With a streaky shot England captain Joe Root brought up his first test century in more than nine months Sunday, just when it was most needed on the third day of the second test against New Zealand. When stumps were drawn due to rain 10 minutes before scheduled stumps, Root was 114 not out and England was 269-5, still trailing New Zealand by 106 runs on the first innings. Ollie Pope was four not out.
Root's broad grin when he reached his milestone — his 17th test century — showed his mixed relief and elation that his inside edge from the bowling of Neil Wagner missed the stumps and broke his long drought after a day of hard labor on his team's behalf.
Runs haven't come easily for Root since his last century, 122 against the West Indies at Gros Inlet in February. In his 14 innings since, encompassing the home Ashes series against Australia, Root has made four half-centuries and three ducks and has averaged 26.5.
He has seen his average as England captain drop below 40 and has fallen out of the top 10 of the batting world rankings for the first time since 2014.
Root made two and 11 in the first test against New Zealand at Mount Maunganui where England was mauled by an innings and 65 runs. On Sunday, by sheer force of will, the England captain battled his way back into form just as his team needed him most.
Needing to win the match to share the two-test series, England started the third day in a desperate position at 39-2 in reply to New Zealand's first innings of 375.
With the support of opener Rory Burns, who posted his second test century and was out immediately afterwards for 101 to a hairline run out call, Root put on 118 for the third wicket and gave backbone to England's reply.
Root started the day six not out, with Burns on 24, and batted throughout the day, sometimes fluently but mostly with care and watchfulness to protect his wicket and give his team a faint hope of winning the match and saving the series.
Burns reached his half-century from 97 balls, taking advantage of a docile pitch. He curbed the instinct to drive which caused him problems before stumps on the second day when he was dropped at slip on 11, then at mid-wicket on 20. Burns worked shorter balls into the on-side for boundaries while Root preferred to drive on the few occasions the New Zealand bowlers erred and gave him that option.
Root needed 145 balls and almost three hours to reach his fifty. He had a fright at 47 when he was given out caught by wicketkeeper B.J. Watling from the bowling of Daryl Mitchell but successfully challenged the decision and replays showed the ball missed the bat and grazed the pad.
Burns reached a tidy century from 208 balls, in 317 minutes with 15 fours. He had a reprieve at 87 when a New Zealand fielding error spared him from an almost certain run out.
He wasn't granted a second chance and was run out for 101 when he was beaten by Jeet Raval's throw from the outfield. Television umpire Bruce Oxenford from Australia needed several minutes and many replays to decide the stumps had been broken, a bail dislodged a split-second before Burns gained his ground.
"Obviously pleased to get a hundred, obviously I'd like to still be out there and obviously a disappointing end to it," Burns said. "I felt like I played very nicely today.
"I got my tempo back to how I wanted to bat and my rhythm to how I wanted to bat."
Root was stuck on 87 for several minutes then moved toward his century with authority. He went from 87 to 91 with a cover-driven four off Wagner, then 91 to 95 with a boundary off Tim Southee through third man. A further boundary took him to 99 before an inside edge off Wagner narrowly missed his off stumps and sped to the fine leg boundary for four.
Root lost two partners before stumps. Ben Stokes was out for 26, caught by Taylor off Southee, and Zak Crawley fell for one in his first test innings.