England v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Old Trafford, 1st day May 23, 2008

Taylor responds in kind to England's aggression

New Zealand 202 for 4 (How 64, Taylor 67*, Oram 22*) v England
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary

Brendon McCullum is expertly held by Paul Collingwood at first slip © Getty Images

Ross Taylor is many things: gifted, certainly; confident of course. Predictable? Perhaps not. Yet on a day which saw four New Zealand wickets fall, his breathless 67 has given his side the edge when England had their tails up. When bad light forced an early close, New Zealand had reached a reasonably comfortable 202 for 4 with Taylor not-out.

His 52-ball fifty, his fourth in Tests, staved off a resurgent afternoon bowling performance England who, led by the tireless Ryan Sidebottom, reduced New Zealand from a solid 80 without loss to a shaky 123 for 4. What made Taylor's performance all the more impressive was its speed and range of strokes; as ever, he was in top gear from the off, and while his detractors must find it infuriating when a crunching drive finds extra cover's gleeful hands, they can't complain on days like today when the gaps were threaded with such precision and panache. Brendon McCullum had fallen for 11, and Jacob Oram batted like a blindman in a hurricane. New Zealand needed Taylor, and he duly responded.

He was indebted to New Zealand's openers, however. In the past four years, the team has tried 14 different pairs at the top of the order - never with any consistent success - but, at last, they might have found one. For now, at least. Jamie How and Aaron Redmond's attacking partnership was New Zealand's first of fifty or more since How and Craig Cumming in 2006, and their highest since Stephen Fleming and Mark Richardson put on 163 at Trent Bridge four years ago. Little evidence was seen of Redmond's stickability at Lord's, but there was plenty this morning. Indeed, perhaps the most telling aspect of the passage was the pair's dismissive attitude of Monty Panesar, who took 18 cheap wickets in two Tests at the ground prior to today, who was introduced after just 37 unimpressive minutes of mediocre fast bowling. The Old Trafford pitch, famed for its pace, played like a pudding.

Panesar was hurried into the attack, but in spite of his excellent record at the ground, not even he could stem the flow of runs - even with the grip he gained. This, though, was due in part to a clear policy of attack from both batsmen, Remond lifting him over the top for a brutal four before How swept him over midwicket, nearly for six. New Zealand weren't just staving off England's attack: they were dominating, and How brought up his third fifty from 75 balls with a calm tuck off his hip. Panesar was nullified and muted. So was a perplexed Michael Vaughan.

Enter Sidebottom and, for the umpteenth time since his remarkable international renaissance last year, the game was suddenly changed. Replacing Stuart Broad 20 minutes before lunch, Sidebottom brought himself around the wicket and found several deliveries to move away from Redmond. But, in a brilliant set-up, he moved one back into the right-hander who fatally shouldered arms, the ball clipping his off bail. England weren't done yet: in Sidebottom's next over, again around the wicket, he straightened one from wide of the crease into Marshall's pads, and England had their second wicket to levy the balance.

Whatever England enjoyed for lunch clearly did the trick. Anderson - so insipid in the morning - bowled with genuine hostility and fire, removing How for 64 with a fine outswinger. McCullum threatened, as he always will, clattering Panesar over the top. However, Panesar out-thought him with a wonderfully flighted delivery that stopped on McCullum, his thick edge parrying off Tim Ambrose's gloves to Paul Collingwood at first slip who held a skilful catch to his right. New Zealand's promising start had been ripped apart from 80 without loss to a precarious 123 for 4.

The real excitement came from Anderson, though. On a pitch greased up by persistent Manchester drizzle, he tore into Daniel Flynn and Taylor and although he leaked runs, no batsman looked comfortable against him. A vicious, straight bouncer hurried onto Flynn who couldn't snap his head out of the way, the ball hammering into (and removing) his left front tooth. It was a ferocious, bloody blow and he was forced to retire. Most intriguingly of all, Oram - masterful at Lord's last week - was similarly nervous and incompetent against Anderson's continued barrage of short-pitched brutes. Time after time he fended bouncers off his gloves (one of which cannoned off his helmet) and, as tea approached, he looked remarkably hapless for a man fresh from a Test hundred at Lord's.

What a contrast it was, then, to see Taylor pound his way to fifty. A straight drive off Anderson oozed class; a firm cut off Panesar demonstrated his feet were moving nicely; his natural petulant aggression came through with a monstrous pull over midwicket before two memorable cuts, hit with astonishing power, took him to fifty. Broad, like Anderson, was guilty of overpitching and Taylor - unlike any of his team-mates - had found sublime timing upon which to capitalise. His and Oram's fifth-wicket fifty came from 75 momentum-grasping balls.

Manchester's mizzle threatened for much of the afternoon and eventually bad light called off play shortly before tea. New Zealand go into the second day with their noses just about in front, keenly aware of the need for a big first innings.

Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo