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Match Analysis

Kane Williamson philosophical after 'knife-edge' Test slips away from New Zealand

Breakthrough never came on fourth morning as old ball refused to move in overcast conditions

Valkerie Baynes
Valkerie Baynes
Kane Williamson shakes hands with Joe Root after England seal victory  •  AFP/Getty Images

Kane Williamson shakes hands with Joe Root after England seal victory  •  AFP/Getty Images

"I'd sell my soul for total control..." so sang The Motels circa 1979 and this was a match where neither side could claim to have held full sway until what turned out to be the final morning, when Joe Root and Ben Foakes guided England to a rather anticlimactic five-wicket victory over New Zealand just over an hour into the fourth day.
Talk to any seasoned England fan with their side needing just 61 runs with five wickets still in hand and one of their greatest ever battters unbeaten on 77, and still they more than half-expected a calamitous collapse to inject some unwelcome excitement, or the imposing gloom overhead to erupt and elongate the day. But neither eventuated.
New Zealand needed to seize the initiative with an ageing ball they had managed to swap out the previous evening, arguably to their peril when it failed to give them any assistance, and they repeatedly tried - unsuccessfully - to change it again on Sunday morning.
"The game ebbed and flowed throughout the whole three-and-a-half days and there were some very similar traits," Kane Williamson, the New Zealand captain, said. "We were trying to take advantage of those, whether that was overheads or the slightly harder ball.
"Credit to England, it was a game that was on a bit of a knife-edge, it was finely balanced and we knew coming into this morning that if we could pick up a wicket early then we know things can happen quickly here in England. It wasn't to be. We struggled to get the assistance that we hoped for and an exceptional knock from Joe there, that he's done so often and he does it again."
Indeed, it was Root and Foakes who finally took control over an arm-wrestle of a match with a glorious century and mature 32 not out respectively as part of an unbroken 120-run stand.
But before that, it was some of the more out-of-control moments that had the potential to define this match. There was Colin de Grandhomme's bizarre run-out as he appeared to bask a little too long in surviving an lbw appeal from Stuart Broad in the middle of three New Zealand wickets falling in as many balls, then de Grandhomme's no-ball which gave Ben Stokes a second life on 1 (he went on to score a valuable 54).
There was Stokes taking to spinner Ajaz Patel, launching him for three sixes and effectively shutting him out of the attack on the third day and Stokes' eventual dismissal flailing his hands at a Kyle Jamieson steepler. All were moments within moments that could have turned the match.
Jamieson could hold his head high after bowling superbly on the third day for his four wickets. Williamson said it had been his intention to use Patel more but, after he conceded 22 off his two overs in England's second innings and with cold, overcast conditions not conducive to spin on the last day, he looked again to his seamers.
"Both teams played frontline spinners, looking at the surface and expecting them to come into play," Williamson said. "We've seen that a little bit more throughout the whole season over here in county cricket as well and, as we saw, it took a slightly different turn and things started happening quite quickly, where the threat with the seam bowlers appeared to be more significant and so we were trying to utilise that.
"Naturally as the game starts coming to a close and time's not on your side you're trying to make the decisions that might give you the best chance and we felt that the seamers out there were the ones to try and do the job, as they did in the first innings."
He was also left to rue Broad's explosive spell with the second new ball which removed Daryl Mitchell shortly after he reached his century on the third morning, while James Anderson removed Tom Blundell four runs shy of his ton, which served to highlight the New Zealand bowlers' inability put a lid on Root and Foakes until the second new ball was due for them.
"It was a game that was so finely balanced throughout all the days that it was played and so it was trying to stay in it and stay patient and know if you could bring quality for long periods, then then it can change so quickly and we certainly had that hope coming into to the last day today," Williamson said.
"We were sort of hopeful perhaps of some assistance and a lot of the guys have played in England before and talk about overheads and today you couldn't have hoped for much better. But it wasn't to be and it was met with real quality in the batting and in the chase that England provided. So unfortunately for us that it wasn't our day, but credit to England and the way they played and stayed in the fight as well."
Stokes, who celebrated his 31st birthday on Saturday, recalled his thoughts as he turned back, three-quarters of the way back to the pavilion thinking he was out to de Grandhomme: "No matter what my wife gets me for my birthday, it probably won't be as good as that."
"It was a huge bit of luck, but sometimes you need it," he added, "just very, very fortunate because I don't think Dutchy really over-steps the mark that often. Lord's and drama and me - it just seems to follow me around, doesn't it?"
Stokes too, remarked on how the momentum could have gone either way throughout in a match that kept raising reminders of their 2019 World Cup final battle.
"We didn't take control, New Zealand didn't take control," he said. "Maybe they did at one point when Mitchell and Blundell were playing but I just don't know what it is about Lord's, England-New Zealand, there's just always drama, always very good games and we're very even sides, especially in these English conditions.
"Sixty needed, five wickets down, it sounds like we should cruise to victory, but the way this wicket's played and the conditions that always seemed to be in the bowlers' favour, but the way that Joe and Ben went out and played this morning, you know, almost put the nail in the coffin straight away."
So finally someone found it. That precious moment of control.

Valkerie Baynes is a general editor at ESPNcricinfo