Strauss and Harmison lift England spirits
England XI 131 and 155 for 3 (Strauss 55*, Pietersen 53*, Bell 21*) lead NZ Select XI 271 (How 65, Harmison 5-100) by 15 runs
It was a marked improvement from England's opening efforts in this match, although it was not a day that went entirely according to the team's plans. Paul Collingwood was unable to take the field at any stage after sustaining a grade-one tear to his right hamstring, while Chris Tremlett - selected for this match in place of the injured Ryan Sidebottom - bowled only five overs in the morning before leaving the field with a recurrence of a side strain, and it was later confirmed that he would be flying home. Matthew Hoggard was also under the weather with a stomach bug, leaving Harmison as England's only fully functional seamer.
The situation turned out to be a blessing in disguise for England. Despite a lacklustre start, there was no alternative but to continue with Harmison, and he slowly found his rhythm in an unbroken ten-over spell, grabbing four wickets to finish with 5 for 100 from 22 overs. At first, New Zealand's overnight pair, Mathew Sinclair and Grant Elliott, built comfortably on their team's lead and took their fifth-wicket stand to 71 before Harmison struck twice in two balls - Elliott feathered a leg-side lifter to Tim Ambrose behind the stumps, before Mark Orchard offered no stroke and lost his off stump.
Sinclair was the next to go. He struck eight fours in an attractive innings of 47 to boost his prospects of a Test berth, but with his half-century in sight, Monty Panesar beat him with a good-length delivery on off stump, and Strauss reached to his left at slip to pick up a comfortable catch. Harmison, with his tail up at last, then worked his way through the tail, removing Bevan Griggs and Jeetan Patel in quick succession, both to regulation catches from Ambrose.
Panesar wrapped up the innings for 271 when Mark Gillespie picked out Hoggard at long-off, but Gillespie then took centre stage in England's second innings with an energetic new-ball spell that deserved better reward. Michael Vaughan might have been run out for 1 after a terrible call from his partner, Alastair Cook, but soon departed for 13, as he nicked an excellent off-stump delivery from Gillespie to the keeper, Griggs. That left Strauss with an uncomfortable five-minute innings before tea, which he negotiated uneasily in drizzly conditions.
But after the break the sun came out for the first time in the day, and the conditions eased for England's batsmen. Cook failed to get on top of a Gillespie short ball and top-edged a pull to deep square leg, but Pietersen and Strauss combined in an authoritative third-wicket stand of 90. Pietersen, as ever, was the dominant partner, striking five fours and three sixes including a dismissive pull off Gillespie over square leg, but it was Strauss's measured approach that was the most encouraging aspect of England's innings.
Batting within himself in the manner that had deserted him all last year, Strauss picked off seven fours in a two-and-a-quarter hour stay at the crease, and was still comfortable and composed at the close. Pietersen by that stage had gone in a similar fashion to his first innings - an expansive drive outside off stump and a thin nick to the keeper - but Ian Bell also showed promising signs of form in an unbeaten 21. With one more day of match practice ahead of the first Test, England are starting to find their feet in New Zealand - although the injury and illness count remains worryingly high.
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo