When Kane Williamson edged James Anderson down the leg side, New Zealand were in about as big a hole as they could have been: 36 for 5 in response to 307 with both their world-class batsman, plus the in-form Henry Nicholls back in the pavilion and a lengthy tail to follow.
By the time the second day ended they were still behind in the match but had been given a lifeline in their quest for a fourth series win over England after a sixth-wicket stand of 142 between BJ Watling and Colin de Grandhomme, although the latter’s edge against Stuart Broad late in the day meant the lower order was left with a lot to do to earn parity.
The balance of New Zealand’s side makes them a critical pair and especially so in this series because the injuries to Mitchell Santner, and a lesser extent Todd Astle, have removed the spin-bowling allrounder who helped add depth. This type of performance is why Watling was a shoe-in to return when he was fit after the hip problem that has plagued his season – regardless of how well Tom Blundell performed – and for de Grandhomme it was an innings of composure and control that some will have doubted he was capable of at Test level.
“We are behind the eight-ball a bit,” de Grandhomme said. “Hopefully tomorrow we can come out and get as close as possible or even past it.”
De Grandhomme’s wickets have dried up significantly since his 6 for 41 on debut against Pakistan, but his batting is showing signs of heading on an upward curve. Including this innings, his last six knocks in Test cricket read: 57, 105 (which came off 74 balls), 58, 22, 29 and 72. The early signs were that this innings may have been in the archetypal de Grandhomme mode as he skipped to 31 off 34 balls in a brief counterattack – taking on Mark Wood’s short deliveries with three boundaries in an over – but his next 41 runs took 117 deliveries.
“I’ve just got more confident in myself and am enjoying it,” he said. “It’s what I’ve worked on the last few weeks with the coaches. Very pleasing to do it for long periods.”
Although reigning in his strokeplay, he admitted it was a challenge: “Mentally, it is a bit tough.”
While de Grandhomme had to go against his natural instincts, digging in and hauling New Zealand out of trouble is nothing new to Watling. He has been involved in two sixth-wicket stands which at the time were world records – 365 with Kane Williamson against Sri Lanka and 352 with Brendon McCullum against India – to save New Zealand in the past and is hugely valued in this team. Blundell, who scored a century on debut against West Indies, was only keeping his seat warm. On 10, he shook off having his stem guard broken off by a Wood bouncer to withstand all England threw at him.
“Watling has always been a gritty, determined strong character who never gives it away cheaply,” Broad said. “The sort that New Zealand want in the battle. They saw off the harder ball really well and between 45-70 overs they upped the scoring rate. We had a chat at tea and said there would be periods of time where the pitch goes flat, can we keep it under three an over, and when we get our breakthrough we could knock them over.
“Watling didn’t give a chance, they [both] played exceptionally well, but we held them exceptionally well to still be ahead of the game because de Grandhomme is someone you could get a hundred off 90 balls.”
Watling, unbeaten on 77 when bad light stopped play, will need some help if New Zealand are not to have a troublesome deficit to overcome.