New Zealand lead by 235 runs with three first innings wickets in hand
An accomplished Test team would have used today as an opportunity to grind the tourists into the dust, ensuring that the pecking order for the rest of the series was firmly established. If the roles had been reversed it’s exactly what England would have sought to do. But New Zealand are not yet an accomplished Test team and, although they effectively destroyed any chance of England winning this Test, they still managed to offer the visitors some encouragement for the rest of the series.
After the Kiwis had everything their own way on the first day of play, the bragging rights were shared on the second (really third, damn you Dunedin weather). New Zealand’s tally for the day, 271/7, isn’t a bad return (considering it’s only four runs shy of their highest total in any innings in South Africa) but represented a slide of sorts compared to their solid opening from the day before. In the Kiwis’ favour is that their scoring rate at times crept over five runs per over, and stands at 3.7 for the innings as a whole. Which isn’t bad going at all and leaves them perfectly placed to try and force a result.
The highlight was, once again, Hamish Rutherford. For a debutant his poise at the crease was unsettling, striking a figure that was at times eerily reminiscent of Michael Vaughan in his pomp. Uncomplicated and unassuming, he already appears the quintessential Kiwi batsman. Cricket Australia officials must be kicking themselves they didn’t try and poach him years ago. Maybe they can still give it a go: it worked with lamingtons, Crowded House and Russell Crowe. Maybe they can agree a deal where they give Rusty back in return for Hamish. Everyone wins in that deal. Except New Zealand.
Otherwise the Kiwi batsmen showed little in the way of application. Kane Williamson hung around for a while before missing a Monty Panesar mystery ball special (i.e. one that doesn’t spin at all, otherwise known as the Doherty). The rest amused themselves with nicking balls through the English slip cordon, a highly profitable and largely risk free exercise these days. Brendon McCullum looked set to rip loose when rain prematurely ended play, although he seemed reluctant to let anyone else have any fun and constantly berated his teammates for doing anything other than block. In truth it’s probably not a good idea to try and outshine your captain on his home debut. Particularly when he seemingly has the entirety of New Zealand Cricket in his back pocket.
For those (few) Englishmen who dared brave the midnight hours to watch their countrymen continue to butcher the biggest cakewalk since ten million Soviets decided Finland was a nice place for a winter vacation, there was at least something to cheer. England were at least better today, although that’s a small consolation since the only way they could have been worse was to convince members of the Barmy Army to take the field in their stead. We suspect that even that, though, would have led to a slight improvement. Particularly in the catching department. Plus the sledging would be more imaginative.
It was noticeable that England bowled far fuller than the previous day. Presumably it took their technical staff some time to finish analysing quite why the Kiwi bowlers were so successful and pass the message on. Anderson and Broad were the main destroyers, with Broad in particular bowling better than at any point since that one decent spell against South Africa last year. Although going on past form he’ll now revert to being utterly dire for the rest of the series. Whatever alterations Finn has made to his run-up have been successful on one level, in that as far as we can remember (the second session was largely a gin-soaked blur) he hasn’t barreled through the stumps all that often. But on the other hand his bowling has been far less threatening than expected. Maybe he should just go back to old habits till the law change comes into effect in October, and in the interim the dead balls be damned.
Monty looked fairly innocuous in the lone spinners role. Again. He certainly lacked the sort of the impact Bruce Martin had, although in his defence he wasn’t aided by bowling to batsmen who had left their brains back in the hotel. It may well be anathema to many English supporters but there may be a case for favoring James Tredwell over Monty when only one spinner is required. Probably a premature call, but still one that ought to provide food for thought. Especially given we said it would never ever happen barely a month ago.
With McCullum at the crease the Kiwis will likely look to bat on tomorrow morning and push the lead towards 300, before declaring sometime before lunch. The forecast for the final two days doesn’t look overly promising, but at least the overcast conditions will mean that what little play may be available will probably suit the bowlers.
For England it’s a case of abandoning any pretensions they may have had before this Test began, digging in and ensuring they walk away with the series still level. Otherwise Bob Willis might get really angry. And nobody wants to see that. Well, everyone does actually, but you get the point.