If a spruced up opening partnership is a gauge, New Zealand’s prospects of securing cricket’s World Test Championship by month’s end look more promising.
Captain Kane Williamson made a logical decision to bat, given the limited grass cover and fine conditions at Lord’s.
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Black Caps fans were then treated to 77 minutes of resourceful and technical nous when debutant Devon Conway partnered Tom Latham at the top of the order.
The pair rustled up 58 runs in 16 overs by applying high front elbows and low risk temptation. The left-handers bonded to disrupt the synergy of Stuart Broad and James Anderson, and the vim of Ollie Robinson and, at least for Conway, Mark Wood.
The partnership is New Zealand’s highest for the first wicket since Latham and Jeet Raval put on 64 at Galle against Sri Lanka in their opening World Test Championship fixture – one of six instances the Black Caps openers have batted in the first innings during the competition. The best between Latham and Tom Blundell was 31 against the West Indies in Wellington.
The average opening partnership by New Zealanders in the first innings of a match in England across 26 examples in 80 years of tests is 35.42. The going can get tough.
Conway and Latham left the Black Doris-coloured Duke on merit or committed to leaning on strokes late to counter early movement. That allowed Williamson to bask in the St John’s Wood sun from the doorway of the visitors’ balcony, knowing the ball was bruising.
Sure, he was a victim of playing late and playing on to James Anderson for 13, but he can at least feel more reassured – a relative term for any No.3 – in the first innings of the next two tests.
In fact, the whole team probably sat down to the Lord’s chef’s pan-seared stone bass, beetroot gnocchi and strawberry Eton mess with a degree of satisfaction, especially the tailenders.
The upshot is if Conway and Latham can further blunt the England attack in the second innings at Lord’s and the second test at Edgbaston, they will be fine-tuned for whatever Jasprit Bumrah, Ishant Sharma and co can deliver in Southampton.
Conway went on to one of the finest debut knocks at the ground – only six people have scored a ton in their maiden test at the Marylebone Cricket Club – but the discipline of his foundation work resonated as much as anything.
After waiting three overs to face his first ball he defused Stuart Broad from around the wicket with aplomb, getting his head over the ball and pushing forward in good faith.
Similarly, Conway was patient with Anderson angling across him from over the wicket.
One moment of anguish came when debutant Ollie Robinson drew him into a drive and the edge flew between third slip and backward point. Later, Mark Wood rattled him at 152km/h. Conway will be reminded by the purple mass on his shoulder, but the sacrifice was worth the restraint from engaging a rash shot. His temperament shone through.
Conway’s surety can only add to Latham’s confidence, too. He has no need to protect his partner in terms of tempo or technique. Robinson eventually got Latham playing on for his maiden test wicket on a day of joy and later humiliation once historically sexist and racist media posts were published from his 18-year-old past in 2012. However, Latham’s work was done to some degree. Conway, and later Henry Nicholls, capitalised to leave New Zealand in command at 246 for three.
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