Even with a first-day washout, England should beat New Zealand at Headingley within four days for a second straight test and whitewash the Kiwis in a series for the second time in nine years.
England was 116-1 at stumps on day three Sunday, leading by 296 runs.
Captain Alastair Cook surprisingly elected not to enforce the follow-on after the Kiwis were dispatched for 174 in their first innings by tea.
England led by 180, a score already at the limits of New Zealand’s batsmen in this short series.
But Cook, England’s leading century-maker, closed in on his 25th at 88 not out. That was against a tired attack which wrapped up England’s first innings of 354 only in the morning and lost Trent Boult, who took 5-57 in the first innings, after two overs in the second when he aggravated a side strain. He won’t bowl on Monday.
The Kiwis did well to collar the English from more than four an over to less than three, but England also was in no rush in the extended final session to push a quick big score on the Kiwis and resume bowling at their brittle lineup.
While the Kiwis were better than England on their own turf in March, their batting has been found wanting in English conditions. They have yet to bat out a day under cloud cover at Lord’s or blazing sun here, with successive totals of 207 in 69 overs, 68 in 23 overs and 174 in 44 overs.
It seems only the weather can save New Zealand, if it can reach Tuesday when rain is forecast.
With Cook at stumps was Jonathan Trott, 11 off 69 balls. The only wicket to fall was the hapless Nick Compton’s.
Despite partnering with Cook for 72, he was out to a bat-pad catch for 7, exacerbating his miserable score by his reluctance to walk until New Zealand reviewed the umpire’s not out call.
Denis Compton’s grandson has been the weakest link in the top order with scores of 13, 2, 16, 15, 1 and 7 in his last three tests, and seems almost certain to be replaced in the Ashes if Kevin Pietersen is fit.
Earlier, the Kiwis did what they had to in the field to limit the damage from England’s batsmen by bagging the last three wickets in quick order. Boult smashed Steve Finn’s off stump and caught and bowled James Anderson in the same 99th over to give him 5-57, the second five-for of his 15-test career. Tim Southee finished with 2-76.
New Zealand’s innings then began with a 55-run stand and finished with a 52-run stand, and in the middle was mayhem. From 55 without loss they were reduced to 122-9.
Openers Peter Fulton and Hamish Rutherford were out in the 20s before lunch to Finn, bowled Ross Taylor after the break for 6.
After 26 overs, the English attack changed with the introduction of Swann, who took no wickets at Lord’s and had never taken a wicket at Headingley.
In his first over, he bowled Dean Brownlie for 2. In his second over, Swann bowled Martin Guptill for 1 and Kane Williamson lbw for 13, Cook successfully appealing the original not out decision. Swann had three wickets in seven balls for one run, and New Zealand was 82-6, an hour after lunch.
Stuart Broad took out Tim Southee for 19, another review of a not out decision that went England’s way.
Doug Bracewell was caught at silly point by Ian Bell off Swann for 1, and skipper Brendon McCullum was caught behind for 20 for Broad’s second wicket.
Boult and fellow seamer Neil Wagner had a late lash. Boult smacked Swann for three sixes, and Wagner’s sixth four, off James Anderson, brought up their 50-run partnership in 24 balls. Anderson eventually bowled Wagner for 27, and Boult was 24 not out.
But the real destroyers were Swann, who took 4-42 and Finn, 3-36.