England were in deep trouble once again. Jonny Bairstow and Mark Wood came to the rescue.
After a disheartening campaign at Eden Park, where England were no match for New Zealand’s attack, the visiting side have their hopes pinned at Christchurch. New Zealand were too hot to handle at Eden Park, where they registered an emphatic win by an innings and 49 runs. The momentum was with them going into the final Test where England needed to overcome a huge mental barrier after the kind of damage Kiwi bowlers inflicted in the first Test.
Coming to Christchurch, England had a lot of issues to be addressed, which have been evident for a while now. Their misfiring top-order, especially Alastair Cook’s lean form has been a massive concern. New Zealand brutally exploited the weaknesses in their batting and did well to get rid of the English top-order cheaply.
Just when things looked out of control for England, Bairstow and Wood stitched a crucial 95-run partnership to sail the English ship out of choppy waters. Kiwi bowlers chipped early wickets and another English collapse looked on the cards, but Bairstow and Wood weathered the early storm and ensured England didn’t surrender easily. The tragic defeat at Eden Park compelled England to make some changes in the side. Mark Wood was one of the three changes for the Christchurch encounter.
A top-order collapse didn’t let England achieve fruitful results, they were in desperate need of a partnership when Bairstow took guard at 94 for 5. Stokes got a start, but floundered after 25 while Bairstow did what he does best – negotiate the pumped bowling attack. Bairstow is a master when it comes to counter-attacking, which was the need of the hour for England.
When a bowling attack is tightening the noose, it is pivotal for the batsmen to attack and break the shackles, which Bairstow does quite efficiently. Not to forget, he does know the art to bat with the tail and garner those crucial runs, which makes him a priceless asset.
Stokes’ dismissal steered England to all sorts of trouble and Stuart Broad’s early fall only added to their woes. Just when England were running out of options, Mark Wood stepped up and delivered. His cameo not only broke the shackles, but also provided Bairstow, who was running out of partners, the much-needed assistance. Bairstow, Wood accounted for 95-runs between them and gave English bowlers a big chance to battle. Bairstow was involved in two key partnerships and anchored the English innings sensibly.
Being a specialist bowler, Wood is yet to achieve a five-wicket in Test cricket, but did well to grab his maiden fifty. He was quoted by telegraph.co.uk saying, “The worrying thing is I’ve got a 50 before a five-for, so I’ve done that the wrong way round, haven’t I? When I went out to bat obviously we were in a bit of trouble and Jonny knows I like to have fun and a bit of crack out there which made it easier. You sort of forget the situation and just concentrate on each other which made it a lot easier for me.”
Bairstow highlighted how things didn’t go as per plan and Wood’s fighting knock. He was quoted by independent.co.uk saying, “It didn’t go to script for the first half of the day but the fightback and the determination in the back end was something we can really build on. Mark Wood’s cameo – what a character, it’s always fun batting with him and he played some magnificent shots. He wants to impress because he’s back int he side and once things go right your adrenaline gets up and it can tip you over the edge. It was just a case of keeping him going ball by ball.”
“Naturally I wanted to get to the century but I’m in a position to come back tomorrow and Leach showed he can hold up an end so who knows how many we could make. It’s difficult to rate our score until we’ve bowled on this pitch. The skills we’ve got will hopefully suit this pitch, it’s a bit more English in style, with some lateral movement,” Bairstow added.
England lost the Ashes 4-0 and would certainly not want to lose the ongoing series to New Zealand, which will shatter their confidence. They have been winless in 12 overseas games and this would be their best bet to end the winless streak.
Bairstow has been the unsung hero on numerous occasion, with the top-order not firing with all cylinders, his elevation at the top will make all the sense. But he plays an equally important role in the lower middle-order. England would be eyeing to reach the 350-run mark when play resumes on Day 2, where Bairstow will have the engineer the process. He has looked rock solid for his 97 and should rightly achieve the 100-run milestone. Along with debutant Jack Leach, the duo has already accounted for 31 runs between them and will look to pile more runs on Day 2.