Kane Williamson’s determined century kept England’s bowlers toiling away as New Zealand gave themselves a fighting chance in the decisive second Test despite following on in Wellington.
At tea on the fourth day at Basin Reserve, Williamson’s expertly measured 113 not out had put the Black Caps 197 ahead on 423 for five, a massive turn around after being sent in again with a 226-run first-innings deficit.
Only three teams in Test history have ever lost a game after enforcing the follow-on, but the prospect of Ben Stokes’ England joining that list was gradually rising thanks to a vastly improved batting display against a visibly weary bowling attack.
England have now been in the field since shortly before lunch on day two, sending down 193 overs between them across both innings. Stokes has been able to contribute just two of those overs, on the third evening, with his chronic left knee problem preventing him from sharing the load.
Veteran seamers James Anderson and Stuart Broad were both being asked to run in for multiple spells without luck, while spinner Jack Leach was sitting on figures of two for 132 from a mammoth 50 overs.
For New Zealand it was a day to celebrate Williamson, back to his brilliant best having scored just 10 runs in his previous three knocks of the series. The former captain started the day by chalking up a major milestone, pinging Anderson’s fourth delivery off his toes to overtake Ross Taylor’s 7,683 Test runs and make him the country’s record Test run-scorer.
He received a fittingly rousing ovation for his efforts, but having started the day 24 behind on 202 for three, there was plenty still to do. At the other end Henry Nicholls was having a less secure start, nudging Robinson a yard over short-leg off bat and pad then playing and missing on a handful of occasions as the net tightened.
He lasted 35 minutes before getting too close to one, squirting Ollie Robinson to third slip where Harry Brook held on at the third attempt. By then England’s lead had been trimmed to just four.
Williamson continued making steady, serene progress with Daryl Mitchell taking up the role of aggressor. He took a shine to Anderson early on and by the time the fifty partnership ticked by he had scored 41 of them.
Leach came close to a breakthrough when he spun one past Williamson’s outside edge on 45 but, despite a brilliant stumping attempt from Ben Foakes, the third umpire eventually settled in the batter’s favour.
Mitchell beat Williamson to 50, despite the latter being on 34 when he arrived at the crease, but was gone soon after when he toe-ended Broad to Root back-tracking at slip.
The afternoon session was nothing but unrewarded graft for England, with 98 runs between Williamson and the collected Tom Blundell (62no) and no wickets. The best chance came when Blundell turned Robinson off his pads, but Anderson could not hang on to a low fingertip catch at square leg.
Williamson secured his 26th Test ton off 226 balls, working Broad to third man for an eighth four, with England flagging badly. Stokes remained out of the attack and hurt himself twice in the field, jarring his leg while stopping a drive then rolling his ribs awkwardly over the ball on the dive.