Wagner pilots New Zealand to stunning win

Neil Wagner’s fiery burst on the final day piloted New Zealand to a remarkable come-from-behind victory against England in the first Test in Bay Oval. The tourists were cleaned up for 197 in their second innings to lose by an innings and 65 runs.

England began the final session eight down and on the brink of an innings defeat. However, Jofra Archer (29) and Sam Curran (30*) gave England slim hopes of saving the Test with a 59-run stand. The duo played and missed, a few of the edges didn’t go to the fielders and also survived a string of reviews. Curran and Jofra were also prepared to attack by cracking cuts, flicks and the odd drive.

Just that, with the score reading 197 for 8, Wagner once again gave the crucial breakthrough by removing Archer. The lower-order batsman couldn’t resist pulling the pacer straight to the fielder positioned at fine leg. Wagner then provided the finishing touches by dismissing the last man Stuart Broad LBW off the very next ball. The veteran placed his belief in the review but to no avail.

The New Zealand camp was jubilant with the hard-earned win as England slipped to yet another loss away from home in the longest format. The visitors, though, had a decent chance of saving the Test, after Joe Denly and Ben Stokes raised hopes of taking the visitors to safer waters in the second session. Despite Mitchell Santner and Tim Southee troubling the duo, Stokes and Denly were able to hold the innings together on a track that was showing signs of natural wear and tear. However, Southee continued to apply the pressure on Stokes by using the crease and also the quarter-seam ball. His efforts also bore fruit in the 69th over when Stokes chopped one onto the stumps. The all-rounder was livid with himself for attempting a cut shot on a track that was consistently staying low on the final day.

Wagner took over from his pace colleague by dismissing Denly, Ollie Pope and Jos Buttler to more or less seal the deal for the hosts. The left-arm pacer hit one of the cracks hard to snare the important scalp of Denly. From wide of the crease and round the wicket, he got one to kick viciously and Denly could only glove it to the ‘keeper. Meanwhile, Santner deserved a large share of the credit for Pope’s wicket as he showed amazing reflexes to leap in the air at short-cover to grab the catch. Wagner then nailed the yorker from round the wicket to castle Buttler. The wicketkeeper-batsman paid the price for his misjudgment.

Earlier, the first session of the final day turned out to be a battle of survival for England. The visiting side’s batsmen stuck to their task quite well, losing just one wicket. On a slow pitch, showing signs of natural wear and tear, Root and Denly began the day with an intent to stonewall New Zealand. It was the introduction of Colin de Grandhomme’s medium pace that caused a few problems. His lack of pace resulted in Denly attempting a couple of loose drives. However, it was his teammate, Root, who was dismissed by de Grandhomme in the 43rd over of the innings. Denly then in the company of Stokes took the side to Lunch.

BJ Watling (205) was the grand architect of New Zealand’s impressive win. At stumps on Day 2, New Zealand were in a spot of bother at 144 for 4. However, Watling wore down England’s bowlers with his long vigil at the crease. He also found able allies in de Grandhomme and the ever-reliable Santner (126), as he went about his task of scripting a stunning turnaround. Watling and Santner’s 261-run record-breaking stand for the seventh wicket turned out to be the decisive partnership that broke the back of England.

Going into the second Test in Hamilton, the only major worry for New Zealand would be Trent Boult suffering a rib injury on Day 5. He bowled a solitary over before walking back to the pavilion. The pacer is set to undergo an MRI scan tomorrow.

Meanwhile, England have a lot to ponder about. The batting unit couldn’t get a substantial score in the first innings on a flat pitch. The bowlers largely maintained their disciplines but just couldn’t find a way to dismiss Watling and Co. Archer and Curran, who are both inexperienced in terms of bowling with the Kookaburra ball, would look to learn from the chastening experience ahead of the final Test, starting from November 29.

Brief scores: England 353 & 197 (Joe Denly 35, Rory Burns 31; Neil Wagner 5-44) lost to New Zealand 615/9 decl. (BJ Watling 205, Mitchell Santner 126; Sam Curran 3-119) by an innings and 65 runs.

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