The first day of actual play went pretty much as expected, with one side routed by accurate and disciplined fast bowling which was ably supported by quality spin. They then turned the screws with a grinding opening partnership that was the beneficiary of some utterly awful fielding. Problem is, the roles were completely reversed to those everyone was expecting. Perhaps there was some terrible mix-up with the uniforms at the dry-cleaners beforehand.
Between New Zealand’s last Test match and this one they have managed to rip their team apart and attempt to patch it back together using the equivalent of barbed wire and rum. This was Brendon McCullum’s first home Test as captain, and his first day couldn’t have gone any better. We will get to England’s woes in a bit, but it shouldn’t be forgotten that McCullum capitalized on their terrible shot selection by setting aggressive fields, backing his bowlers, and generally refusing to lift his foot from the opposition’s jugular. He was rewarded with what was perhaps New Zealand cricket’s finest hour.
All the attention beforehand might have been on Tim Southee, but it was Neil Wagner who, after a pretty disappointing début series in South Africa, terrorized the opposition batting by bowling full, fast, and obtaining late swing. He certainly made Kevin Pietersen look rather inept, much like when he was worked over by Morne Morkel at The Oval last year. Not that we derived any enjoyment from the sight. Perish the thought.
Bruce Martin also had a cracking début, revealing that being a 32 year old debutant who doesn’t seem to be able to spin the ball all that much is no real barrier to Test success. The fact his four wickets largely came from the English batsman trying to smack his bowling across the Pacific into Chile is neither here nor there, his success was deserved and a fitting reward for McCullum’s brave captaincy in sticking with his offie after lunch, even when Matt Prior looked to get after him. Not that Martin is a complete mug; he has 314 First-class wickets to his name after all. About ten times the combined total of every spinner currently playing in Australian cricket.
The opening partnership between Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton then proceeded to pour salt on an open wound. Rutherford looked instantly at ease on his début and handled everything that Anderson & Co could throw at him with aplomb. Fulton was less composed, and looked particularly susceptible to the short ball. But despite sustaining a fair few blows he stood his ground and refused to throw his wicket away, which is more than what could be said of the opposition batsmen.
This was England’s tenth match of their tour. Not that you could tell. Most of their batsman looked as if they hadn’t played for months, and their efforts in the field at times bordered on the comical. How, exactly, Kevin Pietersen managed to tumble to his left attempting to catch a ball that ended up hitting him on the right thigh we will never know. As the wickets tumbled in their innings there was talk of demons in the pitch, but closer inspection revealed a surface that was, if anything, a touch sticky after a full day under the covers but little more than that. For a team that a few months ago had mocked the worst that Indian curators could throw at them, this was a belter of a deck.
Considering that the majority of English batsmen contrived to bring about their own downfall, the obvious question is whether they were too arrogant in their approach to this Test, and the answer has to be yes. They looked to be aggressive and take hold of the game from the start, even when wickets were tumbling the shots continued to flow. Against more reputable opposition they may have felt more inclined to show more respect, as Jonathan Trott, ever the contrarian, did. That James Anderson and Steve Finn were able to fairly effortlessly amass the largest partnership of the innings just shows how little there was to fear in the pitch or indeed even the opposition attack as long as it was treated with a modicum of respect.
The bowling was also surprisingly inept, with a lack of any real venom from either Anderson or Finn. It wasn’t till Stuart Broad was introduced that the Kiwi openers began to be really tested, but some over-cautious captaincy (in particular a lack of a third slip during Broad’s opening over), let them off the hook.
In England’s favour is the fact that the whole first day of this Test was lost to rain. Bet you didn’t think you would be reading that sentence this tour, or even at any point this year. Strange as it might sound, England can still win this Test match. In fact up to as little as 24 hours ago suggesting any result other than an England win would have led to your being mocked mercilessly.
Clearly the Kiwis are well on top though, and they will be looking to bat all through tomorrow in order to give themselves a full two days to bowl England out and achieve a historic victory. With the pitch looking as flat as they come, and the last Test played on this ground, against South Africa last year, fizzling out into a dull draw after it refused to break up, they might well need a full two days in order to do so.
That is only if England bother to turn up. Or remember which uniform they are supposed to wear.