Joe Root and Ben Stokes led a magnificent fightback to regain the initiative against New Zealand on day one of the first Test at Lord’s on Thursday.
England, wracked by internal strife and a messy divorce with Kevin Pietersen, came off a humiliating 1-1 draw against the West Indies, and it looked as if their season was going to continue to slide when New Zealand had England reeling at 30-4 before lunch.
Enter Joe Root, widely regarded as the heir apparent for the captaincy if Alastair Cook falters, and Ben Stokes. They put on 161 for the fifth wicket. But both were cruelly denied well-deserved hundreds. Stokes misjudged the improving off-spin of Craig and played no shot to a delivery that clipped off stump; then Root edged Matt Henry behind to fall for 98.
Root – England’s player of the year who has scored at least a half-century in each of his previous 10 Tests – busily changed the momentum before Stokes, promoted back to No 6, dominated with some dazzling strokeplay.
The good work was carried on by Jos Buttler, who fell lbw to the last ball of the day for a patient 67 to leave England 354-7 and Moeen Ali, unbeaten on 49.
What was even more important from England’s point of view is that, even with that disastrous start, they scored their runs at almost four an over overall. The fifth wicket stand was compiled at more than five an over.
The pressure grew on Cook, though, who was caught behind off an ambitious hook for 16, and even more so on Ian Bell, who was bowled by a near-unplayable delivery from Henry. But his last six Test scores read 143, 11, 1, 0, 0 and 1.