Mitchell and Blundell hold up England again

Third LV Insurance Test, Headingley (day one of five)
New Zealand 225-5: Mitchell 78*, Blundell 45*
England: Yet to bat

England’s bowlers were once again held up by New Zealand’s Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell on day one of the third Test at Headingley.

Mitchell, who already has two centuries in the series, ended 78 not out as the Black Caps recovered from 123-5 to reach 225 without further loss.

Blundell made 45 not out, combining for an unbroken stand of 102 with Mitchell to follow partnerships 195 in the first Test and 236 in the second.

After losing the toss, England – 2-0 up in the three-match series – bowled admirably on a flat pitch but were left to rue the decision not to review an lbw decision against Mitchell.

Had they done so he would have been out for eight.

Earlier, Stuart Broad had Tom Latham caught at first slip in the first over and debutant Jamie Overton bowled Devon Conway off an inside edge for his first international wicket.

Spinner Jack Leach took two wickets, including the remarkable dismissal of Henry Nicholls, caught at mid-off via a deflection off non-striker Mitchell’s bat.

The day ended in the gloom under the floodlights, but Mitchell and Blundell survived a further 10 overs against the new ball to leave the Test finely poised.

England thwarted on Headingley return

This Test saw cricket return to Headingley after the racism scandal which engulfed the sport last year following the testimony of former Yorkshire all-rounder Azeem Rafiq.

The county were banned from hosting international matches last year but had that right reinstated in February when it was deemed they had made progress with the required improvements.

Those in attendance witnessed a more traditional day than England fans have become accustomed to in the rip-roaring start to their new era under captain Ben Stokes and coach Brendon McCullum.

New Zealand scored at just 2.5 runs per over, a complete contrast to the staggering final day of the second Test at Trent Bridge, when Jonny Bairstow’s pulsating 77-ball century fired England to a famous win.

In the first first two sessions in particular, England’s bowlers were impressive. New Zealand opted to bat on a flat pitch under blue skies but were 123-5 at tea.

However, in Mitchell and Blundell they have two batters who can take no blame for the fact New Zealand have lost the series.

Mitchell’s only mistake came when he missed an inswinger from Matthew Potts playing across his pad. Stokes opted not to review but the technology suggested the ball would have hit middle stump.

England’s bowlers impress

The fact New Zealand were able to work their way back into the day was largely down to that error, rather than poor England bowling.

Broad, a day after announcing he and fiancee Mollie King are expecting their first child, gave England a perfect start by finding the edge of left-hander Latham from round the wicket.

He also removed Kane Williamson for 31, the skipper’s return after missing the second Test with Covid-19 ending with a thin edge to wicketkeeper Ben Foakes.

Overton was given his cap by his brother Craig, who was also in the squad but left out of the final XI, and bowled with lively pace.

Potts went wicketless but conceded only 28 runs from 20 overs while Leach produced one of the best holding, first-innings performances of his interrupted Test career, conceding 2.68 runs per over.

When Nicholls cracked the ball into the bat of Mitchell and it comically looped into the hands of Alex Lees, it was a welcome stroke of luck for one of England’s most unfortunate cricketers.

Leach has missed Tests for concussion, illness and selection in recent times could argue he is worthy of the fortune.

Mitchell and Blundell dig in again

Mitchell and Blundell have now scored 593 runs together in five innings in this series – the most in a series against England since South Africa’s Graeme Smith and Herschelle Gibbs amassed 677 across nine innings in 2003.

Mitchell and Blundell batted as they have done in the previous two Tests, calmly and rarely looking troubled.

Mitchell was able to attack Leach more effectively than any of his team-mates, using the reverse sweep and reaching his fifty by thumping the spinner for one of two straight sixes.

Having accumulated well, Blundell was given out caught behind off Joe Root’s off-spin on 31 but overturned the decision on review.

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