LONDON: Joe Root and Ben Stokes both fell agonisingly short of a hundred after rescuing England from a dire position on the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand at Lord’s on Thursday.
At stumps, England who had been 30 for four when Stokes came in were 354 for seven after New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum won the toss and fielded.
Root (98) and Stokes (92) had put on 161 for the fifth wicket.
Jos Buttler (67) and Moeen Ali (49 not out) then added 103 before the wicket-keeper was lbw to Trent Boult off the last ball of the day.
England came into this match dealing with the fall-out from the sacking of coach Peter Moores and the ongoing furore surrounding Kevin Pietersen’s continuing exile from the side.
They were also up against a reinvigorated New Zealand side fresh from a run to the World Cup final that saw England humiliated along the way.
And when England lost those four early wickets, it looked like their woes were about to multiply.
Yet it was two of England’s ‘young guns’, the 24-year-old Root and the 23-year-old Stokes who turned the tide in the first of this two-match series.
Earlier, New Zealand were quickly among the wickets even though their three frontline bowlers including Test debutant Matt Henry plus McCullum himself, had only arrived in England just days before after stints in the Indian Premier League.
But there were few early signs of rustiness on a green-tinged pitch, albeit the skies above Lord’s were largely sunny and blue.
Instead debutant England opener Adam Lyth, selected after Jonathan Trott retired following a run of low scores during the drawn series in the West Indies, was caught behind off Tim Southee for seven.
The 100th Test between England and New Zealand then saw the hosts lose three wickets for five runs in 15 balls.
Boult had Gary Ballance caught at third slip for one before England captain Alastair Cook (16) fell when, beaten for pace by 23-year-old Canterbury quick Henry, he top-edged an attempted hook through to wicket-keeper BJ Watling.
Henry, who ended the day with three for 93, then produced another classic fast bowler’s delivery to dismiss Ian Bell for one, a full-length ball pitching on off stump and holding its line.
At lunch, England were 113 for four with Root 49 not out and left-hander Stokes unbeaten on 36.
But it was Stokes the New Zealand-born son of former Kiwi rugby league international Ged Stokes but brought up in England who really took the attack to the tourists.
He went from 64 to 89 in just 11 balls, including a pulled six off Henry and well-struck fours through midwicket off Boult.
However, Stokes eyeing what would have been just his second Test hundred following his brilliant 120 against Australia at Perth in December 2013 played a key role in his own downfall.
The Durham all-rounder left a delivery from off-spinner Mark Craig only to see the ball come down the Lord’s slope and bowl him.
Stokes trudged off, having faced just 94 balls, including 15 fours and a six.
Root, however, was 80 not out at tea but, two runs shy of what would have been his third Test hundred in successive years at Lord’s, under-edged a cut off Henry and was caught behind by Tom Latham, deputising for the injured Watling.
The Yorkshireman batted for more than three-and-a-half hours, facing 161 balls including 11 fours.
There was still time for Buttler and Ali to make a fifty apiece, before left-armer Boult eventually broke through with the new ball.