LEEDS, England (AP) — England moved closer to a series sweep after reaching stumps at 183-2 in its second innings on Sunday, needing 113 more runs against New Zealand with one day left in the third and final test.
Ollie Pope (81 not out) and Joe Root (55 not out) shared an undefeated 132-run partnership for the third wicket.
England is chasing a winning target of 296 after dismissing world test champion New Zealand for 326 with Jack Leach taking 10 wickets overall at Headingley. The England spinner claimed 5-66, including the final wicket of Trent Boult (4), to go with his 5-100 in the first innings.
With the emphasis now on entertaining and aggressive cricket under new captain Ben Stokes, England successfully chased down 299 with some 22 overs to spare in the second test, and it still has a full day to win the third.
“I want to be contributing to wins and I’m really enjoying working with Stokesy," Leach said. "It’s really attacking and I’m enjoying that, and kind of trying to bowl attacking as well.”
Earlier, Tom Blundell ran out of partners and was 88 not out at the end of New Zealand's second innings. He shared another impressive partnership with Daryl Mitchell (56), who was trapped leg before wicket in the afternoon by pacer Matthew Potts (3-66). The pair put on 113 for the sixth wicket.
The tourists resumed the fourth day on 168-5, stretching their lead to 223 at lunch.
Mitchell and Blundell have been constant irritants to England over the course of the series, sharing big stands of 195 and 236 at Lord’s and Trent Bridge, respectively, and the pair once again combined to shut down the home attack. Mitchell became the first touring player to score more than 500 runs in a test series of three matches or fewer in England.
England had started the day with an unexpected personnel change when wicketkeeper Ben Foakes tested positive for COVID-19. He had already been absent on day three due to a stiff back. Sam Billings was summoned as an emergency replacement, earning a second test cap after his debut in the final match of the Ashes.
Billings, who will also be able to bat in the fourth innings, was England’s second substitute of the series after Matt Parkinson stepped in for a concussed Leach at Lord’s.
Neil Wagner was caught behind in unusual fashion by Billings, who was unable to gather the edge cleanly but did snare the ball between his legs before pouching it as the ball dropped down in another wicket for Leach.
England, which was reduced to 55-6 in the first innings, had an early setback in the second when Alex Lees was run out for nine, a victim of Zak Crawley’s jittery pursuit of a single and an excellent tag-team effort by Kane Williamson and Boult.
Crawley, meanwhile, got off the mark with a thick edge that grazed the fingertips of second slip and continued to look nervy. It was another unsatisfactory knock of 25 from the under-pressure opener, who tried to manufacture a lofted cover drive against Michael Bracewell’s spin and simply lobbed tamely to Williamson.
Root arrived at 51-2 at the start of the 13th over in another typically action-packed start from Brendon McCullum’s England.
Root even managed to shovel a delivery from Wagner over third man for six with a remarkably composed reverse scoop. The two men briefly exchanged smiles afterward.
The runs kept flowing at a rate more suited to ODIs, with twin half-centuries for Pope and Root as England hurtled along at 4.69 an over.
“Obviously we have to come back tomorrow and do the good things again," Leach said. “But it’s just a positive mentality, and you realize how much decisions in cricket are kind of based maybe around negativity. It’s something I’ve never experienced and am just loving being a part of.”
Fans can attend the final day for free, replicating Nottinghamshire’s successful initiative in the second test.
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