It was finally England’s day at Lord’s and it was so close to being decisively England’s day. England at one point led by 184 runs with eight wickets in hand, but finished it effectively 205-6 and need Ian Bell to bat well with the tail tomorrow.
Right up to the last half an hour, however, everything had been going England’s way. England started the day by getting Brendan McCullum in the first over and from there the Kiwis collapsed as dramatically as England had done the previous day. New Zealand lost their last six wickets for just 52 runs and their last seven for exactly sixty going back to the dismissal of Dean Brownlie last night. As would be expected with those figures, England did bowl better. Stuart Broad in particular was consistently the right length and not coincidentally was consistently threatening. It was he who got the wicket of McCullum, admittedly to an ill-advised swipe outside off. The bowling figures would suggest that Steven Finn also improved dramatically, but his was more a case of it being better to be lucky than good. He was still too short; a pitch map late in the innings showed no balls pitched full of a length. Broad was comfortably the better bowler of the two, but Finn managed to mop up the tail.
The standout performer with the ball was James Anderson, however. He got a much-deserved bit of luck when Kane Williamson strangled one down leg, but picked up his five-fer with an unplayable delivery to Bruce Martin. He finished with staggering figures of 24-11-47-5. His eleven maidens were four more than the rest of the attack managed combined. He now has 303 Test wickets and has a chance to go past Fred Trueman when he bowls in the second innings.
England very nearly managed to bat New Zealand out of the game in the evening session. There was a wobble before tea when Alastair Cook and Nick Compton were both out with the score on 36, but Jonathan Trott and Joe Root batted superbly the blunt the New Zealand attack and build the lead. In a match where only Ross Taylor had looked comfortable for the first two and a half days, it was a fantastic performance. It was so close to putting New Zealand out of the match, though it may yet prove to have been enough.
Tim Southee deserves a lot of credit for continuing to bowl testing deliveries even when his cause seemed lost. He did for New Zealand much what Anderson did for England. But England will be a touch concerned with how softly the four wickets went down before stumps. Root was a bit lazy with a defensive shot and edged the ball onto the stumps, then Bairstow got into a bit of a tangle trying to play an admittedly good delivery. Matt Prior continued a shocking game by tamely pulling a ball straight to square leg and Trott’s resistance was ended when he tried to drive a ball that was spinning back into him. In every case the New Zealanders bowled well, but England were just a bit too casual.
England’s lead is at 205 at stumps, so they are still in a good position. Batting has seldom been easy in this match and the ball is turning and bouncing very sharply already. Anderson and Broad can reasonably expect the ball to continue swing in the fourth innings and Swann will be able to turn it out of the footholes created by the New Zealand left-armers. Williamson showed that the turn from there is very sharp and there is some bounce to go with it. England are 27 runs away from setting New Zealand the highest score of the match to win and certainly anything more than 250 will be very tricky. But New Zealand do have an opening now and the match is far from over. The key tomorrow morning will probably be Ian Bell. He was ill for most of today and he will have to bat with the tail tomorrow. He needs to get some runs as England cannot expect much from the tailenders.