England’s entertainers whipped up the Headingley crowd as four wickets on the third evening left them hunting a series whitewash of New Zealand.
The Kiwis had grafted hard to establish a firm footing in the third LV= Insurance Test, reaching tea on 125 for one in their second innings and briefly dulling the party atmosphere that has settled around Ben Stokes’ side in recent weeks.
England were 94 behind at that point and were staring at the kind of equation that could easily challenge their optimistic outlook. But their bowlers hunted as a pack to reduce the Kiwis to 168 for five at stumps, just 137 ahead, raising the roof at this famously raucous venue as they went.
At one stage three different players were summoning the crowd to find their voice – Stuart Broad standing at the top of his mark and conducting the Western Terrace, Stokes impishly inviting fans to dial up the pressure on a nervy Devon Conway and Jonny Bairstow fanning the flames from behind the stumps.
They will return on day four brimming with the confidence of a side who have already produced two superb chases at Lord’s and Trent Bridge and will be eager to chalk up another. It was the work of a team flying with enthusiasm and the boisterous response from the stands suggested their mission statement of reconnecting with a long-suffering fanbase was doing its work.
Matthew Potts deserved a huge amount of credit, taking the early wicket of Will Young and later adding the prize scalp of visiting captain Kane Williamson. He has bowled robustly and reliably in his first series as an international cricketer and is surely destined for a long stay in the side.
There was also an encouraging spell from debutant Jamie Overton, who had earlier fallen three agonising runs short of a century from number eight. Having wildly over-delivered in his secondary suit, he gave a glimpse of why he had attracted the selectors’ attention as a 90mph bowler.
He removed top-scorer Tom Latham for 76 with the very first ball of the final session, cutting the opener off when he seemed intent on a century, and served up some real venom with the next ball, rattling Conway on the helmet with a nasty bouncer.
Ollie Pope showed that the whole team was pulling in the right direction, taking a stunner of a catch at short-leg as Joe Root picked up Conway cheaply, before a caught and bowled from Jack Leach rammed home the advantage.
England were bowled out in the morning for 360, a handy lead of 31 that looked a distant prospect during their top-order collapse to 55 for six. Their recovery was built around a record seventh-wicket stand between Bairstow and Overton, who resumed on 130 and 89 respectively.
Bairstow picked up precisely where he had left off, crunching his drives menacingly through the off side on his way to the third 150-plus score of his career. But Overton was struggling to relocate the mojo that had served him so well the previous evening.
Having looked a certainty to reach an improbable debut ton at the very first attempt, the 28-year-old tail-ender was more tentative after a night’s contemplation. He managed one muscle through extra cover but it was really no surprise when he groped at Trent Boult and was caught at first slip.
Bairstow made a point of dashing to his partner, placing an arm around his 6ft 5in frame and offering a few words of consolation as the whole of the ground rose to acclaim a remarkable effort.
Broad’s arrival lifted the bittersweet mood into something more light-hearted, clearing the remainder of the deficit in quick time as he plundered 42 runs in 36 balls. With Boult unwisely serving into his hitting arc and Neil Wagner adopting the short ball on a sluggish pitch, Broad was in his element with six fours and two sixes.
The innings subsided in a hurry thereafter, Broad bowled by Tim Southee, Bairstow chipping Michael Bracewell to mid-off to conclude a sensational 162 and Jack Leach last man out for eight on his return to the scene of his cult classic one not out in 2019.
England made a change behind the stumps during the changeover, Bairstow inheriting the gloves after Ben Foakes was sent back to the team hotel with a stiff back. When Potts claimed the first breakthrough before New Zealand were out of the red – Young spraying to Pope at third slip three runs short of parity – the tourists were wobbling.
A 97-run stand between Latham (76) and Williamson (48), who both made their top scores of unusually lean series, began to look threatening but the whole tone changed after tea.
Overton got things moving immediately after the restart before Potts, Root and Leach added to a haul that left England heavy favourites as they called on the crowd to roar them home.
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