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Joe Root's epic double century sets up potential intrigue on final day of second Test

The Guardian logo The Guardian 3 days ago Ali Martin at Seddon Park

In becoming the first visiting captain to score a double century in New Zealand, Joe Root felt his mandate swell in a way that the political leaders back home can only dream about. The only question left was whether his England side could force a win on the final day and draw the series.

a baseball player holding a football ball: Joe Root’s 226 helped England post 476 and a first-innings lead of 101 runs at Seddon Park in Hamilton © Photograph: Ross Setford/Reuters Joe Root’s 226 helped England post 476 and a first-innings lead of 101 runs at Seddon Park in Hamilton

Root’s epic 226 at the tree-lined Seddon Park came over 10-and-a-half hours wedded to the crease as, with Ollie Pope in tow for a similarly determined 75, the captain helped post a total of 476 all out and with it a first-innings lead of 101 runs.

The hosts then closed on 96 for two, after early strikes from Sam Curran and the immaculate Chris Woakes, meaning a potentially intriguing fifth day was set up provided this heart-breaker of a pitch, or the rains forecast for the afternoon, don’t have the final say.

Whichever way the result goes, Root has re-asserted his authority with the bat ahead of four-Test series in South Africa that begins on Boxing Day; Ben Stokes’s use of a plastic chair for bongos as the double-hundred came up, amid a standing ovation from the England players watching on, said as much.

The question now is whether Root can ensure this apparent return to form is sustained over a period of time if he is to get the third crack at Australia in two years time that he is openly targeting. Bat like he did here and, provided the back holds up, the chances of it increase hugely.

Cricket - New Zealand v England - Second Test - Seddon Park, Hamilton, New Zealand - December 2, 2019   England's Joe Root celebrates reaching 200 runs with Ollie Pope   REUTERS/Ross Setford © Thomson Reuters Cricket - New Zealand v England - Second Test - Seddon Park, Hamilton, New Zealand - December 2, 2019 England's Joe Root celebrates reaching 200 runs with Ollie Pope REUTERS/Ross Setford England’s first 400-plus total in two years had earlier been terminated on the stroke of tea when the nose-and-toes Neil Wagner went for the former by crashing a slower delivery into Stuart Broad’s stumps – three balls after doing the same to Jofra Archer – and completing his five-wicket haul.

Jeet Raval may not have appreciated the almighty roar Wagner had directed at Archer, given the opener’s thoughts were turning to batting, but this had been among the hardest earned of the left-armer’s nine performances in Test cricket and the release was understandable.

Raval never made it to Archer’s first burst either, with Root opting to give Curran the new ball alongside Stuart Broad and seeing this rewarded with a wicket second ball. Raval’s failure to review a clear edge on this lbw was perhaps also down to time spent out in the field too.

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For the best part of 12 hours England had dished out similar punishment to that witnessed in Mount Maunganui when, to quote Lloyd Bridges, the upper hand was on the other foot. Root and Pope continued the grind from the previous day in a stand of 193 over 62.3 overs that took an overnight 269 for five to 455 for six when the apprentice eventually holed out.

Pope’s selflessness here will have pleased Root, so too an ability to stick it out when not at his most fluent. There were a handful of the deft fours that have earned comparisons with Ian Bell but the 21-year-old’s maiden half-century, brought up in 165 balls, was chiefly a passing of the character test.

Root was only slightly more free-flowing than during his 114 runs the previous day as he chugged through a succession of landmarks. He passed 2015’s 182 versus West Indies in Grenada for his highest score overseas, 190 against South Africa at Lord’s in 2017 for his best as captain.

Cricket - New Zealand v England - Second Test - Seddon Park, Hamilton, New Zealand - December 2, 2019   England's Sam Curran, Ben Stokes and Joe Root celebrate   REUTERS/Ross Setford © Thomson Reuters Cricket - New Zealand v England - Second Test - Seddon Park, Hamilton, New Zealand - December 2, 2019 England's Sam Curran, Ben Stokes and Joe Root celebrate REUTERS/Ross Setford The 28-year-old then broke into England’s all-time top 10 run-scorers when, on 193, he guided a four off Daryl Mitchell to push Wally Hammond’s tally of 7,249 down to No 11. No batsman north of Root on the list averages more than his 48.54 either.

A crisp forward defence off Mitchell made it his longest Test innings by way of balls faced, surpassing the 407 in his career-best 254 versus Pakistan, before five deliveries later he scampered a single – nearly running out Pope in the process – to reach 200 for the third time in his career.

Soon an adapted rendition of Hey Jude was coming from the England supporters on the grass banks, the captain no longer carrying the world upon his shoulders as he raised his bat in acknowledgment.

The hunt for fast runs saw England’s last five wickets fall for just 21 in six overs. The spectators who had spent all day imploring Kane Williamson to abandon line and length approach and go for the short-ball perhaps felt vindicated when Pope’s demise, taking on a Wagner bumper, began the flurry.

The gripes disappeared when Williamson and Ross Taylor recovered from the early loss of Raval and Tom Latham (caught at slip off Woakes) in an unbroken stand of 63. The locals wear sea captain hats as a nod to the skipper’s “Steady the Ship” nickname and once he had done just that.

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