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England v New Zealand: Hosts enjoy productive day as they dismiss half of the visitors’ side

For once Ben Stokes was happy to see the ball come off the middle of Daryl Mitchell’s bat as it led to one of the most extraordinary dismissals in Test history on another productive day for England.

Mitchell, who has enjoyed a prolific series since his late promotion ahead of the first Test, was actually the non-striker when Henry Nicholls hit Jack Leach firmly back towards him on the stroke of tea on the first day of this final LV = Insurance match.

But such is his golden form he could not seem to avoid in his attempt to get out of the way almost driving the ball to the disbelieving figure of Alex Lees at mid-off. He completed a simple catch while Leach and England’s fielders tried to work out what had happened.

England earned a crucial breakthrough in the final over before tea through a bizarre wicket

England earned a crucial breakthrough in the final over before tea through a bizarre wicket

Henry Nicholls was ridiculously unlucky to be dismissed after his clean blow off Leach ricocheted off the bat of Daryl Mitchell at the non-striker's end

Henry Nicholls was ridiculously unlucky to be dismissed after his clean blow off Leach ricocheted off the bat of Daryl Mitchell at the non-striker’s end

Cue a look of astonishment from Stuart Broad, who put his hand to his mouth in similar style to his famous reaction when Stokes pulled off an incredible catch off his bowling at Trent Bridge seven years ago. Everything, it seems, is going England’s way.

Not quite everything as, by the end of another absorbing day at Headingley, Mitchell was still there even though he should have been given out lbw by Matthew Potts.

Mitchell, a century maker both at Lord’s and Trent Bridge, was on just eight when Potts trapped him seemingly plumb in front only for umpire Marais Erasmus to say no.

Stokes looked certain to review only for Ben Foakes to talk him out of it, suggesting the ball was going down the leg-side. It was not. It would have hit middle.

That was the only blemish for an England side who were determined to be just as positive and attacking in the field as they have been with the bat in already winning this series after Kane Williamson won what seemed an important toss.

From the moment Broad, enjoying a new lease of life under Stokes captaincy, took Tom Latham’s edge with the sixth ball of the day this was another impressive performance from the new England on a flat pitch in what were largely perfect batting conditions.

Stuart Broad got the wicket of opener Tom Latham in the first over of the match at Headingley

Stuart Broad got the wicket of opener Tom Latham in the first over of the match at Headingley

Broad then enticed an edge from returning skipper Kane Williamson, who departed for 31

Broad then enticed an edge from returning skipper Kane Williamson, who departed for 31

At the centre of it was Stokes even though he did not bowl a ball as New Zealand finished on 225 for five, the old firm of Mitchell and Tom Blundell again combining to hold up England and rescue their side with an unbroken stand of 102 for the sixth wicket.

It has taken just two matches for Stokes to be absolutely in command of an England side transformed by the leadership of their captain and new coach Brendon McCullum.

Here Stokes backed his bowlers, gave them attacking fields, made perfectly timed changes to the attack and always looked in command and in control of what was happening on the field. Truly, everything he is touching in this job so far is turning to gold.

No-one benefited more from the captain’s support yesterday than Leach, who came into this Test with much to prove to keep his place as England’s premier spinner. Not least with Moeen Ali and Adil Rashid now apparently ‘unretired’ from red-ball cricket.

Stokes introduced the left-armer, a cult figure in Leeds after his supporting role with the bat in the 2019 Miracle of Headingley, as early as the 13th over and was rewarded when he trapped Will Young with his very first delivery.

Spinner Jack Leach trapped Will Young lbw for 20 in a decent morning session for England

Spinner Jack Leach trapped Will Young lbw for 20 in a decent morning session for England

It was just the eighth wicket Leach has taken in the first innings of a Test but by the time he took his ninth, with considerable help from that deflection, he had produced a controlled display laced with attack not spoilt by the two sixes struck off him by Mitchell.

In all there were 37 overs of spin from Leach and Joe Root on a ground usually associated with first day swing, Leach even returning with the second new ball, with Stokes insisting he was fit to bowl despite the knee problem he had suffered at Trent Bridge.

Stokes similarly handled his debutant in Jamie Overton well, giving him a defined role with the old ball and introducing him at the right times, not least when the third ball of his second spell, this time from the Kirkstall Lane End, brought his first Test wicket.

It was appropriate, too, that the younger of the twins from Barnstaple by three minutes dismissed a man called Devon, taking advantage of Conway’s penchant for inside edging to have him bowled via bat with a ball timed at 87 miles per hour. ‘Older’ brother Craig emerged on the England balcony to add his applause for his sibling.

England debutant Jamie Overton got his first Test match wicket in the afternoon session

England debutant Jamie Overton got his first Test match wicket in the afternoon session 

Overton regularly bowled in the late 80s, peaking at 90, seemed to trouble the New Zealand batters with his short deliveries and looked the point of difference England so badly need in the absence of the extreme pace of Mark Wood and Jofra Archer. Only when he bowled a full-toss, near beamer to Mitchell that flew for four byes did Overton err.

Potts was also excellent and economical but the pick of the attack was Broad, who announced on Wednesday night he is expecting his first child with partner Mollie King and now rose to the extra responsibility caused by the absence of his old strike partner Jimmy Anderson, as he invariably does.

‘He’s big, he’s bad, he’s going to be a dad,’ sang the Barmy Army in a revised version of their homage to Broad and the man who turns 36 today followed his early wicket of Latham by dismissing Williamson with a beautifully set up piece of bowling.

Broad bowled an inswinger to the out of touch New Zealand captain and followed it up with one that shaped away from the returning Williamson and took his edge. Another failure for a world-class batter who is having a miserable time in Test cricket and 548 Test wicket and counting for Broad.

While Mitchell and Blundell are still there New Zealand could post a formidable total and they have packed their team with batting while, inexplicably, leaving out specialist spinner Ajaz Patel. But it will be Stokes and England who will be happier after day one.

New Zealand batsman Devon Conway inside-edged the ball straight onto his stumps

New Zealand batsman Devon Conway inside-edged the ball straight onto his stumps 


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