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Alex Lees and Ollie Pope steady England after New Zealand build handsome lead
The pair saw England to the close on 90 for one in reply to the tourists’ 553.
Alex Lees and Ollie Pope rode their luck and held their nerve as England attempted to build a worthy response to New Zealand’s record total in the second LV= Insurance Test.
Spurred on by a sterling 190 from Daryl Mitchell and 106 from Tom Blundell, the tourists helped themselves to 553 all out – their highest ever score on English soil.
After 145.3 overs of sapping work in the field, the mixture of scoreboard pressure and weary legs looked a recipe for disaster for the hosts, who lost opener Zak Crawley just 12 balls into the reply.
But they were able to recover to 90 for one at stumps after centurion Mitchell put down both Lees and Pope at slip.
Mitchell had benefited from an early slice of luck himself, dropped on just three by Joe Root, and England must hope at least one of their overnight duo cashes in just as emphatically.
Lees made an encouraging 34 not out, his best effort yet in a short international career, while Pope’s 51no offered tantalising glimpses of the dominant county batter who has too often shrunk in an England shirt.
But their efforts so far represent a start and no more. New Zealand have the luxury of a handsome score behind them and have plenty of margin for error as they hunt for wickets on Sunday.
Crawley will be kicking himself after falling for four – the 20th single-figure score among his 41 England knocks – but it took a brilliant piece of new-ball bowling from Trent Boult to take the edge.
Lees could have fallen similarly when he nicked Tim Southee on 12, with a ‘gimme’ chance evading Mitchell at first slip.
The left-hander felt his way into the innings by leaving well and picking off width, but it was Pope’s bright cameo that will most excite an England set-up who doubled down on their investment in his promise by promoting the 24-year-old to number three despite a modest Test record.
He top-edged Matt Henry for sixes on a couple of occasions but also produced a series of glorious cover drives that would have left his Surrey faithful nodding in appreciation.
It would have meant precious little had Mitchell snapped up his nick on 37, but like Lees he lives to fight another day.
New Zealand started on 318 for four, with Mitchell taking 45 minutes to convert his overnight score of 81 into his second hundred in as many innings.
With just 11 Test caps to his name at the age of 31, and not even a guaranteed middle-order place at the start of this tour, he stock has risen exponentially over the past fortnight.
His stay should have ended moments later when he hacked Jack Leach high in the air on 104, only for Matthew Potts to take England’s match tally of missed chances to five when the ball slipped through his hands and into the rope.
At the other end Blundell was warming up nicely as he looked to reel in the century that had eluded him by just four runs at Lord’s.
He almost got there with a six off Leach, but his steepling shot landed just inside the ropes and he had to settle for bringing it up with a scampered single.
Like Mitchell he offered a chance almost straight away but, when he dragged the spinner to Ben Stokes, the captain held on.
That was a lone success in the first two sessions as Mitchell’s fluency allowed New Zealand to add 94 before lunch and another 69 in a rain-shortened afternoon session.
Michael Bracewell made a handy cameo on debut, chipping in with a care-free 49 from number seven.
With James Anderson and Stuart Broad taking an extended break through the middle of the day, England’s remaining bowlers shared some weary-looking spells.
The rain break appeared to refresh English legs and they finally halted the one-way traffic when the old stagers returned to strike three times in quick succession.
Anderson had Bracewell caught behind with an outswinger before Kyle Jamieson and Southee both flapped at short balls from Broad.
Leach picked up Matt Henry for a golden duck as he chipped to point, but Mitchell and last man Boult added another 33 for the last wicket to break the record total.
Mitchell’s fun ended when he clipped a Potts slower ball to the keeper, leaving behind a formidable position for England to stare down.