New Zealand vs England, 1st Test | Blundell’s 138 revives NZ’s chances

New Zealand’s Tom Blundell, left, is congratulated by teammate Blair Tickner after Blundell made a century against England on the second day of firt Test on February 17, 2023.

New Zealand’s Tom Blundell, left, is congratulated by teammate Blair Tickner after Blundell made a century against England on the second day of firt Test on February 17, 2023.
| Photo Credit: AP

Tom Blundell completed a defiant late order century as the Black Caps’ last man at the crease Friday to further New Zealand’s fightback on the second day of the first Test against England.

Batting at No. 7, Blundell was 82 when New Zealand’s ninth wicket fell and he was joined at the crease by No. 11 Blair Tickner, a lanky, moustachioed fast bowler on Test debut with a first class batting average of 10.

Summing up the situation, Blundell hit the accelerator and struck 6, 4 and 4 from the bowling of spinner Jack Leach to move to 96. As Blundell watched nervously, Tickner played out an over from Ollie Robinson before Blundell twice worked the ball for two off Leach to complete his fourth Test century.

He was undaunted, even when England took the second new ball just as the floodlights kicked in at Bay Oval in the day-night match. Blundell went on to 138 before he was the last man out. Tickner played a brave debut innings of 3 from 24 balls and New Zealand finished at 306, just 19 runs behind England’s 325-9 declared.

“I came out in a difficult situation and it was nice to come out with Devon Conway,” Blundell said.

“I actually didn’t say too much to Tickner. He took it on himself and batted very nicely and did a great job.”

As England batted again under lights, Tickner made a vital breakthrough, dismissing Ben Duckett for 25 to end his imposing first innings of 84 from 68 balls. Blundell then caught Zac Crawley (28) off Scott Kuggeleijn and at stumps England was 79-2, leading by 98 runs with Ollie Pope 14 not out and Stuart Broad 6.

When play began on the second day, there seemed little chance of New Zealand coming close to England’s total: the home team had been 37-3 overnight after losing Tom Latham, Henry Nicholls and Kane Williamson in less than 90 minutes before stumps.

Devon Conway survived the pink ball trial under floodlights and was 17 not out at the end of day one. England likely saw his wicket Friday as the key to ensuring a solid first innings lead buy they reckoned without Blundell.

When England captain Ben Stokes, bowling with a heavily strapped left knee, bounced out Conway for 77 on Friday it seemed the pivotal moment of the second day.

For historians, the more momentous moment came when Stuart Broad dismissed nightwatchman Neil Wagner in the seventh over to capture the 1,000th wicket of his long-standing bowling partnership with James Anderson.

Broad, 36, and Anderson, 40, are playing their 133rd Test in tandem since their first in 2008 and now are poised to overtake Australia’s Glenn McGrath and Shane Warne who took 1,001 wickets in 104 Tests as the most prolific bowling pair in test history.

Stokes showed no signs of pain as he thumped the wearing pink ball into the middle of the pitch at the Bay Oval, testing the New Zealand batsmen with an array of short-pitched deliveries.

Conway endured for 229 minutes before he finally fell to Stokes when New Zealand was 158/6 and still 167 short of England’s total. He swatted at a head-high ball from Stokes and was caught at square leg.

With Blundell, Conway put on 75 for New Zealand’s sixth wicket and when he fell, Blundell took up the fight and guided New Zealand almost to first innings parity. The wicketkeeper-batsman has taken on the mantle of BJ Watling who played many vital late-order innings for New Zealand. Friday’s was Blundell’s most important so far.

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