Before the start of the third Test there was a lot of discussion about how the pitch would play. New Zealand captain Brendan McCullum said that New Zealand would be playing to win the Test and the suggestion was that the pitch would have more life in it than what were relatively flat wickets in Dunedin and Wellington. That has not been the case at least on the first day, however. The wicket is very flat and apparently quite hard and does not look likely to break up. The expected seam movement was not present at all and the bowlers struggled to get movement through the air.
The flatness of the wicket certainly played a part in New Zealand racking up such a good score, but England did not bowl well at all for most of the day. They were far too short in the first session especially and did not really work out where to bowl until late in the day. They were especially poor immediately after tea; they came out late from the interval and seemed utterly uninterested. New Zealand had already put up a very good score, but with England needing to take wickets to try to drag the match back it was very annoying to see. England did not get a wicket in the session, although they did sharpen up after the drinks interval and managed to beat the bat a few times with the second new ball. It was not enough and certainly well too late, however.
England also had to contend with the problem of the absurdly short boundaries at Eden Park. It is a rugby ground and although it is not quite the standard rectangle of others, it is still noticeably shorter straight than square of the wicket and far too short to play Test cricket on. Peter Fulton had a top edge carry 53 metres and over the boundary. Friends of mine playing in the park have hit the ball farther*. The ground also has a capacity suited for rugby matches which means that it was less than a third full and had no atmosphere at all. Hopefully that will improve over the weekend, but even if it does this should be the last Test that Eden Park hosts. There should certainly be Test cricket in Aukland, but only if they build a cricket ground.
The state of the match means that Cook has come in for a lot of criticism for his decision to bowl first, but that criticism is premature at best and possibly unfounded. The pitch is good for batting, but there are other things to consider beside the first innings (and especially just the first day). The question is whether England will be in a better position having batted second than if they had batted first and with the pitch not showing any signs of deteriorating there is every chance that England will match whatever New Zealand score. (And remember that New Zealand have only scored 250 so far; there is still time for England to claw things back.) If the first innings scores are roughly parity than the decision to bowl first will certainly have been the right one because England will still have a chance to win with New Zealand batting third, they probably would not if New Zealand batted last. Of course, if the pitch does break up and New Zealand get a decent first innings lead then it will certainly have been the wrong decision for Cook. But either way we will not know until tomorrow at the earliest, so it is not possible to say right now that the decision was the right or wrong one.
*That’s not an exaggeration; we measured one of the sixes hit at seventy metres.