England 234 for 1 (Cook 116, Compton 102*) and 167 trail New Zealand 460 for 9 dec (Rutherford 171, McCullum 74, Fulton 55) by 59 runs
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Alastair Cook and Nick Compton struck centuries as they committed themselves to righting the wrongs of England's first-innings batting debacle. But that told only half the story. For Cook, a 24th Test hundred, timed to perfection with the new ball still five overs away, was simply a restatement of his undoubted quality. For Compton, the final stages of a maiden Test hundred possessed all the mental anguish that a first time should.
These were hundreds born of mortification as England, guilt-stricken by a first-innings deficit of 293 and with five-and-a-half sessions to save the game, closed the fourth day only 59 runs behind New Zealand and with still nine wickets remaining. But if Cook added further lustre to his Test record - one to rival Sachin Tendulkar at the same age - with what has become his customary languorous elegance, Compton scraped through the 90s in more than 12 tension-ridden overs.
Compton, who fell for a duck in the first innings, had steeled himself to track Cook's progress for much of the day and if his innings was the more unobtrusive, his defensive outlook possessed a seasoned feel which illustrated why England's director of cricket, Andy Flower, kept faith in the solidity he could bring at the top of the order. He must have been born with his back to the wall.
But when Cook logged another hundred, Compton found himself on 90, and it felt an age away. Cook urged him to maintain his tempo, impending new ball or not, and when that new ball came, with him still six runs away, he would have been immediately run out on 94, risking a single to mid-on off Trent Boult, had Bruce Martin managed to hit direct.
Cook must have felt like a guiding light for his inexperienced partner, but that light was then cruelly extinguished two overs before the close with Compton on 99, the England captain's five-and-a-half hour stay ending when Boult had him caught behind.
It was appropriate reward for Boult, who was the likeliest of the New Zealand attack and who conceded less than two runs an over all day, but it piled the pressure on Compton. When he next looked to the non-striker's end for encouragement, he found only the gangling figure of the nightwatchman, Steven Finn. Two balls later - with 11 deliveries left in the day - he worked Tim Southee through midwicket, shouting with delight and applauded from the boundary's edge by his tearful father.
Cook and Compton settled to a laborious task without much ado, outstripping England's first-wicket record against New Zealand, the 223 previously set by Graeme Fowler and Chris Tavare at The Oval in 1983.
Their resistance on a cold and cheerless day gave the crowd another reason for forbearance. It was Saturday, but the mood was so workmanlike it felt like Monday morning. New Zealand's bowlers ran in eagerly, their spirits high and their lengths fuller than their English counterparts, and the captaincy of Brendon McCullum was business-like, more proactive perhaps than his predecessor, Ross Taylor.
But for all New Zealand's vigour, a stodgy brown surface showed no signs of deterioration. Cook essayed an occasional attractive square cut or clip off his legs, so intent upon not driving down the ground that only one single in his hundred came in such a manner; Compton just bedded in, his mental approach as upright as his stance, his footwork decisive but rarely expansive.
There was a hint of swing for the left-arm quick, Neil Wagner, the least accurate of New Zealand's fast-bowling trio, and when Cook squirted Bruce Martin's slow left-arm off his pads to reach his fifty, there might have been a semblance of turn, but any excitement was tempered by the low bounce that made it easier to counter.
England's openers took time to settle. Cook, on four, needed an inside edge to survive Southee's resounding lbw appeal and New Zealand lost a review against Compton, on 16, when the same bowler appealed for a catch down the leg-side, replays suggesting that the ball had brushed his thigh pad. Wagner also found enough inswing to give Compton some uncomfortable moments. But after staving off 22 overs before lunch, they were in orderly mood throughout an attritional afternoon. That both have the temperament to bat long was not a matter for debate, but while Cook's Test record has few equals at this stage of his career, Compton's talent remained unchartered.
It was all an abrupt change of tempo from New Zealand's enterprising start to the day as they added a further 58 in less than nine overs before declaring with nine down. McCullum, 44 not out from 42 balls overnight, flogged England to distraction, thrashing another 30 from 17 balls.
McCullum swung Stuart Broad over deep square-leg to reach his fifty, the ball sailing over two Union Jacks at the back of a temporary stand and a bus as it flew out of the ground. He then pulled and drove James Anderson for further sixes. To compound Anderson's misery, McCullum escaped potential catches by Cook, at first slip, and Compton, at deep cover, by inches before he skied Broad high to mid-on where Anderson held an awkward catch.
McCullum's mood also rubbed off on the debutant left-arm spinner, Martin, who pulled about with gusto until he was caught at the wicket for 41 off Finn attempting another leg-side hit. It was an enterprising start to the day, but it was about to be replaced by something more serious and, ultimately, more significant, too.