand 209-7 (Blundell 58, Kuggeleijn 17) Jack Leach, bowling to Blundell, reels off four dots. Then a gentle push off the back foot into the covers ends up going for four as Duckett’s throw eludes Foakes and brings overthrows. And then Blundell thinks “what the hell, may as well join the party,” and he dances down the track and thumps another four. Suddenly NZ can see themselves getting the deficit down to something manageable.
Here’s to them
59th over: New Zealand 201-7 (Blundell 50, Kuggeleijn 17) After showing us his front-foot striking in the last over, Kuggeleijn now gets a chance off the back foot, as Broad is banging it in, Stokes-style. The upshot is a pull for two, then a pull for four. His Test-career tally of 17 has come off only 15 balls. Is he an Englishman in disguise?
Fifty to Blundell!
There hasn’t been much for the home fans to celebrate but here’s a nice warm round of applause for Tom Blundell, who shoves Broad round the corner for a single to reach a defiant fifty. He’s such a well-organised player.
58th over: New Zealand 194-7 (Blundell 49, Kuggeleijn 11) Thanks Daniel and hello everyone. It’s four in the morning in London, but suddenly it’s party time in Mount Maunganui. Scott Kuggeleijn’s second scoring shot in Test cricket is a six! He swings Leach easily over midwicket, and the only person who’s going to catch that is the gentleman in the blue singlet on the bank. Kuggeleijn follows up with a straight belt for four. Game on!
57th over: New Zealand 184-7 (Blundell 49, Kuggeleijn 1) Broad replaces Stokes, and I’m beginning to wonder if he inspired his skipper’s barnet; we’ll know for sure if we see a headband added to it. Blundell shovels a single to backward square that someone, I don’t see who, fumbles so they run one, then Kuggeleleijn forces off hip and into ground for his d’boo run in Tests. He’ll be feeling much better about life now, but when he pulls again, along the ground, Pope, at square leg, ducks, which makes me wonder if there’s a sighting issue, because that’s not the first time something of that ilk’s happened. Anyway, Blundell, looking for his fifty, swishes at the final delivery of the over, misses, and with that, my watch is over. Thus, here’s Tim de Lisle to croon you through the remainder of the day; enjoy him and it’s goodnight from me.
56th over: New Zealand 182-7 (Blundell 48, Kuggeleijn 0) Here comes Leach to send down Kuggeleijn’s first ball in Test cricket, and it’s met with a rather awkward bump into the off side. He’s got a slip, a leg slip and silly mid off for company, but sees off three balls and that’s a wicket maiden!
WICKET! Bracewell c Stokes b Leach 7 (New Zealand 182-7)
What is he doing?! Bracewell wants to be positive, but then he’s got to commit to his shots, and here he checks a drive so that it loops directly to Stokes at mid on! He knows he’s not been seeing it, he knows there’s just been a break, so why not have a look at a few? New Zealand look like conceding a massive first-innings lead.
On we go again!
Aha, and it’s drinks too.
We have a little break while Bracewell changes helmet, as per the rules.
55th over: New Zealand 182-6 (Blundell 48, Bracewell 7) Stokes is still schlepping in, two quick singles off balls three and four keeping the scoreboard ticking; the first, to backward square, elicits a throw that’s not far away, but but Blundell was home. He then takes another single to backward square as we see tape of Stokes grimacing, then a spot of natural variation sees one keep far lower than Bracewell thought so he ducks into it, wearing a knuck off the helmet, right on the badge, and they snaffle a bye.
54th over: New Zealand 178-6 (Blundell 46, Bracewell 6) Blundell swings Leach over his had and down the ground for four; he doesn’t get all of it, but what he does get is enough. A single follows, and Blundell is a very fine player – but we knew that.
53rd over: New Zealand 173-6 (Blundell 41, Bracewell 6) Blundell collars a Stokes no ball, hauling it to the rope at deep backward square, then adding one to similar area. We see a pitch-map of this spell, and every delivery has been short; as I type that, one climbs more than expected and clumps Bracewell on the glove, but he’s fine. I doubt we see too many, if any more overs from the England captain – he’s got what he came for – but you really never know with this total hero-freak.
52nd over: New Zealand 167-6 (Blundell 36, Bracewell 6) Conway has left a load of runs out there; I daresay he’ll be left well alone for the next 20 minutes or so. England now has a new batter to go at but it’s Blundell on strike and he cuts three to third, then Bracewell skips down and drives uppishly, half a foot shy of Robinson’s dive and the ball races away for four. So Bracewell goes again, skewing two over the off-side infield, and that’s nine off the over.
WICKET! Conway c Pope b Stokes 77 (New Zealand 158-6)
HOW DOES HE KEEP DOING IT?! BENJAMIN ANDREW STOKES IS NOT A REAL PERSON! HE CANNOT BE! BUT HE IS! Another short one, Conway checks his pull, and does exactly what Stokes wants him to do, what he knows Stokes wants him to do, wafting to square leg! He walks off rehearsing an off-side paddle, but you can’t argue the force of nature. That is a colossal breakthrough.
51st over: New Zealand 158-5 (Conway 77, Blundell 33) Conway pulls a no-ball to square leg for one, then Blundell does likewise to deep backward where Crawley slides to stop; they amble one more. Two further single follows, Conway to square leg and Blundell to fine leg, and NZ won’t mind this at all, this being relatively easy and risk-free accumulation.
50th over: New Zealand 152-5 (Conway 75, Blundell 31) Blundell goes over the top as Leach persuades one to dip and hits across it slightly, but as Robinson chases – that’s good of him etc etc – it drops just beyond his reach and they run two. I don’t think it’ll be long before Anderson returns.
49th over: New Zealand 150-5 (Conway 75, Blundell 29) Stokes continues with the short stuff that so often gets him a result, and when sits up, Conway will be irritated that in following it around the corner, he picks out the man on the fence and they only run one. Blundell then adds one more to backward square, Conway does likewise, Blundell goes again, and that’s four singles off the over; neither ball nor pitch are offering any assistance.
48th over: New Zealand 146-5 (Conway 73, Blundell 27) Leach continues, and after three dots, a forward press following by a retreat deep into the crease, allows him to stroke through cover, elbow high, Ian Bell-style, for four. Those are the only round from the over, but NZ have picked up where they left off before tea.
47th over: New Zealand 142-5 (Conway 73, Blundell 23) Yup, it’s Stokes, bleached hair bouncing and flowing in time with his stride; credit where it’s due, he’s had a tremendous job done on it, but he begins with a wide and a single to each batter gets the scoreboard going again. Stokes responds well though, banging in; Blundell fends off well, then when Pope comes in at short leg, the batter turns another one into the on side.
Back come the teams, Ben Stokes stretching like he’s going to work. Gower told us his knee is heavily strapped, but he knows that the match is here: if England can get a couple of wickets in the next hour, there’s a very strong chance they win the match.
46th over: New Zealand 138-5 (Conway 72, Blundell 21) The way Leach is bowling and this being the final over before a break, I’d not be surprised to see another maiden, but as it turns out, Blundell is looking to keep things moving, driving into the off side on three occasions, earning one because he keeps picking out fielders. So thus endeth a session of two halves: England dominated the first, NZ fought back well in the second, and the pitch looks nice to bat on now, but one more wicket and things can change very quickly. See you in 15ish.
45th over: New Zealand 137-5 (Conway 72, Blundell 20) It’ll be two more, Root rattling through a maiden before Foakes rushes through a quick change. England have some thinking to do in the interval.
44th over: New Zealand 137-5 (Conway 72, Blundell 20) Blundell is such a composed and confident batter, able to play his natural game regardless of the match situation. And here, he prances down to clout four to long on, the only runs from the over, and we’ve got either one or two more before the interval.
43rd over: New Zealand 133-5 (Conway 72, Blundell 16) Root, who has the confidence – and, if we’re being brutal, probably the ability – to take pace returns from the other end. But when he drops short, Conway skips backwards and carves four through backward point then flicks two to midwicket, raising the fifty partnership in the process.
42nd over: New Zealand 127-5 (Conway 66, Blundell 16) Leach returns from Root’s end, and in his defence, the pitch is offering almost nothing, which reminds me that Graeme Swann’s real thing was the ability to take first-innings wickets. Leach, meanwhile, is sending down darts that mean he’s likely to miss any spin that there is, trying not to get clattered, but this over is a maiden.
41st over: New Zealand 127-5 (Conway 66, Blundell 16) Nice from Conway, tucking three to midwicket; Anderson chases, dives and scoops off the fence, exactly as Robinson opted not to earlier, and they run three thereby averting the follow-on. A single follows, and with 12 minutes until the break, this is drifting.
“Love the OBO!” begins Keith Johnson in Irvington NY. Re the Root football manoeuvre … is it possible that they had the wrong stump mics for the review? Did anyone see a replay where there was ANY noise? Why not let the the replay keep going until we hear A noise, so, ya know, we know we have the correct sound we are examining? There wasn’t enough time for Nixon’s plumbers to ‘tweak’ things, all conspiracy theorists need not apply!”
It didn’t look like Root got a touch from any angle we saw, so I think we’re all good.
40th over: New Zealand 123-5 (Conway 63, Blundell 15) More Root, who sends down five dots, then Conway punches a single to mid off. Stokes won’t want to bowl, but it feels like it’s time and has for 20 minutes.
39th over: New Zealand 122-5 (Conway 62, Blundell 15) Four dots, then Blundell turns to midwicket for two, and he’s settled in nicely; now conditions are pleasant – it’s a lovely day in The Mount – I wonder if England are missing a quick.
38th over: New Zealand 120-5 (Conway 62, Blundell 13) …and we can’t get a decent angle because Conway’s follow-through is blocking the camera from behind the batter. Rod Tucker, veery chatty today, wants ultra-edge because the ball seems to go under Root’s boot, which is to say if it didn’t graze any of it, it was damn close. He concludes it didn’t nevertheless, then Conway skips down and hoists high over long off for six, so Root tosses up another, so slowly, looking to grip, but he finds nothing, then Conway drills two to cover.
38th over: New Zealand 112-5 (Conway 54, Blundell 7) Conway wallops Root’s second delivery straight back down the ground, breaking the stumps, and we have an umpire’s review to see whether Root got boot on ball. If he did it’s gone, but it looks like he didn’t…
37th over: New Zealand 112-5 (Conway 54, Blundell 13) Robinson returns at t’other end as we take a tour of the ground, some people lying on the grass, others sat at tables. There’s something about reclining while watching sport, but it also feels like constant search for illusory comfort, the ground being hard and all that; some kind of lilo feels in order. Maiden, the second in a row, and Andy Flower will be pleased.
36th over: New Zealand 112-5 (Conway 54, Blundell 13) But instead it’s Root who, I feel bad saying, might well be a better bowler than Leach. And, shonuff, he beats Conway out of the rough, then a drive almost carries to extra, that was by far the most threatening over of spin so far today. Maiden.
35th over: New Zealand 112-5 (Conway 54, Blundell 13) Leach is struggling here, Blundell cracking his first delivery for four through point, then helping himself to two more into the covers. That’s 0-19 off four, and it might be time for the strawberry-blonde arm of the skipper to get a go.
34th over: New Zealand 106-5 (Conway 54, Blundell 7) Two slips and short leg for Conway, three and one for Blundell, and a leg side single to each.
“It’s exactly six months since I last emailed you, on the subject of abbreviated names,” says Brian Withington, “and that was a case of mistaken identity! (I think Daniel Gallan was on OBO duty at time.) Anyway, hope you have wintered well and are enjoying the latest instalment of this astonishing reinvention of Test cricket. Can it ever become the brave new normal or is it doomed to be remembered as a final hurrah for the format, raging with a grin against the dying of the light?”
It’s hard to know isn’t it? It’s hopefully popular enough in enough places to sustain, but the schedule over the next few years isn’t nourishing outside of England, India and Australia. And yes, I wintered very nicely thanks, two-and-a-bit weeks in Ghana which yielded the following after some extremely early mornings.