It was yet another day where England's toothless batting was exposed, battered and bruised by a superior bowling unit which ran riot. New Zealand made their intentions clear in the first hour with Ross Taylor's counter-attacking knock, that they will bulldoze the hosts, and they did not look back.
Ross Taylor finds his mojo
Teams go cautious when the new ball is taken. Playing out is considered the best way. But in the first hour of play today, Ross Taylor went crazy and embodied the mantra of "Live by the sword, die by the sword". This was a complete contrast to what he was doing on day two, when England, and especially Stuart Broad, was spitting fire against him. He was even lucky to survive the spell. The ball was hooping around. He was getting beaten on inside and outside edges. The 37-year-old was living his worst nightmare against moving deliveries.
But he weathered the storm, put up a tough face, when he couldn't even lay the bat to ball, and scampered his way to the end of the day. And that was just about the confidence he needed to find his mojo back. He did tick few boxes before the chutzpah of the New Zealander was out in all glory today. Taylor left the ball well, didn't feel the ball as eagerly as he does early in his innings, which makes him the worst starter at no.4 since 2006 with no one having a higher false shot (19.0%) in their first 20 balls than him.
After ticking the boxes and weathering the storm, Taylor was back to doing what he does the best - ATTACK; his aggressive intent was up from 31% on day two to 58.1 %, this morning. The right-hander was nailing every delivery, latching on to wide deliveries, playing booming drives and suddenly, it was Taylor who had the number on Broad as his blitz helped New Zealand make 63 runs in the first hour. He was dismissed playing an aggressive shot, but not before he had regained his confidence back with a well-made 80 ahead of the WTC finale.
Wood-Stone crank it up with pace
Two relatively flat wickets by England standards and it has completely nullified the James Anderson factor. And this is where both Olly Stone and Mark Wood have stepped up remarkably well. Both were bang on the mark with their extra pace, helping dictate terms to the visitors and preventing New Zealand from posting a far bigger score than 388.
Stone might not be as quick as Wood but has that extra pace and bite that's needed to take wickets on flatter surfaces. After things went south for England with Broad and Anderson copping a pasting, Stone brought back the hosts into play. Bowling at 87mph/140kph, he accounted for an ominous looking Taylor. He would have had Tom Blundell in the same over, if not for the drop by Bracey. Stone was unlucky even on day one when Root had dropped a dolly to send back Will Young early to the shed. CricViz noted that no one induced more false shots than Stone (29%) yesterday, but for nothing. His figures (2/92) hide more than they reveal but not his skill levels, which caught the eye, with pace and control, being key factors.
Wood, who has the distinction of bowling 47% of his Test match deliveries over 140kph, the fastest by any English pacer with a cut-off of 500-plus deliveries, again showed his X-factor. It was his searing pace that roughened up a solid Nicholls into getting dismissed with his bouncer ploy again reaping rewards. Not only that, he also broke a promising stand between Blundell and Henry in its nascent stage when a 90mph thunderbolt proved too hot to handle for the latter. If wickets are flatter, England need to invest in bowlers with the extra pace. This also brings us to the point that Anderson-Broad can't play together on such decks.
Ollie Pope and the art of 'flattering to deceive'
23, 19, 20*, 22, 15, 29, 12, 1, 12, 22, 28, 34 - this is how Ollie Pope's scores read since the start of the India series. Considered one of the best young talents in the country, and someone who has garnered comparisons with the likes of Joe Root and Ian Bell, Pope, if anyone, is a replica of James Vince. He will start with the most glorious strokes in the cricket book. He will play the ball with soft hands. Defend the ball right under his eyes. Give an impression of being worth a million bucks as a Test batsman. But, it's all promise, zero substance.
On day three, when England were in a spot of bother at 30/3, and in desperate need of a Pope special, he disappointed for the nth time. But not before his regular drill. He had caressed three boundaries and even raced to 23 off 19. But he just can't convert starts into a big score as the streak since the India series showcases. And it's not about form. Pope had a fantabulous County season ahead of the ongoing series and had even got two centuries, one of which was a massive 245. It is a mix of mental and technical shortcomings.
Pope, during a successful County season, had started batting across his stumps, but it has impacted his balance. It was always going to make the bowlers target his pads. And two out of three times, he has lost his wicket this series via LBW dismissals. Even today, his head fell over when Neil Wagner swung one back beautifully. Pope remains far off from consolidating his place in the side.