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England on shaky ground to save 1st test against New Zealand

November 24, 2019 GMT
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New Zealand's BJ Watling bats during play on day four of the first cricket test between England and New Zealand at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)
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New Zealand's BJ Watling bats during play on day four of the first cricket test between England and New Zealand at Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui, New Zealand, Sunday, Nov. 24, 2019. (AP Photo/Mark Baker)

MOUNT MAUNGANUI, New Zealand (AP) — England was jolted awake by a sharp earthquake Sunday and stayed off-balance as unshakable wicketkeeper B.J. Watling batted 11 hours for a double century which gave New Zealand control of the first cricket test at the end of the fourth day.

The 5.9 magnitude tremor struck 30 miles off the coast of Mount Maunganui, sending England players scrambling from the beds at 5.30am on a day which didn’t get any better for the touring team.

Watling became the first New Zealand wicketkeeper to score a test double century and batted longer than any Kiwi gloveman before him. Allrounder Mitchell Santner added a maiden century and the pair shared a record 261-run seventh wicket partnership which allowed New Zealand to declare after tea at 615-9, 262 ahead on the first innings.

Santner then took three wicket as England went to stumps at 53-3, 207 runs behind.

First Watling took a catch from Santner’s bowling to dismiss Dom Sibley for 12, then Rory Burns (31) was caught by Colin de Grandhomme from Santner’s bowling. Finally, and from the last ball of the day, Tom Latham dived forward from shot mid-wicket to catch nightwatchman Jack Leach (0), leaving Santner with 3-6 from 8.4 overs.

Santner, known as Flatline to his teammates for his lack of emotion, described the day as “not bad.”

“We got a good score there,” he said. “We put a lot of hard work in with the bat.

“It was good to get the hundred but it was great the way B.J. batted as well to get his double hundred and build a lead and it was nice to take a few wickets at the end.”

For the second day in a row, England endured a punishing day in the field as Watling and Santner built New Zealand’s formidable advantage. Their partnership, New Zealand’s highest for the seventh wicket against all nations, saw England go without a wicket for almost a full day — 83.2 overs — and tested the tourists’ powers of endurance.

Watling batted throughout the third day in partnerships of 70 for the fifth wicket with Henry Nicholls (41) and 119 for the fifth wicket with de Grandhomme (65), then with Santner before stumps Saturday.

Santner survived a barrage of bouncers in that last period of play on the third day, finishing with vivid welts as he took balls from Ben Stokes and Jofra Archer on the body.

The first session Sunday was still a hard grind for Watling and Santner; they added only 58 runs and just 19 in the first hour but from then on punished the England attack as New Zealand’s hold on the match became tighter.

Santner reached his century in 322 minutes from 252 balls and was finally out for 126 after having batted for only seven minutes fewer than six hours. He hit out late in the second session and finished with 11 fours and five sixes.

Watling continued to bat the clock around, solid and immoveable on a day which had begun with an unsettling shake. New Zealand captain Kane Williamson delayed a declaration longer than seemed necessary and Watling was finally out for 205, having batted 11 hours and seven minutes.

He eclipsed his own five-year-old record for the longest innings by a New Zealand wicketkeeper and his previous highest test score of 142.

New Zealand’s declaration came about 10 minutes later and with the best part of four sessions remaining in the match.

How the pitch at the Bay Oval will deteriorate on the last day remains a mystery as the stadium is hosting a test match for the first time. Visible cracks in the surface, not the result of the morning earthquake, have produced variable bounce which likely will make batting difficult at times.

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