The Test summer has finally started! New Zealand are probably on top after a very interesting day of cricket. Neither side really dominated and the day was primarily one of attrition; New Zealand were not overly threatening for most of it, but it was very hard for England to score runs and New Zealand took wickets at important moments twice.
England’s slow scoring (exactly two an over) did prompt some criticism, but there was very little that they could do given the conditions. The pitch was flat, but on the slow side and the outfield was very slow making scoring difficult. New Zealand bowled well for the most part; they were only directly threatening for about an hour after lunch, but they were seldom wayward and generally put the batsmen under pressure. The ball swung for the first half of the day and England had to focus on seeing off the worst of the conditions; they could not try to increase the scoring rate without taking undue risks. Scoring at three an over was simply not feasible today and given that fact, England’s approach was very good. They worked hard to keep wickets in hand and to try to set themselves up for the rest of the Test. The conditions were actually not dissimilar to those England encountered on the first day in Dunedin a few months ago; there England did not reign themselves in and their subsequent collapse almost cost them the Test. They showed today that they learnt from that and have given themselves a chance to put up a decent score tomorrow.
The crucial moment of the day was when Jonathan Trott was out just before tea. It was a wicket against the run of play; England had done very well to get through a difficult period after lunch with only two wickets gone and Trott and Ian Bell were settling in and starting to score runs more freely. But an excellent delivery from Trent Boult forced Trott to play before taking the edge which was very well caught by a diving third slip. This forced England back onto the defensive with the new batsman coming in just before the tea interval and they then had to spend the better part of another hour consolidating again. Without that wicket, England would have had a chance to start dominating proceedings in the evening session and would have likely been on top at stumps and possibly in a very strong position.
The wicket of Ian Bell was also an important one, but unlike Trott it was a gift to New Zealand. Bell had worked very hard after coming in just after lunch in difficult conditions and by what would prove to be the penultimate over before stumps (actually the 79th in the day) he had ground out 31 off 133 deliveries. But he lost his patience and hung his bat rather tamely at a ball well wide of off stump. There was no need at all to play at it and it turned the game from being slightly in England’s favour to being more strongly in New Zealand’s favour. It was easily the most frustrating moment of the day as Bell threw away a session and a half of very good work.
Tomorrow should also be an interesting day. The second new ball will be due immediately and England have a new batsman at the crease in Jonny Bairstow. England also have two very inexperienced batsmen at the crease, though Joe Root has been in excellent form for Yorkshire and the Lions so far. They will need to consolidate more in the morning and must stick together and put on a decent partnership. Matt Prior is the next man in and if he can come to with wicket with England in a decent position then he can start to transfer the pressure over to New Zealand. It is hard to know how Graeme Swann and Stuart Broad will fare, but they will attack as well and it is important that England are in a position of comfort when they do so. The pitch itself looks like one on which a decent score is possible, but the overhead conditions may yet turn the match into a low scoring affair so it is hard to say what sort of score England need to be competitive. It is highly unlikely that anything under 325 will do, however, and that is still some way off.