66th over: New Zealand 170-4 (Nicholls 32, Watling 21) Sky are chatting about Free Solo, the white-knuckle documentary on mountain climbing. But is it more exciting than this? You decide. Archer can’t tempt Nicholls here. The batsman has looked really composed, considering the absolute wallop he took late yesterday. A maiden, and drinks.
“Reasons to like watching cricket in NZ? They’re playing Ladyhawke at the ground!” cheers Kevin Wilson. I’ve also heard the Doobie Brothers and – not so good – Ed Sheeran. This pitch is a bit of a Sheeran, so far today at least.
65th over: New Zealand 170-4 (Nicholls 32, Watling 21) Will these two start opening up a little, with the bowlers toiling? Nicholls does have a nibble at a short, wide offering from Stokes, but that’s about it.
64th over: New Zealand 169-4 (Nicholls 31, Watling 21) Archer changes tack, with the bouncers not really working (see below). This over is fuller, angled in, but a slower ball slips beyond Buttler and trundles away for four byes. That sums it up for England; all a little lethargic.
63rd over: New Zealand 162-4 (Nicholls 30, Watling 19) Ben Stokes comes in for Broad, with England in need of a little inspiration. He does at least offer a little more sauce, mixing up length and speed, but it’s seen off for another maiden.
62nd over: New Zealand 162-4 (Nicholls 30, Watling 19) ‘Maiden Without Menace’ sounds like a decent Judas Priest album. Anyway, Archer to Watling, the bowler hitting 86mph but leaking a boundary, as a defensive shot squirms away behind the wicket.
An appeal, as a fuller one clips Nicholls’ pads, but there seemed to be an edge. Root reviews. That looks hopeful. Third umpire Paul Wilson initially throws it out quicksmart, then takes a little more time to make sure. Bottom line, it hit the bat, he’s not out, and England have one review left.
61st over: New Zealand 157-4 (Nicholls 30, Watling 14) Was keeping Archer under wraps for the first half-hour a mistake? It feels like we’ve slipped into an attritional funk very early on here. Another maiden largely without menace from Broad.
60th over: New Zealand 157-4 (Nicholls 30, Watling 14) Archer comes in, which is interesting. Looks like Root may have abandoned the waiting game. The short, nasty stuff is promptly delivered, although not quite fast or tricky enough to trouble Watling, who profits from a Sibley misfield.
“England’s reserve plan must be to take two or three wickets in this session, then be batting again by tea,” reckons John Starbuck. “The rest can be left to happenstance, but they do need to take this match, for self-respect as well as kudos. If they fail? = changes.”
59th over: New Zealand 155-4 (Nicholls 30, Watling 12) Broad continues, but isn’t getting much joy from this pitch, which is looking a little flat so far. Sky’s JofraCam shows our man going through some stretches. Last time, he was yawning, so that’s an improvement.
58th over: New Zealand 155-4 (Nicholls 30, Watling 12) Curran the Kane Slayer drifts off line, and Watling flicks one artfully off his pads. Nicholls follows suit and they run two. Looking settled now, although Watling prods at an outswinger as Curran mixes things up.
57th over: New Zealand 151-4 (Nicholls 27, Watling 11) From the commentary box, a list of things that are good about being in New Zealand on a Saturday morning. Sunshine, sea breeze, laid-back vibes. Thanks, we get the picture. Watling breaks the barren run with a scrappy cut that yields one run.
56th over: New Zealand 150-4 (Nicholls 27, Watling 10) The next three in the pavilion: Santner, De Grandhomme, Southee. Plenty of beef in the middle order for England to gnaw through. Curran fires in a bouncer, but Nicholls is unfazed. Three maidens on the bounce …
55th over: New Zealand 150-4 (Nicholls 27, Watling 10) Not to say this is lacking intensity, but Ian Smith has been waxing lyrical about the speed of the Bay Oval bag-checking process. Broad at least gives Watling something to think about, finding a better line that angles in sharply. Another maiden, although there are maidens and maidens, and this was the former.
54th over: New Zealand 150-4 (Nicholls 27, Watling 10) Curran with a full, sliding ball that clips Nicholls on the pads. It’s sliding down, and only Buttler offers any kind of appeal. Curran, the breeze at his back, is bowling 20kph quicker than Broad as Archer waits in the wings. Maiden.
53rd over: New Zealand 150-4 (Nicholls 27, Watling 10) Bumble correctly predicts that it’s Broad, rather than Archer, to be handed the cherry next. Coming round the wicket to Nicholls, he strays down leg for a bye. 150 up for the hosts, and offers nothing to tempt Watling outside his off stump.
52nd over: New Zealand 149-4 (Nicholls 27, Watling 10) Curran kicks things off, with the Barmy Army offering a sleepy chorus of Jerusalem from one of the grass banks. BJ Watling flicks off his pads, past square-leg for a settling four.
Here we go!
The teams are out right on cue at a sun-kissed Bay Oval.
Tim Southee speaks! “We’ve got a couple of guys at the crease who know how to scrap. We knew this pitch would get tougher to bat on as the Test went on. It’s a big day for us.”
From 7,000 miles to 700 yards (I’m guessing), here’s Graeme Simpson:
“Kia ora from just over the hill, inland from the Mount. I’d go over but am stuck with domestic duties. In spite of the outcome at the World Cup (and the deja vu ending of the T20 series), there seems to be genuine mutual respect between these two squads. Bring on day three!”
“Following the progress of this game from a very wet Medellin,” writes the intrepid Will West. “Still Friday afternoon here, so just caught up with yesterday’s match report, followed by a scroll through the OBO. Great to see plucky Sam Curran among the wickets, and a particular treat to see Kim Thonger’s famous hound Dakkers! A real ambassador for the game. More of both today please…”
Medellin is 7,474 miles from Tauranga, and 5,253 miles from London. Will, you may be our most far-flung reader. Welcome!
“The first new ball is really crucial,” says Sam Curran. “We need to get rid of Nicholls and De Grandhomme. If it doesn’t swing, I can come around the wicket, try to trap them in the crease.” He’s also talking up his hopes of cementing a Test place.
I remember visiting the Oval for the last day of the county season in 2015, seeing the Currans in action, and thinking they would surely both play for England soon enough. That one rattles around all alone in my “accurate sporting predictions” file.
Peter Gibbs writes: “I had noted the welcome relief, like that of a collective settling into one’s favourite armchair, that poured out on OBO as things got underway two nights ago.
“You were back, transporting us away from this misery to another hemisphere, to a time where matches were measured in days, openers were compared to Gower immediately before departing via outside off. and England collapses were of metronomic persistence.
“But now with Willamson in the shed I have this “no idea what is going to happen” uneasy feeling – like there’s a glitch in the matrix. Most unsettling.”
Hello and welcome, wherever you are. England have the edge here after two days of play, with Kane Williamson gone for 51 and New Zealand resuming on 144-4, still some 200 runs behind. All that remains is for the tourists to tidy up the tail, then glide into an imperious lead before sunset.
Of course, this being The England Cricket Team, nothing could ever be so straightforward. The pendulum has already swung plenty in an evenly-matched affair. A textbook batting collapse surrendered England’s advantage on day two, only for Sam Curran to snatch it back with that precious Williamson wicket.
The year’s great sporting rivalry is sure to throw up some more twists and turns yet, and it could easily be the hosts who end up on top at the end of another absorbing day. Whatever happens in this bucolic corner of the planet, which feels like a parallel universe to this Greater London-based nighttime OBOer, it should be a pleasure to watch.
Play starts at 11am local, 10pm GMT.