The fifth day at Trent Bridge is free to all-comers and for those who do take up the offer, it could prove the best money they never spent. All four results remain possible and for England, architects of a stirring fourth evening, this means the possibility of securing a first series win under Ben Stokes at the earliest opportunity.
Standing in their way is a New Zealand side who, after ending Joe Root’s masterful 176 and shutting down their hosts for 539 all out first thing, will begin the day on 227 for seven. Daryl Mitchell, he of the first-innings 190, is unbeaten on 32 at one end but the tail has begun. Their lead of 238 is still in need of further improvement.
Arrive early would be the advice, if the final session of the fourth day is anything to go by. Everything seemed to be pointing to a draw as New Zealand resumed after tea on 114 for two and a lead of 128. But the loss of five wickets before stumps, coming through a sparkling fielding display from the hosts and two wickets for Matt Potts, changed the complexion of this match once more.
It began almost immediately too, Henry Nicholls loosely slapping Potts to Alex Lees at backward point on three to rouse the slightly thinned-out fourth day crowd. There was no question about the true catalyst however, with the calamitous run out of Will Young for 56 soon after the type that sends belief coursing through a team.
As was the case during England’s game-changing team hat-trick at Lord’s, Ollie Pope was the fielder in question. Spotting a mix-up between Young and the newly-arrived Mitchell from square leg, he took a moment, fired the ball to the bowler’s end and Stokes somehow managed to break the stumps behind his back while falling forwards.
It meant the resumption of the alliance that has vexed England the most all series, Tom Blundell, another centurion in the first innings, joining Mitchell out in the middle for a stand of 45 that appeared to quell the flames. But when New Zealand’s wicketkeeper fell to a well-worked plan, Stuart Broad teasing a catch around the corner to Stokes, his side were 176 for five and wobbling once more.
Next came Michael Bracewell, who briefly took the attack to England by crashing four fours and one six in a 17-ball 25. Ambition got the better of the debutant, however, and after he chipped Potts to mid on, and another Mitchell mix-up saw Tim Southee run out for a duck, the tourists rather limped to the close. The highest successful chase on this ground was the 284 England knocked off against New Zealand back in 2004; unless Mitchell marshals some serious resistance, a similar target may follow.
Stokes will be delighted with the late surge on a surface that had yielded 1,092 runs across the first two innings. That said, Jimmy Anderson gave his captain the ideal start during a 40-minute burst before lunch when Tom Latham left a ball that angled in from around the wicket and it crashed into middle stump. It was a fair old miscalculation by the opener not that Anderson, celebrating his 650th Test wicket, cared a jot.
Broad dovetailed this breakthrough with a feisty spell from the Pavilion End but resistance soon formed, Young and Devon Conway putting on 100 runs for the second wicket either side of the interval. Conway in particular took a liking to Jack Leach on a day when eyes typically turned to the spinner, reverse-sweeping and punching his way to 52 with a troubling amount of ease.
With Leach struggling for control, it was something of a surprise when Conway gifted his wicket midway through the afternoon. This time the left-hander attempted an orthodox sweep off Leach only for a top-edge to fly to deep backward square. Jonny Bairstow produced a fine running catch to lift his colleague’s mood, while Ben Foakes, fresh from caressing 56 with the bat, was a constant source of encouragement behind the stumps.
Foakes had every reason to feel chipper, needing just 20 balls to convert an overnight 24 into a half-century after England resumed on 473 for five, still 80 behind, first thing. The right-hander slotted some beautiful cover drives, while Root’s mood – if not obvious from the broad smile and 163 runs next to his name – was summed up by an outrageous reverse scoop off the beleaguered Southee that flew over third man for six.
Eyes blinked and jaws dropped among the crowd as brains tried to compute such a classical touch player channelling his inner Rishabh Pant in a Test match. But just when thoughts were turning to further mischief and a first innings lead, the loss of Root to a slower ball from Trent Boult triggered the loss of the final five wickets for 23 runs.
Amid this hurried finish Boult completed richly-deserved figures of five for 106 from 33.3 overs – contrasting with Southee’s none for 154 from 32 – when he detonated the stumps of Potts. The Durham youngster was suffering guilt from a mix-up with Foakes that saw the senior man run out but come the evening session, as his brace of wickets helped turn the tide, those feelings had long since melted away.