Eng v NZ, 3rd Test – ‘It’s a stupid game that we play’

“It’s out! It’s out!” Ben Stokes yelled to a stunned Jack Leach, giddy with bewildered excitement. Henry Nicholls was left behind after a bizarre, surreal layoff, one that seemed to sum up New Zealand’s tour of England. Black cats, not black hats, are meant to bring bad luck.

Nicholls’ innings had been a rut, one in which he had scored just 19 runs in over two hours as tea approached. He had 40 under two per over with Daryl Mitchell, left and defended with caution and survived several plays and misses outside of his stump. It hadn’t been pretty, but after winning the toss and stumbling to 83 for 4, New Zealand didn’t care about aesthetics.

With five balls left for tea, Leach hit too high a pitch and Nicholls shook to turn the ball into a half volley, floating slightly upwards on the ground. Mitchell, on the non-striker’s end, backed off and tried to pull his bat away from the line of the ball, but somehow managed to turn it straight to Alex Lees halfway through.

“It’s just one of those unfortunate things,” said New Zealand batting coach Luke Ronchi. “Daryl just happened to put it back in, like he’s done all along.” As Ronchi left the room, his old Somerset teammate Leach repeated one of his lines back to him: “I like those little quirks,” he said with a grin.

“I didn’t even know if that was allowed,” Leach added. “I actually don’t like the layoff, but I felt like I bowled pretty well against Nicholls leading up to that … you just have to take it. It’s a silly game, isn’t it? That made me think: it is a stupid game we play.”

New Zealand is lucky when it comes to deflections from stray bats opposing them; At least Trent Boult could see the funny side at Lord’s when Stokes almost managed, completely involuntarily, to recreate That moment from the 2019 World Cup final.

“Tragedy is when I stub my toe. Comedy is when you fall into an open pit and die,” the comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks once said, and England couldn’t help but laugh. This was a moment of black comedy for New Zealand – Black Cap comedy, if you will – and a moment that felt eerily familiar on a tour that lurched from one accident to the next.

To this day, New Zealand celebrated in the Ageas Bowl after Ross Taylor cut the winning runs from his pads to seal the win in the inaugural World Test Championship. They had been dominant since the opening session of the first Test at Lord’s, beating England 1-0 and then beating India to put the finishing touches on their journey from no-hopers to world champions.

This tour was a stark contrast: from the moment the touring party landed in the UK, just about everything that could have gone wrong seems to have done so. On the fifth day of the trip, Nicholls tested positive for Covid-19, as did Blair Tickner and bowling coach Shane Jurgensen, and the virus has been a constant nuisance in the camp ever since.

Injuries have ripped the heart out of the team that beat India last year: the retired Taylor and BJ Watling have been expertly replaced by Mitchell and Tom Blundell, but the losses of Colin de Grandhomme and Kyle Jamieson finished the first and second tests respectively. Nicholls’ dismissal even put the Grandhomme’s horror day at Lord’s – comically passed, Stokes’ wicket denied by a forefoot no-ball and limping away with a foot injury – into perspective.

Mitchell, meanwhile, has the worst-best run of his—or just about any—career: he hits a mouth-watering average of 150.33, but somehow it seems like he’s spent a good chunk of the past three weeks. of the past three weeks dropping catches and running out of mates. He had at least one moment of happiness today. He couldn’t get out at 8 when Matthew Potts’ inswinger crashed into his path and England decided not to reconsider the on-field decision, only to follow the ball to confirm it had crashed down the middle and leg.

By the end, his partnership with Blundell was worth 102, their third-century stand of the series, and Stokes’s failure to review had cost 70 runs. New Zealand is clearly not where they would have liked to be after choosing to bat first, but at least they had a wicketless evening session to cling to: without it they would have missed the prospect of a whitewash on their birthday. keep an eye on the crowning moment.

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. @mroller98

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