It said everything about England’s ongoing overseas struggles that when Jofra Archer looked as if he had finally cracked it, Joe Denly dropped one of the easiest catches in the history of international cricket.
Towards the end of what has been a chastening first tour, Archer was already celebrating the prize scalp of New Zealand captain Kane Williamson – until it dawned on him that a simple lob to short midwicket had somehow eluded Denly’s grasp.
The delivery had shown precisely the imagination Joe Root has been calling for in foreign conditions: a knuckle ball sent down without the use of Archer’s front arm. It was a clever piece of bowling, deserving better than to feature, as it inevitably will, in a Christmas DVD of sporting bloopers.
Joe Denly appears to secure a simple catch off New Zealand batmans Kane Williamson
But the ball somehow evades his grasp as he drops the ball to the turf in an incredible gaffe
Denly cannot believe his luck as his rues the missed opportunity to dismiss Williamson
In public, Root described Denly's drop as a 'one-off goober'. Goodness knows what words he used behind closed doors. More to the point, it summed up England’s series, a fornight of what-ifs, near-misses and, ultimately, another overseas defeat.
Williamson had already been badly dropped down the leg side by Ollie Pope, the wicketkeeper who should never have been keeping wicket, and went on to complete an unbeaten century before the predicted rain arrived 15 minutes after lunch.
Ross Taylor reached three figures too, mowing Root’s off-breaks for 16 in three balls just before the heavens opened, and confirming a statistic that will give the England captain even more pause for thought as he tries to build a team capable of wresting back the Ashes.
Fast bowler Jofra Archer wheels away in celebration thinking he has finally got Williamson out
But the 24-year-old can only laugh in disbelief after realising Denly has fumbled the catch
England’s last-day clumsiness allowed New Zealand to ease their way to 241 for two, an overall lead of 140, and to comfortably secure the draw that gave them a deserved 1-0 victory. And it left the tourists’ bowlers nursing a collective average of nearly 56 – the second-highest for England in any Test series, behind only the disastrous 1989 Ashes.
Root has been pleading for his bowlers to find a way of taking 20 wickets in overseas Tests, and in fairness England managed 21 out here. The problem is it took them two games.
For every step forward in New Zealand, there have been a couple in the other direction. The first Test was marred by a collapse on the second morning and some headless batting on the fourth evening, and the second Test by a lack of ruthlessness at crucial moments. Dropped catches have only been the half of it.
Williamson survived two drops