Jack Leach took 10 wickets in a Test for the first time in his career before Ollie Pope and Joe Root set about leading England’s charge to a series whitewash of New Zealand at Headingley yesterday.
England were 183-2 at stumps on the fourth day of the third and final Test, needing just a further 113 runs to reach a target of 296 on Monday’s last day.
Pope was 81 not out and Root, on his Yorkshire home ground, 55 not out, with the third-wicket pair having shared an unbroken stand of 132.
England will be firm favourites to wrap up a 3-0 series success over Test world champions New Zealand after chasing down stiff targets of 277 and 299 in five-wicket wins at Lord’s and Trent Bridge respectively.
Alex Lees was run out attempting a needless single when New Zealand captain Kane Williamson’s throw was well gathered-in by bowler Trent Boult.
Zak Crawley’s innings ended in familiar fashion when, having made 25 that included 24 runs in boundaries, he tamely chipped spinner Michael Bracewell to Williamson at cover.
Former captain Root came in with England 51-2. Even while presiding over a run of just one win from 17 Tests prior to this series that prompted his resignation as captain, Root’s own form never dipped - in 2021 he scored 1,708 Test runs at a superb average of 61.
Such was New Zealand’s desire to dismiss Root they wasted two of their three reviews this innings off successive Tim Southee deliveries in near-identical attempts to get clearly correct not out lbw decisions overturned when the star batsman was on one.
Root further delighted fans who had been told they could attend the fifth day for free - as was the case in Nottingham last week - with an outrageous reverse-ramp six off left-arm quick Neil Wagner.
Pope, whose fifty came off 66 balls, showed his class by hitting three fours off consecutive Wagner deliveries, including a superb straight drive.
And with Headingley bathed in sunshine, the last over of the day saw Root complete a 78-ball fifty with a legside boundary off Bracewell.
Selected ahead of Ajaz Patel, a frontline spinner, Bracewell had expensive close figures of 1-70 in 11 overs.
When Leach bowled Boult to end the innings, Blundell was left stranded shy of what would have been his second hundred of the series on 88 not out.
England’s Ollie Pope turns to set off on another run during play on day 4 of the third Test against New Zealand at Headingley Cricket Ground in Leeds, northern England, yesterday. (AFP)