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March 5, 2008
New Zealand 282 for 6 (How 92, Taylor 54*, McCullum 51) v England
Scorecard and ball-by-ball commentary
New Zealand's batsmen performed as well as many expected and much better than some feared. The top-order runs came not from the remnants of the old guard but from Jamie How and Ross Taylor, who came into the match with averages of 14 and 11 respectively. Both overcame nervous starts to stamp their authority, and Taylor could yet go on to a maiden hundred tomorrow assuming he finds someone to stay with him. How seemed set for his but came out for the final session a shadow of the confident player he was in the hour before tea, and after two swipes at Monty Panesar he fell to a sharp slip catch by Paul Collingwood.
Were it not for some outstanding catching then New Zealand would be out of sight already. Two of Alastair Cook's gully catches were very good, while the third, a one -handed diving effort to clutch a ball that was already past him to remove Stephen Fleming, was simply awesome. Collingwood added a sharp caught-and-bowled to his slip catch, while Tim Ambrose, whose first day behind the stumps was workmanlike and error free, held a straightforward chance off McCullum.
The grin on Daniel Vettori's face when Michael Vaughan called incorrectly at the toss spoke volumes, and with two spinners in his XI, batting first on a pitch with few demons but which was expected to turn as the game wore on was a formality. By the close his expression showed that he knew an opportunity had been missed.
How and Matthew Bell weathered a far from violent early storm only for Bell, who was finding his touch, to slash once too often at Steve Harmison. Fleming, at the start of his valedictory series, appeared in good touch, cutting and driving with little effort, overtaking How and seemingly set for a big score before his first really loose shot, leaning back and slashing at Ryan Sidebottom, ended in Cook's grasp. England were soon eyeing a brittle middle order when Mathew Sinclair played too early to Collingwood, but How and Taylor checked the slide and took the attack back to the bowlers.
It summed up New Zealand's day. Too many of the wickets that fell were batsman error - only How could claim to have been dismissed as opposed to contributing to his own downfall - and England's bowlers benefited when on another day they would have been dispatched to all parts.
While none of them were awful, nor did any of them show anything like the consistency needed on a batsman-friendly surface. They struggled for movement early on and latterly control as the ball softened. Harmison remains a worry, and with the selectors opting for a four-man attack, his profligacy allied to feeling the mechanism remains fragile is a constant concern. He struggled to touch much above 80mph and at that pace he presented easy pickings.
As it was, they start the second day knowing that New Zealand's Nos. 10 and 11 are unlikely to hang around and the pitch is unlikely to be as stifling for New Zealand's bowlers as it was for theirs.
They were further boosted by the news that Ian Bell , who took a sharp blow to the right wrist while fielding at short leg early on and was carted off to hospital, had suffered nothing more than bruising. On a day when so much could have gone wrong, England ended intact and in touch.
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