Stokes' declaration key to England's chances of winning, says Root

The tourists are on the verge of a series sweep after dominating day two at the Basin Reserve, reducing the Black Caps to 138-7

By AFP

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England's James Anderson appeals successfully to dismiss New Zealand's Scott Kuggeleijn. — AP
England's James Anderson appeals successfully to dismiss New Zealand's Scott Kuggeleijn. — AP

Published: Sat 25 Feb 2023, 3:20 PM

Last updated: Sat 25 Feb 2023, 3:21 PM

Joe Root hailed another aggressive declaration from England captain Ben Stokes on Saturday as the key to their commanding position in the second Test against New Zealand in Wellington.

The tourists are on the verge of a series sweep after dominating day two at the Basin Reserve, reducing the Black Caps to 138-7 when rain forced an early end, having earlier declared their first innings at 435-8.

Red-hot England have employed the same mix of aggressive batting and potent new-ball bowling that was at the heart of their commanding 267-run win in the first Test at Mount Maunganui.

Another similarity is the assertive captaincy of Stokes, whose declaration half an hour before lunch was described as "brilliant" by Root.

Former skipper Root said the ploy gave England's pace greats James Anderson and Stuart Broad two chances to attack the hosts in fresh conditions either side of the break.

"Where we're playing at the minute, with the amount of confidence that we've got, with the two leading wicket-takers we've ever had, it just seemed like a very brave and attacking option," said Root, who lost the captaincy midway through last year.

Since taking charge, Stokes has led an attacking revolution that has carried England to 10 wins from their last 11 Tests.

"Ben's walked so naturally into the role. He's managing the game so well and everyone's really responding to it, which is very important," Root said.

Stokes only declared once Root had reached 153 not out, the 32-year-old having advanced easily from 101 overnight, unperturbed by the early dismissal on Saturday of Harry Brook for 186.

Anderson (3-37) then stepped up with the ball, unleashing a lethal opening spell that validated his elevation this week to top spot in the world Test bowling rankings - at 40, the oldest player to hold the perch.

The exacting paceman removed Devon Conway (0) and Kane Williamson (4) to have the hosts languishing at 12-2, before dismissing Will Young (2) after the break.

All three batsmen feathered edges to gloveman Ben Foakes, extending the number of Test victims caught by a wicketkeeper off Anderson to 188 - 36 more than any other bowler.

Spinner Jack Leach (3-45) ripped through the middle order, leaving New Zealand staring at a 297-run deficit with three days remaining.

Left-handers Tom Latham (35) and Henry Nicholls (30) looked to be launching a rearguard action, but both fell when attempting to reverse-sweep Leach, offering catches to fielders around the bat.

New Zealand batting coach Luke Ronchi didn't want to criticise the pair overly for their unconventional dismissals.

"The way cricket is these days, you want to try and score," Ronchi said.

"But it's also understanding that you don't have to score off every ball. You can bat for lengths of time where bowlers will be on top for periods of a game.

"They've all done it before so there's no need to panic about things."

First-Test centurion Tom Blundell had reached 25 not out before play was called off at 5.45 pm (0445 GMT), and his free-wheeling captain Tim Southee was unbeaten on 23 -- in an innings featuring two sixes.

About 25 overs were lost to the late rain, mirroring the premature finish to day one when the clouds opened.

However, England still have ample time to push for a seventh straight Test win and consign New Zealand to an eighth successive winless Test.

Earlier, England lost five wickets and racked up a further 120 runs in an entertaining opening session after resuming at 315-3.

Brook fell in the third over, caught and bowled by Matt Henry (4-100), having added just two to his overnight score.

His blazing knock formed part of a 302-run stand with Root - the second-highest in England's Test history against New Zealand - having rescued the tourists from 21-3 early on day one.

Root struck 10 fours and three sixes, including a reverse ramp shot that cleared the boundary rope off the fourth ball he faced on Saturday, from Southee.

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