With five balls remaining off the tee, Leach flipped and Nicholls flapped to turn the ball into a half-volley, drifting slightly up and down the ground. Mitchell, on the non-striker end, flinched and tried to drag his racquet away from the line of the ball but somehow managed to deflect it straight down the middle to Alex Lees.
“It’s just one of those unfortunate things,” said Luke Ronchi, New Zealand’s batting coach. “Daryl just went back to how he’s been doing it all along.” As Ronchi left the room, his old Somerset teammate, Leach, repeated another of his phrases: “I like those little quirks,” he shared a grin.
“I didn’t even know if that was allowed,” Leach added. “I don’t really like the dismissal, but I felt like I bowled Nicholls pretty well beforehand…you just have to take it. It’s a stupid game, isn’t it? That made me think: It’s a stupid game we’re playing.”
“Tragedy is when I stub my toe. Comedy is falling into an open manhole and dying,” comedian and filmmaker Mel Brooks once said, and England laughed. This was a black comedy moment for New Zealand – black cap comedy, if you will – and one that felt grimly familiar on a tour that’s stumbled from one calamity to another.
This tour was a stark contrast: from the moment the touring group landed in the UK, just about everything that could have gone wrong seems to have gone wrong. On day five of the trip, Nicholls tested positive for Covid-19, as did Blair Tickner and bowling coach Shane Jurgensen, and the virus has been a constant nuisance at camp ever since.
Mitchell, meanwhile, is having the worst best streak of his — or almost anyone’s — career: he’s averaging a staggering 150.33, but somehow seems to have spent much of the last three weeks dropping catches on slips and his partners too run . At least he had a lucky moment today. He was not released on the 8th when Matthew Potts’ inswinger crashed into his pad and England decided not to review the decision on the field, only to confirm by tracing the ball that it would have crashed in the middle and leg.
In the end, his partnership with Blundell was worth 102, their tally in the series’ third century, and Stoke’s non-rating had cost 70 runs. New Zealand are clearly not where they would have liked to have been after deciding to bat first, but at least they had a wicketless evening session to hold on to: without it, they would face the prospect of a whitewash on the anniversary of their crowning stare down moments .