When Dan Lawrence was 18, he used to tell people he didn’t know that he was a pilot. The reasons are pretty clear. Pilots are daring, exciting and sharp. Cricketers, well, let’s just say the perception is quite the opposite.
Perhaps he still does. Cricket’s image hasn’t changed much over the last five years, and pilots, though they have a bit more free time nowadays, are still pretty cool.
But on Friday, as he started the day putting the finishing touches on an unbeaten 81 that lifted England to a reasonable 303, then bowled his right-arm misdirection to snare Will Young for 82 to leave New Zealand 229 for three at stumps, maybe things will be different. That he is, in fact, a cricketer. And his name is Dan Lawrence.
Because without his third half-century, and maiden Test wicket, the spoils would belong entirely to the hosts. They do still have the majority of it: a deficit of 74 with seven batters to come is a commanding position on a pitch with very few demons and against an attack who look a Jack Leach light. In a way, Lawrence’s off-breaks drawing turn and bounce to dismiss Young was a reminder of the foolishness of that omission.
Nevertheless, a resumption on 258 for seven was cheered by another 18,000 strong crowd at Edgbaston through his ambitious strokes and Mark Wood’s classy support. The latter displayed the kind of cheek he usually displays in front of a mic, with some traditional drives through cover and a couple of flamboyant whooshes over the cordon. Their stand was eventually felled on 66 when an inside edge gave Matt Henry his third (three for 78), before Trent Boult cleared out Stuart Broad and James Anderson - given a huge ovation for his 162nd Test cap – for figures of four for 85. By then, Lawrence had lifted England above 300. A par score, and nothing more.
It was at the end of this innings that the atmosphere took a dive as the Blackcaps asserted themselves with familiar calm. And with that came a drab few hours for the hosts that was only lifted by Lawrence’s final contribution of the day.
At one point, a streaker charged onto the pitch, much to the amusement most of those in the crowd. It’s a peculiar pursuit at the best of times, but all the stranger given the person in question was leaving the revelry in the stands for the only part of Edgbaston that did not look any fun at all.
The moment that seemed to kill the joy in the middle came in the 10th over of New Zealand’s first innings. Broad, coming in from around the wicket - the same angle he’s taken early to left-handers these last few years, which allowed him to snare skipper Tom Latham LBW - thought he had the big wicket of Conway with a catch to Zak Crawley at third slip.
Last week’s double centurion was unsure whether it had carried, and umpire Richard Kettleborough agreed, sending it to the TV umpire with a soft signal of “not out”. Broad was incensed, gesturing a clean take as Michael Gough agreed with Kettleborough’s assessment.
It was a deflating blow to England’s hopes. Day two at Edgbaston is generally better for batting, and armed with a new Dukes ball, in-roads had to be made quickly before the sun took over from the clouds. And with Conway striking the ball as cleanly as that maiden knock, and judgement similarly attuned – he played and missed just four times in those 347 deliveries for that 200 - a long grind beckoned.
The same combination would eventually do for Conway 35 overs later. On 80, a lavish flick to the backward square leg - the same shot that took him to three figures at Lord’s - was sent straight into the hands of Crawley. What seemed an inevitable second century for the 29-year old ended up becoming a first notch in the “half-century” column.
Devon Conway of New Zealand bats during day two
But by then, at 137 for two, a malaise had already descended onto the field, even with the ball change in the 42nd over improved the seam and swing England were able to achieve. The bowlers looked tired, especially so without ball in hand, and the fielder was slack. And perhaps it speaks poorly of those out there that the initial life for Conway seemed to take so much out of them.
Not just that, truth be told. Joe Root shelled a simple catch off Olly Stone that would have been an eighth Test wicket, and first at his home ground, for 52 for two. The Warwickshire quick struggled to summon the same sort of post-lunch punch in the evening session, as the man who he thought he had on seven had moved assuredly to a maiden fifty from 132 deliveries.
As ever with these kinds of days, the near misses made it all feel that little bit worse. Broad coaxed an edge from Young - on 40 - which dropped just short of James Bracey. The wicketkeeper’s reaction, along with that of the captain to his right, suggested he should have been a couple of steps further forward.
Anderson was given wicket number 617 when Ross Taylor, 11, was adjudged LBW. The ball was sliding down leg stump, but England almost benefitted from Taylor’s uncertainty to review, which had to be forced through by Young at the other end with a couple of seconds remaining.
It was in keeping with the indecision that riddled the veteran’s start. Few players as high class as the Kiwi look so amateurish when out of sync. But his grafting qualities allowed him to make it to 46 when he walked off unbeaten alongside Young, who had just been Lawrenced.