JOE ROOT turned his first Test century since February into the longest innings of his career.
Captain Root batted for 636 minutes and 441 balls – both personal highs – in a performance of immense concentration, discipline and willpower in the Second Test.
His mighty stay at the crease washed away some of the worries about whether the leadership is damaging Root’s batting.
Root has always insisted he can do both jobs without any problems – but his relatively low output in recent months presented an alternative case.
Root’s own achievements are secondary to the business of winning the match, of course.
And, when he caught Kiwi opener Tom Latham at slip off Chris Woakes and reduced New Zealand to 28-2 in their second innings, he was dreaming of a win.
The Kiwis were still 73 runs behind at that stage with potentially more than 120 overs remaining in the match.
Sam Curran earlier had Kiwi opener Jeet Raval lbw for a second ball duck.
But the old firm of Kane Williamson and Ross Taylor remained together with a partnership of 68 and, by the close of day four, the Blackcaps were 96-2 and just five runs behind.
Williamson was twice forced to take evasive action in the manner of a limbo dancer as Jofra Archer and Curran pinged down short balls homing in on his head.
England conceded five penalty runs when stand-in wicketkeeper Ollie Pope allowed the ball to escape his grasp and it hit the helmet on the ground behind him.
With some rain forecast on the final day and the pitch still flat, a draw looks the most likely outcome.
RAIN SET TO DISRUPT BATTLE
That would give New Zealand a 1-0 victory in the two-Test series.
Resuming day four on 114 not out, Root was chiefly responsible for England’s first innings total of 476, which gave them a lead of 101.
He put on 193 for the sixth wicket with Surrey’s Ollie Pope, who combined his duties behind the stumps with the highest score of his fledgling international career.
Their partnership spanned 62 overs and that included a spurt at the end. Most of the time, it was slow stuff as England laid the foundation for a decent lead.
Root said: “I felt good. I wanted to make it a real big one and get us into a position to win this game. If we can sneak a couple of wicket first thing on day five, who knows?
“I felt in a better rhythm, more like my normal self when I’m playing well. I felt busy at the crease. I’ve always felt my best form was close – it was more a frustration at getting out than a worry.”
In the end, after being 455-5 at one stage, England were disappointed to be bowled out for 476. They were hoping for a lead of more than 150 to apply greater pressure to the Blackcaps.
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Pope was caught at deep mid-wicket attempting a pull shot and then Root finally holed out to deep cover.
Woakes was caught behind and Archer, after hitting a straight six, had his stumps re-arranged by Neil Wagner.
Wagner completed a five-wicket haul for the second successive innings when Stuart Broad missed a straight low full toss. It was the 35th duck of Broad’s career, joint third on the all-time list with Glenn McGrath and behind New Zealand’s Chris Martin and Courtney Walsh of West Indies.