There are 98 overs remaining in this first Test between England and New Zealand and though a draw remains the most likely outcome, a sparkling fourth day that saw Rory Burns and Tim Southee claim places on the Lord’s honours boards suggested further twists are still possible.
Certainly none of the 6,500 spectators who came through the turnstiles could claim to have been short-changed despite nine unbowled overs disappearing into the ether, after Burns rescued England from a morning collapse with his third Test century and Tim Southee underlined his class with sublime figures of six for 43. As the players strolled off at stumps to hearty applause New Zealand sat at 62 for two from 30 overs, extending their first innings lead of 103 to 165. Ollie Robinson finally cracked the Devon Conway code, bowling the debutant double-centurion for 23 before trapping Kane Williamson lbw on one, but the tourists still faced the more relaxing evening back in the bubble.
For England there was much to chew on after the 275 all out they mustered in glorious sunshine, with three ducks among the top seven and four overall as Southee topped the six for 50 he claimed during a 10-wicket Test here in 2013. The hosts owed plenty to Burns, who over the course of nine hours – either side of Friday’s washout – scored 132 from 297 balls.
Much like his maiden Test century against Australia in 2019, this was another gutsy performance. Two lives were handed to him – BJ Watling missed a stumping on 77 and the slips bungled two bites at the cherry on 88 – while he was twice struck on the helmet. Yet his focus remained gimlet-eyed until a tired waft finally handed Southee his sixth wicket and terminated Burns’s 10th-wicket stand of 52 with Jimmy Anderson.
The reduced Lord’s crowd were in raptures up to that point – never more so than when Burns recreated Ben Stokes’s slog-swept six into the Mound Stand during the 2019 World Cup final – after starting the day with a sense of creeping dread. Joe Root fenced Kyle Jamieson’s opening delivery to first slip and Southee struck three times in nine balls, as England’s overnight 111 for two became 140 for six by mid-morning.
An average age of 25 years and 346 days makes this the youngest top seven England have fielded in 528 home Tests and the seasoned Southee preyed on their inexperience. Ollie Pope was trapped lbw for a streaky 22, Dan Lawrence flashed his second ball to slip and the debutant James Bracey also departed without scoring when bowled by a fine inswinger.
While all three are likely jostling for one spot when Stokes and Jos Buttler return later in the summer, Robinson’s concern over his place is more immediate. But as was the case on day two, the 27-year-old blocked out the storm regarding those awful teenage tweets, delivering 42 precious runs to eliminate the follow-on.
The resolute Burns had added just 13 runs to his overnight 59 by lunch and as he Robinson pushed back with a 63-run stand either side it. The newcomer competently dispatched anything wide as Williamson turned to his support cast in preparation for the next wave of Southee and Jamieson with the second new ball.
Mitchell Santner should have struck one over shy of its arrival, Burns charging the spinner only for Watling to miss the stumping. But Southee soon hurried Robinson into a top-edged pull held in the deep, securing a much deserved fifth. When Jamieson and Neil Wagner knocked over Mark Wood and Stuart Broad, Burns was still nine short of his century, fresh from a drop at slip and the score 223 for nine.
Anderson held firm for his senior partner here, as Burns chiselled his way to three-figures for the first time since Hamilton 19 months ago. The Surrey captain was dropped two Tests into India but not alone in his struggles; the show of faith in his instant recall at home had been repaid handsomely.
A licence to swing in the latter stages of the innings brought out the best of Burns on the attack, while the friendly rivalry enjoyed by the two sides was summed up by Wagner running after him for a meaty handshake upon finally falling. New Zealand also mobbed Southee for his 25 overs of excellence leading an attack shorn of Trent Boult, so too Jamieson after stepping up as his new ball foil.
When Root’s side emerged after the break their desperation for quick wickets was palpable and two reviews were burned in quick succession. But while Anderson and Broad had their moments during their respective opening bursts, it was Robinson’s introduction as first-change that brought the breakthroughs.
We have learned plenty about Robinson during his debut and whatever the outcome of England’s deliberations about his past use racist and sexist language, it is becoming clear why the Sussex right-armer has risen to this level on the field.
Conway was first to succumb here, the ball cannoning into the stumps off an inside edge, although Robinson’s second – and sixth of the match – was more of a surprise it must be said. Root slightly chanced his final review after Williamson was struck in front playing around one that nipped back but it proved the right call, with no bat involved and three reds following from Hawk-Eye.
Tom Latham had held firm at the other end and will resume in the morning unbeaten on 23, with the nightwatchman Wagner for company on two. England now need a cascade of wickets such as Southee inspired and, whether achieved or not, more batsmen to stand up like Burns when their time comes again.