England captain Ben Stokes had no doubts about asking New Zealand to follow on despite the home side’s brave fightback in Wellington, with assistant coach Paul Collingwood insisting the attacking option is always first choice.
Stokes sent the home side back into bat with a 226-run deficit midway through the third morning, hoping to wrap up a series-clinching win before the day was out.
That was fully in keeping with the tenor of his reign, during which he has pulled every lever available to press for positive results, including his bold declaration earlier in this match.
So far that mindset has served England well, with 10 wins from 11 Tests under his leadership, but New Zealand did their best to derail his plans. At stumps they were just 24 behind on 202 for three, with a 149-run stand between openers Tom Latham and Devon Conway putting hard yards into the bowlers’ legs.
More hard work lies ahead to press home their advantage, but Collingwood said: “It was very clear this morning. Stokesy spoke to the guys and said ‘if we get the chance to follow-on we’re going to enforce it’.
“He was very clear on that and that’s the approach of Stokesy and Baz (McCullum, head coach). They want the aggressive option and hopefully to win the game today. It didn’t turn out that way but we’re still in a really good position.
“The mantra of this team is always to take the aggressive approach and there was no doubt in Stokesy’s mind that if we got the opportunity that was the way he was going to go. We’ve always said we’re not scared of losing but we want to get ourselves in a position of winning games and we felt we could have won, or got close to winning, today.”
Despite England getting through 94.2 overs of laborious, draining work over the course of the day, all-rounder Stokes chipped in just two of them. He has been managing a long-standing knee problem for some time and increasingly has to parcel out his interventions with the ball.
Here, he managed two rough-and-ready overs after tea, was warned and no-balled for bowling too many bouncers and ended the spell after Jack Leach got the much-needed breakthrough at the other end.
“Look, as we all know he’s got a knee niggle, thankfully he’s the captain out there and makes the decision when he bowls or doesn’t bowl,” explained Collingwood.
“Stokesy was happy to go to other options and he puts a hell of a lot of trust in his team and the other bowlers as well. It’s been a good day. Yes, he dropped it a little bit short on a couple of occasions so that’s his one warning there. He will have to be careful if he goes to that plan again.”
England have won all of their last four games against the Black Caps in the past year, imposing their style on the reigning Test world champions, but were prepared for the kind of belated resistance they showed at Basin Reserve.
“When you come up against quality opposition you expect them to fight hard and this was one of those days,” Collingwood said.
“You’re going to get days when it’s tough work and that’s Test cricket. It’s enthralling and has set up what could be a great Test match.”