LEEDS: England are 113 runs away from completing a series whitewash against New Zealand after the hosts put themselves in a commanding position with eight wickets in hand in the final innings of the third test yesterday.
Chasing 296 for victory, Ollie Pope and Joe Root were at the crease at stumps after the pair made light work of a competitive target as England finished day four on 183-2.
The pair set up what promises to be an intriguing final day, with Headingley hopeful of having a packed house as they look to replicate the Trent Bridge test’s atmosphere by offering free tickets.
England lost Alex Lees to a run-out after a mix-up in the fifth over while his opening partner Zak Crawley (25) was caught in the covers off Michael Bracewell, with skipper Kane Williamson involved in both dismissals.
But Pope (81) and Root (55) steadied the ship with an unbeaten 132-run partnership as they saw off the fast bowlers and targeted spinner Bracewell, who went for over six per over.
New Zealand also lost two reviews in successive balls when Root was rapped on the pads. The former England skipper survived on both occasions, giving Williamson a lot to ponder every time there was a shout for leg-before wicket.
Earlier, New Zealand were dismissed for 326 after the in-form Daryl Mitchell and Tom Blundell had again frustrated the hosts.
England’s momentum gained by taking three wickets late on the third day seemed to be fading away in the morning as Mitchell and Blundell continued their fine form in the series.
The pair batted through the first session, negotiated the early swing in gusty conditions and also saw off a bit of the new ball, completing their half-centuries after lunch.
But Matthew Potts finally broke the 113-run stand when he had Mitchell (56) trapped leg-before.
That wicket opened the floodgates as the tourists lost half their side for 52 runs while Jack Leach became the first England spinner to claim two five-wicket hauls in a home test since Derek Underwood in 1974.
Blundell was in fine form and desperately tried to reach his century with unorthodox shots but he was left stranded on 88 not out as he ran out of partners.
The hosts were dealt a blow before play started when wicketkeeper Ben Foakes was ruled out of the remainder of the game after testing positive for Covid-19, with Billings brought in as a substitute.
England, 2-0 up, are bidding to win every match of a home series with at least three tests for the first time since their 4-0 rout of India in 2011.