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Sunday, September 25, 2022

Joe Root hits century as England seal win over New Zealand in first Test | England v New Zealand 2022

Hang up the bunting, roll out the trestle tables and peel back the cellophane on the scotch eggs, England’s summer has begun with their first Test victory in 10 attempts courtesy of a majestic century from Joe Root.

So much of the attention over the past fortnight has been on the regime change that followed England’s winter of discontent. Ben Stokes and Brendon McCullum have been thrown together as a headline-grabbing captain and head coach, while Root has quietly melted into the background with orders to simply focus on scoring runs.

And on the fourth morning at Lord’s this returned an instant dividend, the former captain calmly converting his overnight 77 into an unbeaten 115 from 170 balls that, along with a similarly composed 32 from Ben Foakes, chiselled off the final 61 runs in a target of 277 to claim a five-wicket win over New Zealand and a 1-0 series lead.

It was a murky morning at the Home of Cricket, the skies overcast with more than a whisper of moisture in the air after rain in London first thing. The floodlights were on and, with a refreshed bowling attack for the tourists plus a long tail to follow the two set men, there was a sense that England’s task might not be easy.

But in fewer that 14 overs – quick enough to earn the day four Lord’s crowd a full refund – Root once again eased any nerves, fiddling Southee into the leg side to bring up his 26th Test century and his 10,000th run in the format, before a flurry of fours off the same man finished off the job.

New Zealand, as is their default, joined in with the applause as Lord’s stood in celebration of Root’s work. Up on the pavilion balcony, England players and coaches were finally able to move from their seats, Root having notably pointed in their direction upon reaching his century. This was his first in the fourth innings of a Test match but while may have fallen on his sword as regards the captaincy, he remains their leader with the bat.

The new England captain, Ben Stokes, shares a joke with his predecessor, Joe Root.
The new England captain, Ben Stokes, shares a joke with his predecessor, Joe Root. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

It would be a stretch to claim this is a corner turned for England, even if the oft-cited statistic of one win in their last 17 Test matches has finally been shifted. Matt Potts enjoyed an promising six-wicket debut but this was a victory built on the back of Root’s genius, the enduring skill of Stuart Broad and Jimmy Anderson, plus a momentum-shifting – if slightly chaotic – half-century from Stokes on day three.

A hardier perennial like the top three looks no closer to being fixed – it was notable to see McCullum flanked by Zak Crawley and Ollie Pope on the final morning – but at least there has been a significant uptick in their fielding by way of attitude and execution. Pope’s run-out of Colin de Grandhomme during the game-changing team hat-trick on day three was a wicket earned through England’s overall sharpened focus here.

In many ways England simply had to get over the line here, not just to see the Stokes- McCullum axis start in positive fashion but in the knowledge that New Zealand, the reigning world champions, will surely only improve from the rusty day one performance that saw them slide to 45 for seven.

After another stumble at the start of their second innings, Kane Williamson’s side clawed their way back impressively through Daryl Mitchell’s superb 108 and 96 from Tom Blundell. This was the support cast stepping up with the bat, something that England desperately need to materialise among their own group if progress is to be achieved.

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That said, the performance of Foakes with the bat in the fourth innings made for a satisfying home debut. Surrey’s wicketkeeper was one half of an unbroken stand of 120 with Root and a more sprightly presence on the fourth morning after digging in the night before. This was also his first victory since his maiden series in Sri Lanka, back in 2018.

But chiefly this was Root’s day and one that would have tasted just as sweet as those as captain, the 31-year-old playing the defining innings of the first Test of the summer to get Stokes off to a winning start as his successor. What are friends for, eh?

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