Joe Denly one of three England batsmen to make half-century against New Zealand A

Joe Denly on the charge for England
Joe Denly on the charge for England

Joe Denly silenced any lingering concerns over his fitness with one of England's three half-centuries on the penultimate day of their final warm-up before the first Test against New Zealand next week.

On his return from ankle ligament damage that threatened to rule him out of the entire tour, Denly registered a battling 68 to lead the recovery after England had lurched to 105 for five against New Zealand A in Whangarei.

Ollie Pope was caught behind off a no-ball on seven before top-scoring with 88 while Jos Buttler will resume 13 short of his hundred as the tourists closed on 355 for eight in response to the hosts' 302 for six declared.

There were single figure scores for captain Joe Root and deputy Ben Stokes, dismissed within six balls of each other, as England briefly flirted with the follow-on, but a 90-run union between Denly and Pope steadied matters.

Denly, who ended the Ashes as an opener and amassed half-centuries in each of the last three Tests, missed the Twenty20 series against the Kiwis after rolling his ankle on the boundary on the eve of the opener in Christchurch.

However, it is now anticipated he will bat at three against the Black Caps in Mount Maunganui while Pope is expected to make his third Test appearance and first in more than a year at number six.

Buttler, meanwhile, has replaced Jonny Bairstow as wicketkeeper in the side and tucked into a flagging attack later in the day to take England past their opponents' total amid a flurry of boundaries.

All three contributed important runs to settle into their roles following a top-order collapse on a pitch England's bowlers had found unresponsive the day before.

Resuming on 26 for one, Dom Sibley was struck on the helmet by Kyle Jamieson before chasing a wider delivery from Blair Tickner and slicing to gully, while nightwatchman Jack Leach got a leading edge to midwicket on 22.

Root looked disconsolately at his bat after being given lbw on two, seemingly after inside edging on to his pad off Daryl Mitchell while, in the next over, Stokes shaped to leave Jimmy Neesham only to under edge to first slip.

Pope benefited from a major slice of fortune after being caught behind only for the umpire to signal a no-ball off Scott Kuggeleijn, a concussion replacement for Hamish Rutherford, who took a blow to the helmet from a Jofra Archer bouncer on Friday.

Had Kuggeleijn not overstepped then England would have slipped to 126 for six, but from that point Denly and Pope cautiously rebuilt.

Denly had his own moments of fortune en route to a half-century, not least when he attempted a sharp single on 46 after clipping into the leg-side, but he was spared by Glenn Phillips's wasteful throw from midwicket.

His 147-ball innings contained three sixes and seven fours before he departed after pulling Tickner into the grateful hands of midwicket.

Buttler got off the mark with a towering six and dominated a 114-run union with Pope, who seemed set to go to three figures only to meekly chip slow left armer Ajaz Patel to mid-on.

Buttler clubbed two sixes in the space of four balls off Mitchell but was content to let Sam Curran (13) and then Jofra Archer (17no) have the strike towards the end of the day.

He will attempt to bring up what would be only his sixth first-class hundred on Sunday.

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