Hang the bunting, roll out the trestle tables and peel the cellophane over the scotch eggs, England’s summer began with their first Test victory in 10 attempts courtesy of a majestic Joe Root century.
Over the past fortnight, much of the attention has been focused on the regime change that has followed England’s winter of discontent. Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum were reunited as headline-grabbing captain and head coach, while Root quietly faded into the background with orders to just focus on the points.
And on the fourth morning at Lord’s, it paid an instant dividend, with the former captain calmly converting his 77 overnight into an unbeaten 115 on 170 balls which, along with a similarly composed 32 from Ben Foakes, chiseled the Last 61 runs in a target of 277 to secure a five-wicket win over New Zealand and a 1-0 series lead.
It was a cloudy morning at the Home of Cricket, the skies overcast with more than a whisper of dampness in the air after the rain in London in the first place. The floodlights were on and, with a bowling attack refreshed for the tourists and a long queue to follow the two set men, there was a feeling England’s task might not be easy.
But in less than 14 overs – quick enough to earn a full refund to the Fourth Day Lord crowd – Root once again soothed the nerves, groping Southee on the side of the leg to conjure up his 26th Test century and his 10 000th race in the format, before a flurry of fours from the same man finished the job.
New Zealand, as is their fault, joined in the applause as Lord’s stood in celebration of Root’s work. From the top of the pavilion balcony, England players and coaches were finally able to move from their seats, with Root notably pointing in their direction as he reached his century. It was his first in the fourth inning of a Test match but while he may have fallen on his sword when it comes to captaincy, he remains their leader with the bat.
It would be a stretch to claim this is a turning point for England, even if the oft-cited statistic of a win in their last 17 Test matches has finally been changed. Matt Potts had a promising six-wicket debut, but it was a victory built on the genius of Root, the enduring skill of Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, plus a change of momentum – albeit slightly chaotic – of half a century from Stokes on the third day. .
A tougher perennial like the first three doesn’t look like it’s going to be fixed anytime soon – it was remarkable to see McCullum flanked by Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope on the final morning – but at least there’s been a significant uptick in their roster in terms attitude and execution. Colin de Grandhomme’s burnout by Pope in the team’s game-changing hat-trick on day three was a wicket won thanks to England’s overall focus here.
In many ways, England just had to cross the line here, not just to see the Stokes-McCullum axis get off to a positive start, but knowing that reigning world champions New Zealand will surely only s ‘improving from the rusty day one performance which saw them slip to 45 for seven.
After another stumble early in their second run, Kane Williamson’s side recovered Daryl Mitchell’s superb 108 and 96 from Tom Blundell in impressive fashion. It was the supporting cast stepping up with the bat, something England desperately need to materialize within their own group if any progress is to be made.
That said, Foakes’ performance with the bat in the fourth inning made for a satisfying home debut. The Surrey wicketkeeper was half an unbroken stand of 120 with Root and a more lively presence on the fourth morning after digging in the night before. It was also his first victory since his first series in Sri Lanka, in 2018.
But it was mainly Root’s day and a day that would have been as sweet as captain’s, with the 31-year-old playing the crucial innings of the first Test of the summer to give Stokes a winning start as his successor. . What are friends for, huh?