England v New Zealand, 2nd Test, Old Trafford, 2nd day May 24, 2008

Taylor forces underdogs into contention

England 152 for 4 (Pietersen 22*, Bell 4*, O'Brien 2-37) trail New Zealand 381 (Taylor 154*, Anderson 4-118) by 229 runs
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary

Ross Taylor hoists another six during his Test-best 154 © Getty Images

A majestic 154 by Ross Taylor drove New Zealand into a dominant position on the second day against England at Old Trafford. With the visitors squeezing out four late wickets, it is the hosts who are limping, weighed down by that favourites-tag millstone around their necks.

After Taylor's superb hundred provided the backbone to a solid first innings of 381, Iain O'Brien - who replaced Tim Southee for this Test - broke through with an 82mph legbreak to Alastair Cook. Replays suggested the batsman had every right to grumble, but luck and the match momentum were with New Zealand for most of the day. Andrew Strauss and Michael Vaughan then put on a calming 78 in 34.2 long overs before Strauss, who had passed 50 from 125 balls, edged O'Brien to Brendon McCullum, who grasped the most athletic, initiative-seizing of catches low to his left - reminiscent of Alec Stewart's brilliant snaffle to dismiss Brian Lara at Lord's in 1995. Daniel Vettori, who turned it square, then had Michael Vaughan trapped in front before Ryan Sidebottom, the nightwatchman, fell three overs before the close.

New Zealand owe their dominant position to Taylor, however. No one ever doubted his class and prodigious talents, but pedigrees are habitually unpredictable - as those two reckless innings at Lord's (19 and 20) proved. The contrast between the rusty Taylor of last week and today's supercharged (or IPL-charged?) model could not have been more defined. No other New Zealander looked as settled at the crease, and few have the audacity to move to 150 with an expansive six over midwicket. His method is a curious mix of the poise of Martin Crowe (whose record at Old Trafford he beat) and Nathan Astle's frenzied brutality - but crucially, his hundred today provides much-needed evidence that, under his lid, there lurks a brain. It's quite a package.

Some of England's tactics were confusing at best, and their fielding lurched from average to embarrassing. Monty Panesar - who turned it square yesterday - was delayed from entering the attack, as was James Anderson who Jacob Oram struggled against yesterday afternoon. In fact Anderson didn't bowl until 30 minutes before lunch, and it wasn't due to outstanding bowling from Sidebottom or Stuart Broad. With a strong wind blowing across the ground, Taylor was immediately into his stride with a short-arm bunt through extra cover followed by an audacious cover drive right out of the textbook.

Kyle Mills provided valuable support to Ross Taylor with a Test-best 57 © Getty Images

Oram continued to struggle, however, never resembling a batsman fresh from a Lord's hundred last week. Broad persisted in peppering him with bouncers from around the wicket and Oram responded by swaying, ducking and weaving out of the way, but never was he comfortable. Once Panesar was belatedly introduced, Oram took him on with a skip down the pitch but Panesar beat him in the flight, the ball circling above Anderson at mid-on. He flunked a relatively easy chance, labouring after the ball and failing to even get a hand on it.

Oram gifted his wicket four runs later when, on 38, he too laboured as Taylor called him through for a single to point. Cook - whose fielding has improved beyond sight since the Bambi-like figure who debuted two years ago - swooped, threw down the stumps and Oram was a foot short. Worse was to come, however. Two balls later, Vettori ambled through for a single - as though on a Sunday jog - but failed to ground his bat, and Panesar's throw was sufficiently straight for Tim Ambrose to whip off the bails in time. Vettori's foot was airborne, and so were England's ecstatic fielders. New Zealand had slipped to 250 for 6 in the blink of an eye.

Taylor needed a partner, and Kyle Mills responded. A streaky edge off Sidebottom was followed by a heave off Panesar. Another carved four off Sidebottom took him past his previous Test-best of 31 before he matched Taylor's own elegance with two classical off-drives. Taylor's hundred - his second in Tests - came from 130 balls, while his and Mills' fifty partnership came up from just 72. The momentum was entirely with New Zealand.

Taylor expanded and flourished after lunch, moving from 100 to 150 in 42 breathless balls, smacking four fours and four sixes, the last of which sailed into the top tier of the stand at midwicket. Vaughan was left flummoxed, as depicted by an awful shy at the stumps which missed by several feet, handing five overthrows. Broad matched that effort with a similarly hapless attempt in the next over off Sidebottom, and the same fielder - now stationed at deep midwicket - failed to cling onto a Taylor mow, parrying it over the rope. Sidebottom's apoplectic rage could be heard ringing around Manchester as New Zealand ran England ragged.

The contrast in run-rates between New Zealand, who skipped merrily along at nearly four-per-over, and England (a yawningly dull 2.57) neatly demonstrates whose confidence levels are spiralling, and whose have plummeted. Kevin Pietersen remains not out, and the pitch is a belter, but England have their work cut out.

Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo