Jos Buttler’s sixth first-class century made it three encouraging ticks for England’s revamped batting lineup before Thursday’s first Test against New Zealand.

The 29-year-old has been restored as the team’s wicketkeeper for the forthcoming two-match series and on the final morning of the three-day warm-up fixture against New Zealand A he converted an overnight 88 not out into 110 from 153 balls. Buttler took 141 deliveries to reach triple-figures against the red ball for only the second time in five years – eight of his nine ODI hundreds have come during this time – and struck 11 fours and four sixes.

England were finally bowled out for 405 from 117.5 overs in reply to the home side’s 302 for six declared. Jofra Archer, who was unbeaten on 41 at the end, then struck with the new ball to remove Tim Seifert caught in the cordon.

Runs for Denly, and the reserve batsman Zak Crawley making a century during the practice match earlier in the week, mean Jonny Bairstow is now expected to fly home at the start of the first Test, having been asked to stay on after the T20 series.

Only a setback to Denly’s fitness would see this plan change but the 33-year-old reported no ill-effects while turning for runs during his three and a half hours at the crease.

“It’s been a long few weeks sitting on the sidelines,” said Denly. “But what it does is make you hungry to get out there and put on the whites and perform. It was pretty nasty when I did it. I was lucky not to do some real serious damage and it was always touch and go to get ready for this game.”

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England have confirmed that Mark Saxby, the team’s longstanding massage therapist, will now officially head up pastoral care within the squad as they look to take a proactive approach in the field of mental health. 

Saxby, part of the England setup since 2005, has recently completed a two-year diploma in executive leadership. This additional role now formalises duties he was already performing as one of the dressing room’s most trusted figures.

Denly and Ollie Pope had helped get England out of a hole after reaching a troubling 114 for five at lunch on the second day – albeit with the night watchman, Jack Leach, among the wickets to fall for a 78-ball 22.

Dom Sibley was struck on the grille by Kyle Jamieson before edging to gully on 15, while Joe Root glared at the inside edge of his bat after being adjudged lbw for two. When Ben Stokes gloved to slip off Jimmy Neesham, shouldering arms, a chance to bat long on a flat pitch looked as if it might be squandered.

But as the morning clouds made way for hot sunshine, Denly and Pope combined for a stand of 90. The younger man was, however, handed a life on seven when nibbling behind off a no-ball from Scott Kuggeleijn. The right-armer had been drafted into the home XI when Hamish Rutherford, struck by Archer the day before, failed a morning concussion test.

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It was not exactly a like-for-like sub but with just one 12th man on site, England agreed to face the additional seamer for the extra challenge. Denly slightly gave his wicket away, pulling Blair Tickner to midwicket, but Buttler held firm before some more trademark havoc after tea.

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Pope, looking set for a century, was left punching his bat in disgust after holing out off Patel. But his eye-catching first-class average has now risen to 59.52 and a second chance to transfer this to Test level awaits.



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