Daryl Mitchell, Matt Henry fifties keep New Zealand’s Test preparation on course

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New Zealanders 298 for 8 (Henry 65*, Mitchell 58, Young 46, Patterson-White 3-60) vs County Select XI

Day by day, innings by innings, and now player by player, New Zealand’s World Champion Test team is slowly beginning to assemble in good time for next week’s series opener against England at Lord’s.

You wouldn’t necessarily believe it from their first-day scorecard at Chelmsford, which yielded a litany of half-formed innings as a spirited County Select XI made light of the pre-toss loss of Ollie Robinson to share eight wickets between them, including three in as many evening-session overs for the Nottinghamshire spinner Liam Patterson-White.

However, in keeping with the message emanating from the England camp since the arrival of Brendon McCullum as coach, it’s the mindset that matters the most, and with half-centuries for Matt Henry and Daryl Mitchell – one of the squad’s most recent arrivals from IPL duty – and a further 46 from 96 balls from Will Young, a key factor in last year’s series-sealing victory at Edgbaston, there was enough evidence of progress in between the splodges on the scorecard.

By the close, the New Zealanders had pushed along to 298 for 8, thanks in no small part to a lively ninth-wicket stand between Cam Fletcher and Henry, whose unbeaten 65 from 67 balls contained ten of the most uncompromising blows of the day.

It was hardly riches compared to some of the monstrous totals being racked up at this ground in the Championship this season. However, this green-tinged pitch was a more conventional Chelmsford surface than the ECB-ordered roads of recent vintage, offering good carry for the quicks all day long – perhaps most notably the young left-armer Ben Gibbon, whose nipbacker to send Mitchell on his way for 58 was unquestionably the ball of the day.

By the time of his extraction, however, Mitchell had made a sufficient mark. The transition from the white-ball tamasha of the IPL to the dozy ebb and flow of the CloudFM County Ground is one of the more curious tempo-changes that the game has to offer – and it’s a comedown that Kane Williamson too can expect to experience later in the game after his overnight arrival in the country, albeit from a paternity stopover in New Zealand.

Mitchell, however, has had less of an abrupt shift than some of his team-mates – notably Devon Conway, who thumped a matchwinning 87 from 49 balls for Chennai Super Kings earlier this month, and was still in action only this past weekend. Here his solitary scoring shot was a pleasing cut through point as he fell for 4 from 14 balls to the energetic Lancashire seamer Jack Blatherwick.

Mitchell, by contrast, has been warming the bench for Rajasthan Royals for the past month, ever since two underwhelming mid-tournament outings which yielded a total of 33 runs from 44 balls, and left him surplus to Rajasthan’s squad permutations as they prepare for Friday’s Qualifier against RCB.

He stood firm in a lively opening gambit. Gibbon’s tight line to the left-handed Tom Latham induced a spliced edge to Ryan Patel at second slip before Blatherwick’s breakthrough left New Zealand tottering at 24 for 2. But Young, who survived a tough chance to the diving Patel at midwicket on 6, grew into his own knock as he and Mitchell added 67 for the third wicket.

The pick of Young’s six fours was a powerful launch through long-on as Jamie Porter dropped short, and having carried his solid county form for Northamptonshire into his two unbeaten innings against Sussex earlier in the week, another half-century seemed on the cards until Blatherwick found some nip on off stump and a thin edge off a squared-up blade.

Robinson’s morning withdrawal led to a late SOS to Middlesex’s Ethan Bamber, who arrived during the lunch interval and was thrust into action as a rolling substitute in the afternoon, bowling nine lively overs but encountering Mitchell in a mood to free his arms, as he leaned into an elegant launch over long-on for the only six of his innings.

It briefly seemed that Gibbon might also fall victim to New Zealand’s hard-hitting middle-order, as Colin de Grandhomme clicked his own innings into gear with three fours in a row – each of them dismissed through the leg side as the youngster strayed repeatedly onto his legs.

But Gibbon, who turns 22 in a fortnight’s time, has already endured worse indignities in his short career. The first of his two first-class appearances to date also happened to be the occasion of Ben Stokes’ rampage through New Road three weeks ago, and he had been on the receiving end of two of Stokes’ record-breaking 17 sixes that day.

One over later, and with Mitchell back in his sights, Gibbon changed his angle to round the wicket, and produced a peach of a bail-trimmer, nipping at pace from a good length outside off, and bursting through a loose drive to flick the top of off stump.

By that stage Tom Blundell had already fallen for 8, caught at slip by Patel as he pushed with hard hands at a tight-lined lifter from Lyndon James. And though de Grandhomme and Michael Bracewell seemed in the mood to re-inflate the innings from a wobbly 154 for 5, the introduction of Patterson-White’s unassuming but quietly effective left-arm spin caused a further flurry of breakthroughs.

Bracewell gave Patterson-White the charge, only for the ball to turn inexorably through the gate to bowl him for 21, whereupon de Grandhomme planted him into the long-off stands before chopping the next ball through backward point for four. Patterson-White held his nerve, though, and his line, immediately skidding a flatter delivery into the pads to extract a leg-stump lbw decision for 39.

Kyle Jamieson then leaned back on an attempted cut to hole out to Nick Gubbins at short cover, but as the floodlights kicked in, so did Henry with a buccaneering final flurry to a satisfactory day’s play all round.

Andrew Miller is UK editor of ESPNcricinfo. @miller_cricket



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