After 98 balls of grind, Henry Nicholls advanced down the wicket confidently to his 99th delivery from Jack Leach on the first day at Headingley. Nicholls got to the pitch of the ball and drove it emphatically down the ground.
But, rather than heading towards the boundary ropes at the Football Stand End, instead Nicholls could only watch on with horror.
Daryl Mitchell has been middling the ball all series; this time, he middled Nicholls’s shot, diverting it straight to Alex Lees at mid-off, dropping into his hands like an apple from a tree.
Law 184.108.40.206 states it will be out if a fielder catches the ball after it has touched the wicket, an umpire, another fielder, a runner or the other batter.
It was a bizarre dismissal - and, after Colin de Grandhomme’s no-ball spared Ben Stokes during the run chase at Lord’s, and New Zealand dropped a spate of catches at Trent Bridge before Jonny Bairstow sealed an astounding final day victory, added to the sense that, under Brendon McCullum, England are getting all the breaks.
As Nicholls trudged off in disbelief, England could toast a crucial blow: the end of a 40-run stand for the fifth wicket that threatened to justify New Zealand’s decision to bat first.
At the close of play, Leach said cricket was “a stupid game” when he was asked about Nicholls' dismissal.
“It was unbelievable - I didn’t know it was allowed,” said Leach, after New Zealand closed the opening day on 225 for five. “I’ve never seen anything like it. You get enough that don’t go your way. It was very lucky for me; very unlucky for Nicholls.
“It's a silly game, isn't it? It’s a stupid game. It’s just something you never see. It was right out the middle of his bat.”
In his 25th Test - and first at Headingley since his one not out in partnership with Ben Stokes secured England’s Ashes victory in 2019 - Leach finished with two for 75 off 30 overs. “I felt in pretty good rhythm. It’s great to be back here,” he said.