Kane Williamson hails 'special' performance as New Zealand extend formidable home record
Captain praises middle-order resilience as England are overwhelmed in first Test
Kane Williamson hailed a "special" performance from his side's middle-order as New Zealand completed a "unique" innings victory over England.
Williamson, the New Zealand captain, was particularly gratified by the result as it came after England had won a hugely important toss and took first advantage of a pitch that, at the time, offered few dangers for batsmen. It also came in contrast to many of New Zealand's victories, which tend to be set up by their seamers on green surfaces over the first couple of days.
But despite conceding what appeared, at the time, a respectful first-innings total of 353 and then slipping to 127 for 4 in reply, New Zealand's middle-order batted so well - and for so long - that BJ Watling produced the second-longest innings (in terms of balls faced) in history by a Test keeper, Mitchell Santner produced the 10th-longest innings (in terms of balls faced) from a No. 8 in Test history and New Zealand recorded their highest Test score against England. As a result, England were left to contend with a fifth-day deteriorating pitch, and failed to do so.
"To lose the toss and be 350 behind in the first innings required something special," Williamson said. "And it was something special for 200 overs to get us into a position which gave us a chance.
"To get 600 gave us that opportunity to bowl last on that wicket, so a huge amount of credit goes to the way the middle-order built those partnerships. BJ Watling with 200 and Mitch Santner with his first Test hundred were incredibly valuable and hugely required. Colin de Grandhomme batted well, too.
"The pitch started to deteriorate which is what you want to see in Test cricket. But when you do see that you want to have won the toss. This is certainly right up there in terms of a tough, grinding Test victory."
This is certainly right up there in terms of a tough, grinding Test victory
A key difference between the sides, Williamson felt, was the conversion of the batsmen. While England had three men register half-centuries, none of them were able to go and register the big century that might have defined the game. New Zealand, by comparison, converted two of their four fifties to hundreds, with Watling completing a career-best 205.
"Scores of 50 and 60 weren't enough to turn the momentum from England's first innings," Williamson said. "It did require something large and for a long period of time and that's what those guys did. It was a brilliant effort against a very strong England bowling attack.
"It was outstanding to see that middle, lower-order apply themselves like that. BJ Watling is such a tough competitor and just cares about getting the team into a position to win cricket games. It goes a long way to him applying himself for near on 500 balls, which is an amazing effort. A lot of people wish they could bat 500 balls, including myself.
"It was a brilliant, brilliant performance and it took a huge amount of hard work scoring at two-and-a-half an over for the most part so it wasn't free flowing. For BJ and Mitch to keep soaking up that pressure was outstanding and something that is clearly very hard to do for everybody."
New Zealand are now unbeaten in their last 10 home Tests - a run that goes back to March 2017 - and have won seven of them. Five of those victories - including their last three Tests - have been by an innings while the others have been crushing margins of 423 runs (against Sri Lanka) and 240 runs (against West Indies). Whichever way you look at it, that is an outstanding record.
To make New Zealand's success all the more admirable, it was achieved, on the final day, without much input from Trent Boult. He was able to contribute just one over before rib pain forced him off the pitch. He will have an MRI scan on Tuesday and must be considered a severe doubt for the second Test. Williamson, too, spent time off the field having experienced pain in his hip region but he insisted it was nothing too serious.
"A lot was taken out of both teams in this Test," Williamson said. "It was a really tough effort for long periods. But we have that squad of 15 and all the guys will meet up in Hamilton and we will have to assess the fitness of everybody." There is probably a good chance Lockie Ferguson will make his Test debut.
You can be certain that Neil Wagner will want to be involved. He came into this match with a few question marks over his selection ahead of Ferguson, but proved his worth with another wholehearted performance that ended with a five-wicket haul in the second innings. It left Williamson both grateful for the effort put in by his bowlers and thankful for the batting of Watling and co. which gave Wagner and Tim Southee time to recover from their bowling stints in England's first innings.
"Our really good first-innings batting allowed the guys to put their feet up," he said. "That was really important because they put in a lot of overs in that first innings. For the guys to freshen up proved really important without Trent as a resource.
"We knew if you could hit the wicket hard you would get some variable bounce. We saw the wicket deteriorate and, when you're bowling for a Test win there's a little bit more in the tank. They were outstanding.
"In some respects it was quite a unique performance for New Zealand because we're generally looking to bowl first because the wickets are so green. Often a lot of damage is done in the first couple of days then it becomes a different match.
"But this was the opposite. Both teams were looking to bat and the wicket aged quite considerably. So it was a fantastic surface for a result and something unique for us in New Zealand."
George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo