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Joe Root hits epic double century but rain may foil England in second Test | Sport

In becoming the first visiting captain to score a double century in New Zealand, Joe Root felt his mandate swell in a way political leaders back home can only dream about. The hope now for England is his form carries through this heavy Test winter on the road.

Root’s epic 226 at the tree-lined Seddon Park came over 10 and a half hours and 441 balls spent rooted to the crease. With Ollie Pope in tow for a similarly determined 75 – one that points to his bright future – the captain helped post a total of 476 all out from 162.5 overs and with it a first-innings lead of 101 runs.

The hosts then closed on 96 for two, after early strikes from Sam Curran and the immaculate Chris Woakes, meaning a potentially intriguing fifth day was set up. This heartbreaker of a pitch, and a forecast of heavy rain, still point to a 1-0 victory for this New Zealand side before they fly to Australia on Saturday.

Whatever the result – and England will rue their performance in Mount Maunganui – Root has reasserted his authority with the bat ahead of the four-Test series in South Africa that begins on Boxing Day, and two further fixtures in Sri Lanka. Ben Stokes whacking a plastic chair like a bongo drum as the double hundred came up, amid a standing ovation from the players in front of the pavilion, said as much.

“It’s been different challenges this year,” said Root, who went into the second Test averaging in the 20s for 2019. “It’s been unique in everything we’ve had to go through as a team across the formats. Ultimately it’s about results. If we had won the Ashes in the summer, my form probably slips under the radar.”

“ It’s just nice to get back to scoring some big runs. Hopefully we can finish the year off well in South Africa and take it on a real upward curve. I’ve felt close to it for a while.”

Beyond this winter, Root’s goal of a third crack at Australia as captain in two years’ time will hinge on sustaining his output alongside the pressures of the captaincy. Bat like he did here, with such single-mindedness, and the chances of it increase hugely – as long as his back holds up.

England’s first 400-plus total in two years had earlier been terminated on the stroke of tea when the nose-and-toes Neil Wagner went for the latter, crashing a slower delivery into Stuart Broad’s stumps – three balls after doing the same to Jofra Archer – and completing his ninth Test five-wicket haul.

It was among his most hard-earned, too, as for the best part of 12 hours England dished out similar punishment to that witnessed at Bay Oval when, to quote Lloyd Bridges, the upper hand was on the other foot. Root and Pope continued the grind from the previous day in a 62.3-over stand of 193 that took an overnight 269 for five to 455 for six when the apprentice eventually holed out.

Pope’s selflessness here pleased Root, so too an ability to stick it out when not at his most fluent. There were a handful of the deft fours that have earned comparisons with Ian Bell but the 21-year-old’s maiden half-century, brought up in 165 balls, was chiefly a passing of the character test at this level.

Root was only slightly more free-flowing than during his 114 runs the previous day, chugging through a succession of landmarks with the nimble footwork that had eluded him a week earlier. He passed 2015’s 182 against West Indies in Grenada for his highest score overseas, and then his 190 against South Africa at Lord’s, his previous best as captain.

Ollie Pope struck a diligent 75 as part of a formidable partnership with Root.

Ollie Pope struck a diligent 75 as part of a formidable partnership with Root. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty Images

The 28-year-old then broke into England’s all-time top 10 run-scorers when, on 193, he guided a four off Daryl Mitchell to surpass Wally Hammond’s tally of 7,249. No batsman north of Root on the list averages more than his 48.54 either.

A crisp forward defence off Mitchell made it his longest Test innings by way of balls faced, surpassing the 407 in his career-best 254 versus Pakistan in 2016, before five deliveries later he scampered a single – nearly running out Pope in the process – to reach 200 for the third time in his England career.

Soon, an adapted rendition of “Hey Jude” was coming from the England supporters, the captain no longer carrying the world upon his shoulders as he raised his bat in understated acknowledgment.

England’s hunt for quick runs saw the last five wickets fall for just 21 in six overs, some 30 lighter than Root, who stuck one up in the air off Mitch Santner, had been hoping for. The spectators who had spent all day imploring Kane Williamson to abandon line and length and go for the short ball perhaps felt vindicated when Pope’s demise, taking on a Wagner bumper, began this flurry.

The gripes disappeared when Williamson and Ross Taylor recovered from the early loss of Jeet Raval, lbw to Curran’s second ball (and not reviewing a clear inside edge), and Tom Latham, caught by Root at slip off Woakes, in an unbroken stand of 63 late on.

Many of the locals here wear sea captain hats as a nod to the Williamson’s “Steady the Ship” nickname and, like his opposite number earlier, he had done just that.

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