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Ollie Pope and Joe Root score brilliant centuries as England continue to fight back

First came the apprentices and then, emphatically, came the sorcerer as England, at long last, looked a genuine Test batting line-up playing in the dynamic way demanded of them.

There was Alex Lees channelling, as he had said he would, his inner Matthew Hayden and taking the attack to New Zealand in a positive but far from reckless manner.

Then there was Ollie Pope justifying the faith shown in him by new management with a high-class century that reminded us why he was considered, not so long ago, England’s next great Test batsman in the making.

Ollie Pope (right) and Joe Root (left) helped themselves to a pair of outstanding centuries

Ollie Pope (right) and Joe Root (left) helped themselves to a pair of outstanding centuries

Ollie Pope was moving towards a first century on home soil as England chipped away

Ollie Pope was moving towards a first century on home soil as England chipped away

Pope (left) and Joe Root (right) steered England through to lunch just two wickets down

Pope (left) and Joe Root (right) steered England through to lunch just two wickets down

Joe Root plays a hallmark cover drive as he made a bright start to his innings at Trent Bridge

Joe Root plays a hallmark cover drive as he made a bright start to his innings at Trent Bridge

And then, gloriously, there was the remarkable figure of Joe Root making yet another hundred and going about his business with joy and elan but above all the enormous skill that marks him out increasingly as one of the greatest to have ever played the game.

Together the trio were responsible for a highly promising third day of this second Test, one when no fewer than 383 runs flowed and England showed they were not just attempting to save this game after conceding 553. They want to try to win it.

Yes, this Trent Bridge pitch has been flat, conditions have been perfect for run making, two more chances went down and New Zealand lost one of their best bowlers when Kyle Jamieson had to leave the field with back pain. But this was a real statement by the ‘new’ England.

It was a statement that captain Ben Stokes perhaps took a little too far when he tried to smash debutant spinner Michael Bracewell out of the attack and holed out for 46 off 33 balls when another big contribution was there for the taking.

Root showed once again why he is regarded as one of the best batsmen in the world

Root showed once again why he is regarded as one of the best batsmen in the world 

But clearly Stokes is determined to be ultra-positive at all times and was prepared to sacrifice himself in the name of all-out attack if it provided a selfless example for his team.

The greatest example, of course, is being provided by the man Stokes replaced because Root is taking his game, if it were possible, to even greater heights now he does not have to worry about the demands of captaincy.

Last Sunday Root made one of the greatest of his 26 Test hundreds in winning the first Test at Lord’s and now his 27th was his fastest, reached off just his 116th ball, as New Zealand were forced onto the defensive after making all the running for the first two days.

There were all the classic ingredients of a Root hundred, the almost effortless busy and classy stroke-play, but also echoes of two greats of the past.

First there was a touch of Viv Richards about the way Root pulled Matt Henry for four. Then, towards the end of a run-soaked day, there was a bit of Kevin Pietersen about a sensational on-driven four off a despairing Tim Southee.

It was not quite perfect. When Root was on 27 he cut Trent Boult and Southee at second slip could only push the ‘chance’ over the ‘bar’. Then, on 52, Root somehow tried to slog-sweep Southee when faced with a seven-two off-side field and thought he had given it away when he top edged the ball high into the Nottingham sky. Thankfully for him the ball landed safely as Tom Blundell sprinted towards deep square leg where Jamieson had fatally hesitated.

The England players applaud after watching Root reach his century at Trent Bridge

The England players applaud after watching Root reach his century at Trent Bridge

Otherwise this was sublime from Root who is enjoying himself like rarely before and even had time to make one young spectator’s day by stopping to sign a bat on his way in for tea.

It was his fourth hundred this year, his 10th since the start of 2021 and his fourth at Trent Bridge. If he stays fit there is no limit to what Root can do over the next few years.

The biggest compliment that can be paid to Pope is there were times when it was easy to mistake him for Root. Stokes was adamant he wanted the Surrey man in his side when he became captain and believed in him so much he asked him to bat where he had never batted before in first-class cricket, in the problem position of three.

It has looked, in truth, two places too high before now but even though Pope could have gone on Saturday when he was dropped on 37 by Daryl Mitchell this was the perfect demonstration of his enormous orthodox talent.

Pope was given a helping him when four overthrows from Mitchell took him to 95 and then, when he reached his first century since that breakthrough hundred in Port Elizabeth 33 long innings ago, there were joyous celebrations, not least from Root who punched the air and raced to embrace his young team-mate.

Lees, in truth, should have made a hundred too and will kick himself for wafting at Henry and giving it away on 67 while Jonny Bairstow missed out when a review found he had gloved Boult through to Blundell.

But Root remains on 163 from 200 balls and with him is Ben Foakes, dropped on nine by Will Young as New Zealand continued having the same problems in the field England suffered.

England are now just 80 runs behind, the ball has started to turn for Bracewell and New Zealand might, just might, come under a little pressure in the third innings.

The draw remains a big favourite but stranger things have happened than a victory for either side. England need only remember the Ashes Test of 2006 in Adelaide when both teams made over 500 in their first innings but Australia still managed to win to remember that.

More importantly, this is the way Stokes and Brendon McCullum want them to play and not even two long days in the field before it, costly missed chances and considerable scoreboard pressure have affected their positive intent. That can only be encouraging for England.

Alex Lees looks to the heavens in frustration after losing his wicket for 67 on the third day

Alex Lees looks to the heavens in frustration after losing his wicket for 67 on the third day

New Zealand celebrate after Matt Henry made the breakthrough to remove opener Alex Lees

New Zealand celebrate after Matt Henry made the breakthrough to remove opener Alex Lees

Alex Lees and Ollie Pope shake hands on their 100 partnership during day three

Alex Lees and Ollie Pope shake hands on their 100 partnership during day three


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