England v New Zealand – Test 2, Day 1 review: Mitchell and Blundell go ahead after Williamson Covid coup

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The second test, the first day – New Zealand 318-4 (Mitchell 81*, Blundell 67*), England still defeated

After all went well for England on the field during last week’s win in the opening series at Lords, they were pushed out by New Zealand on the opening day of this second Test.

In keeping with the philosophy of ‘freedom’ and ‘fun’ espoused by new manager Brendon McCollum and captain Ben Stokes, this was a fun opening day in Nottingham.

The only problem was that the New Zealand hitters did most of the entertainment, playing free to make it to the finish line in 318 for fours after losing a tie and being asked to hit first.

Altogether, the tourists came to within 45 on a free-kick day punctuated by some bursts of sparkle with the ball, most notably Stokes and James Anderson.

Just as in the first Test last week when they put in the second half of 195 for the fifth wicket, it was Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell who did the most damage here, and the pair joined up again to add the 149 unbroken. The team was reduced to 169 by four in the middle of the afternoon session.

Stuart Broad, the partner who cut the partnership at Lords that changed the course of that contest, was unable to conjure another game-changing spell – or even just a small gateway – on his home grounds as he snatched eight out of 15 against Australia seven years ago.

For New Zealand, who don’t forget that they are world champions like this, it was a sweet response to the news reported overnight that Ken Williamson, their captain and best hitter, was banned from this match after testing positive for Covid.

However, for all the adventure and application the tourists have shown, England know they have made so many mistakes that they do not deserve to be in a better position after the opening day of this match.

The first was certainly choosing to go bowling after winning the draw, as Stokes was confident his team could talk about the new ball and enter the top six in precarious New Zealand. It was understandable and after a flurry of two quick wickets in each of the first two sessions, the call wasn’t going wrong until Mitchell and Blundell had trouble in the second half of the day.

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However, there were other faults too, with two not being found – the first of the series from England – followed by faulty reviewers, many would say desperate, at the end of the day.

The most expensive missed opportunity came from Joe Root, who carved out a regulatory opportunity to take out Blundell for a duck. New Zealand would have been 170 out of five if this captivity had been taken. However, Root will not be judged harshly by anyone after a century of victories at Lords that gave England a 1-0 lead in the series before this Test.

There were other moments as well, most notably Blundell, out of 10, outsmarting Matt Potts with a vacant third foul shortly after having tea. Stokes’ look of frustration spoke of a captain cursing himself for curbing his offensive instincts at that crucial moment.

It was a frustrating afternoon for Stokes and England (Image: PA)

Frustration was written heavily on Anderson’s face, with Mitchell chasing him contemptuously for four early in his turn. The best English striker ever could not hold back from speaking to the New Zealanders, even returning from his position on the pitch halfway between the next day’s deliveries to keep the one-way battle of words going. It continued for most of the next day.

England were also unfortunate, with Blundell escaping a Leach marginal weight review at the referee’s call and swinging the ball for most of the middle session abruptly and making absolutely no sideways movement after that. Half a liter of apple juice.

For all the talk of fun and positivity from England since their victory over Lords, there will be a lot of tough time to do now if they want to get back into this match.

Their day was best summed up in the end when, with Broad’s second fresh ball throw, Blondell scored again only to see Zach Crowley and Jonny Bairstow, on the second and third slips respectively, both hesitating at the crucial moment.

Five key moments

Amenities of home in Leach

When Jack Leach made it to the end of Day 20, it was the first time he had run a home Test since September 2019. Meanwhile, the left-handed runner took 13 Tests abroad, and of course the opener. Last week of this series before she suffered a concussion.

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Jimmy Hits

Just as New Zealand threatened to escape, England hit them with two hits in the same number of balls just before lunch. The first, Will Young, who led Ben Stokes to a second slip, broke the opening runway by 84 points before a terrible shot from Tom Latham, finding Matt Potts in the middle of the wicket, converted James Anderson’s long jump into a small delivery.

Crowley is wrong

England were great on the field during the first test at Lords. But they suffered their first drop of the series after lunch when Zach Crowley left on the first slip and flipped what could have been just Joe Root’s grab to fire Henry Nichols at 17 at the Stuart Broad bowling alley. Later, Root also dropped Tom Blondell at the Stokes Bowling alley.

Conway cheats

Devon Conway, author of the double-decker debut for the Lords last year, looked in the mood as he fired 46 of 62. But it was negated by a handover from Anderson who violently interfered and kissed his inner edge as he walked past wicket-keeper Ben Voakes.

Blondel runs away

Just as England desperately needed a breakthrough after the tea, they decided to review a body weight appeal against Blundell, at the time 39, after they were hit by a pill by a rendition of Leach. Unfortunately for them, there was not enough ball to hit the stumps and it was rejected based on a call from the referee.

The commotion around the Trent Bridge made the epidemic seem like a distant memory

On a glorious day in Nottingham, the exhausted crowd was beaming with a very enjoyable day of Test cricket.

One of the highlights, at least for the mischievous among us, was the moment Daryl Mitchell decided to take a Jack Leach round after tea, hitting a six in a plastic cup for an unsuspecting bettor. It later turned out that the bookmaker, a lady named Susan, had purchased a replacement pint from Team New Zealand. No wonder they are rightfully considered the most beautiful team in world sport.

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Like almost all international cricket matches in this country, drinks flowed all day long, especially in the lobby outside the famous Trent Bridge Inn, potentially the only pub in the world to be located inside a Test Arena.

Indeed, such was the hype around Trent Bridge that the pandemic seemed like a distant memory.

Unfortunately, the night before the start of the second test, we were reminded that Covid is still around with the news that New Zealand captain Ken Williamson has been disqualified after testing positive in the lateral flow test.

Stead: We all feel the name Williamson

New Zealand coach Gary Stead said: “It’s a shame Kane had to retire on the eve of such an important match.

“We can all feel him now and know how disappointed he was. Hamish was with the Test team at the start of the tour and played for the Leicestershire Foxes in the T20 Vitality Blast.

The Williamson case was brought up because New Zealand committed to testing even the mildest symptoms on this tour.

After the better part of two years of choking on biobubbles and testing gaseous PCR on a nearly daily basis during last winter’s Ashes Tour of Australia, England stopped testing entirely.

However, Williamson’s absence robbed this match of one of the best hitters in world cricket, which is a real shame for everyone, not least the Kiwi himself. With five days of mandatory self-isolation, he will be back for at least the third and final test starting in Leeds next Friday.

However, the Williamson news, which came the day before Covid cases were reported in the UK for the first time in two months, may illustrate how far we’ve come in the past year. After all, it’s only been nine months since India decided they did not want to play a test match at Old Trafford because two of the team’s behind-the-scenes staff members tested positive for Covid.

Here in Trent Bridge, that first day was, for the most part, a wonderful, worry-free distraction for everyone, even Susan at the pint-cancelled Hound Road booth.

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