Fleming's century lifts New Zealand
New Zealand 295 for 4 (Fleming 117, Richardson 73, Styris 68*) v England
Stephen Fleming overcame his disappointments at Headingley to score a courageous and timely century, as New Zealand took control on the first day of the third Test at Trent Bridge. But just when it seemed they had recovered their poise after Monday's debacle, Steve Harmison earned overdue reward for his day's efforts, bagging two wickets in consecutive new-ball deliveries, as England stole the momentum late in the day.
By the close, New Zealand had slipped from 225 for 1 to 295 for 4, and there was a touch of déjà vu in the air. They had been 202 for 1 in the Headingley Test, and 161 for 1 at Lord's, and yet ended up losing both matches by a distance. On an unresponsive pitch, it had been a day of hard graft for England's bowlers, but they had earned a satisfactory close-of-play position. For New Zealand, much now depends on Scott Styris, who finished the day unbeaten on 68, his first half-century of the series.
New Zealand had arrived at Trent Bridge on their chinstraps, and so a captain's innings from Fleming was just what the team doctor had ordered. It was a timely personal boost as well - he had made 97 at Leeds, and had previously managed to convert only six of his 41 fifties into hundreds. This time, however, he refused to loiter in the nervous nineties, and went to three figures in style with a dabbed four and a flicked six off Martin Saggers.
For the fourth time in five innings, Mark Richardson's stickability was a vital factor for New Zealand. He made 73, adding 163 for the first wicket after Fleming had won a good toss. Both batsmen enjoyed their moments of good fortune, but with Harmison in a rampant run of form, that was always likely to be the case.
They launched the innings cautiously, before upping the tempo against Andrew Flintoff and Saggers, who was surprisingly retained ahead of the fit-again James Anderson. It was the right decision in terms of continuity, for Saggers did not deserve to be dropped after Headingley, but on this occasion he did not quite do himself justice, and appeared at times to be suffering from an ankle injury.
Richardson, however, survived two excruciatingly close calls early in his innings. In Harmison's second over, he was reprieved by Andrew Strauss at short leg, who parried the ball as he dived to his right, and might well have caught the rebound, had it not flicked the grille of his helmet as it fell back to earth. Strauss looked fairly embarrassed about his miss, but Richardson would presumably have been reprieved by the umpires anyway because, according to Law 32: "It is not a fair catch if the ball has touched a protective helmet worn by a fielder."
Richardson then moved along to 16 with a brace of streaky fours past gully, before Hoggard found a hint of away-movement for Jones to snaffle a clear edge. But fortunately for Richardson, he had simultaneously flicked his pad with the inside of the bat, and the muffled combination of noises fooled the umpire, Daryl Harper, into making the wrong decision.
Despite the unresponsive track, Harmison still extracted enough bounce to keep two short legs interested, so Fleming and Richardson were obliged to be more attacking against Hoggard, who remains just one away from his 100th wicket in Tests after Fleming survived one particularly close lbw shout.
It was a measure of the conditions that Ashley Giles soon became England's best source of wickets. He kept the lid on New Zealand's progress with a steady four-over spell before lunch, and eventually made the breakthrough, when Richardson was beaten in the flight and chipped a simple catch to Michael Vaughan at midwicket (163 for 1). But Giles then welcomed the out-of-form Styris with a first-ball full-toss, which he eased through the covers for four.
Flintoff had earlier been beaten out of the attack by a series of fine shots off Fleming's legs, but he gained his revenge in the afternoon. Fleming had reached his century and was looking to open up, when he played loosely at an off-stump delivery, and squirted a sharp catch to Graham Thorpe in a lone fifth-slip position (225 for 2).
It was always going to be a day for impact bowlers such as Flintoff and Harmison, so New Zealand had reason to be wary of the new ball late in the day. Saggers took first use of it, to little effect, but Harmison was straight on the spot. Nathan Astle fell to the first ball he received, inside-edging a heavy delivery onto the base of his stumps, and then Craig McMillan fell lbw to his very first ball. It was something of a shock for England to be given the benefit of the doubt on day of not-outs, but it ensured they would have plenty to build on when play resumes.