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March 6, 2008
The day was dominated by Ross Taylor and Daniel Vettori, whose seventh-wicket stand of 148 extended midway into the afternoon. Taylor, whose off-side driving was a delight, completed his maiden Test hundred while Vettori looked set for his until he perished to Paul Collingwood. England might have believed they were in the ascendancy at the start of play, after the in-form Brendon McCullum had been dismissed late on the first day's play, but Taylor and Vettori beat them back in a stand that occupied half the day.
Taylor's innings was a triumph of the will. He has built his entire international reputation of the strength and speed on his one-day strokeplay, and in two previous Test matches he had returned a highest score of 17. There was nothing frenetic about his approach to this innings, however. At the close of the first day, his colleague Jamie How remarked that he had never seen Taylor play so straight or with such determination, and having batted for almost three hours to reach stumps on 54 not out, there was a certain inevitability about his progress today.
Taylor was aided and abetted by a docile pitch and an even more docile attack. Both Ryan Sidebottom, the pick of England's seamers on the first day, and the off-colour Matthew Hoggard served up wide half-volleys in the opening ten minutes that Taylor slashed gratefully for four, and the left-handed Vettori was also allowed to settle quickly with a pull for four and a punched drive behind point. From 282 for 6 overnight, Taylor brought up the 300 in the fourth over of the day with another thumping drive, as England searched in vain for some inspiration.
It didn't come from Steve Harmison, unsurprisingly. He entered the attack in the 12th over of the morning, but was gloriously square-driven by Taylor as he too overpitched outside off stump. Collingwood was also called into the attack for an early burst, and though he found a genuine edge off Vettori that flew through the vacant second slip for four, both batsmen soon grew accustomed to his lack of venom.
Taylor eased into the 90s with a crisply driven half-volley from Collingwood, but was made to wait for his big moment as England finally sensed an opportunity to apply the pressure. Monty Panesar kept him pinned on 98 with a timely maiden, but when Harmison dropped short four balls later, Taylor climbed into a cathartic pull shot, and instantly raised both arms in triumph. His hundred had come from 185 balls with 16 fours, and had taken him a shade over four hours. Vettori congratulated him with an embrace and a handshake, and no doubt a quiet reminder that, with New Zealand still shy of their par total of 400, his real task was still ahead of him.
The breakthrough came when Michael Vaughan, almost in desperation after three hours of frustration, threw the ball to Kevin Pietersen. Taylor looked to carve his second ball over midwicket and a top edge was gratefully held by the bowler. Vettori, who until then had unfussily moved towards his own hundred, then fell to another part-time bowler, looking to run a ball angled across him to third man but only succeeding in steering it straight to Andrew Strauss at wide slip. Not much went right for England but their catching could not be faulted.
The end came soon after, Sidebottom polishing things off in three balls of a new spell. Jeetan Patel nicked one angled across him to Strauss at slip and then Chris Martin lived up to his reputation as a non batsman by missing a straight one, the only time an England bowler managed to hit the stumps in a day and a half.
Vettori would have noted with anticipation the increasingly frequent puffs of dust blowing up from the bone-dry surface. And yet Vaughan and Cook were rarely troubled in an opening stand of 84, although Vettori and Patel did enough to suggest that batting against the twin-spin attack in the fourth innings of the game will be a far tougher proposition.
Just as it appeared that England would finish the day with all their wickets intact, Cook contrived to get himself out, miscuing a pull off Martin, and upholding the old adage that one brings two, Hoggard edged to slip in Martin's next over. That brought in Strauss for a rather fraught couple of overs but he survived.
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Bide your time, put your body behind each delivery, and play with the batsman's mind