MOUNT MAUNGANUI: A rollicking Tom Blundell century propelled New Zealand back into contention before two late England batting stumbles left the first Test tantalisingly poised at Mount Maunganui on Friday.
The tourists held a 98-run lead with eight second-innings wickets in hand and still three days to play in a fast-moving day-night Test at the Bay Oval.
Blundell’s career-best 138 resurrected his side from 83-5, steering them to 306 and just 19 runs short of England’s 325-9 declared.
The delicate nature of the contest didn’t prevent the tourists playing their shots, although they lost openers Ben Duckett, for 25, and Zak Crawley, for 28, in reaching 79-2 at stumps.
Ollie Pope was unbeaten on 14 and nightwatchman Stuart Broad was six not out.
Broad was handed a late lifeline when a top-edge that flew directly upwards landed between Blundell and bowler Scott Kuggeleijn, who were watching each other.
It didn’t detract from Blundell’s whirlwind fourth Test ton – a mix of improvisation and power off 181 balls, featuring 19 fours and one six.
It also continued the 32-year-old’s prolific form of the last year, having scored 383 runs during last June’s 3-0 series loss in England, at an average of 76.6.
Blundell shared a 75-run partnership with opener Devon Conway (77) but just as valuable were late stands with tailenders Kuggeleijn and Blair Tickner – both on Test debut – of 53 and 59 respectively.
Number 11 Tickner contributed three runs as Blundell advanced from 80 to three figures, accompanied by roars from the home crowd under a setting sun, before he was the last home wicket to fall, caught and bowled by James Anderson.
The wicket was historically significant for Anderson, who is on the verge of setting a world record alongside long-time new ball partner Broad.
The pair have taken 1,001 wickets between them in the 133 Tests they have played together, dating back 16 years.
They sit level with Australian greats Shane Warne and Glenn McGrath, who achieved 1,001 wickets in 104 Tests played together.
The 1,000 mark was reached early on Friday when nightwatchman Neil Wagner was fooled by a slower ball by Broad (1-72), having heaved him for successive sixes off the two previous deliveries.
Anderson finished with 3-36 while Ollie Robinson claimed 4-54, his highlight a scything in-ducker that trapped Daryl Mitchell for a duck.
Conway started New Zealand’s fightback but lost concentration against a relentless barrage of short bowling from England captain Ben Stokes (1-38) and stabbed a pull shot straight to square leg.
England were typically aggressive in the final hour under lights but paid a price as new boys Tickner and Kuggeleijn bagged a wicket each.
Duckett was caught in the slips as Tickner found a hint of movement before a Crawley innings peppered with six fours ended when his edge found the gloves of Blundell.