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Player of the Match
Player of the Match

England build foundation through fifties from Burns, Denly and Stokes

Joe Denly pulls Getty Images

England 241 for 4 (Stokes 67*, Pope 18*) v New Zealand

England's Test team came to New Zealand seeking a fresh start after the angst and drama of the Bayliss era. There are few more tranquil locales in which the longest format can unfold and, on a sedate opening to life as a Test venue at Mount Maunganui, a succession of English batsmen gave notice that they were prepared to adhere to the traditional disciplines favoured by the new head coach, Chris Silverwood.

While England's innings was perhaps lacking in definitive statements, there were encouraging signs aplenty from a revamped top order. In keeping with the team's new mantra, Rory Burns and Joe Denly both compiled watchful half-centuries, from 135 and 136 balls respectively, while Dom Sibley, the debutant opener, was party to a 52-run opening stand as England made a useful start in benign conditions.

That none was able to go on will give New Zealand satisfaction after a day of manful toil from their four seamers. Pre-match suggestions were that this pitch would be accommodating to batsmen and it looks as the Bay of Plenty will live up to its name; Kane Williamson is foremost among the home XI unlikely to miss out given similar opportunity.

And while the English rank and file did their level best, there was disappointment for the captain, Joe Root, who was only able to muster 2 from a laboured 22-ball stay. A typically punchy fifty from his deputy, Ben Stokes, ensured England would retain hope of building a match-defining position on day two.

Recent white-ball encounters between these two sides have been marked by their explosive potential, but Test rhythms quickly asserted themselves at the Bay Oval. Colin de Grandhomme's medium pace applied an effective tourniquet as England were kept to a scoring rate well below three an over, and only while Stokes was at the crease and flexing his tattooed biceps during the evening session did pulses go much above resting rate.

Having lost two wickets in quick succession shortly before tea, Stokes and Denly took some time to retrench before swelling their fourth-wicket stand to 83. Denly reached his fourth fifty in as many Tests with a crisp cover drive off Trent Boult, then began to open up as he attacked the under-utilised spin of Mitchell Santner, lofting over extra cover and then depositing a straight-driven six down the ground.

His previous Test innings, opening the batting at The Oval in September, saw Denly fall six runs short of a maiden hundred; he did not get that close this time, but may again rue a chance missed after falling to the second new ball for 74, fencing at Tim Southee as he angled a delivery in from wide of the crease.

While New Zealand were admirably persistent, their bowlers' efforts were undermined by several notable lapses in the field - the most glaring of which came a few overs before the close, as Stokes was gifted a life having thrashed Boult for fours down the ground, through midwicket and then cover. The next delivery found his outside edge, only to burst through Ross Taylor's hands at slip and disappear for a fourth consecutive boundary.

New Zealand might also have removed Burns before he had established himself, failing to review for caught behind after a half-hearted appeal in the fifth over. Burns put that behind him to help see off the new ball and take England to a promising position at 113 for 1, despite rarely looking fluent. However, Root was unable to take advantage of coming in with the shine long gone, taking 21 balls to get off the mark and then falling tamely to Neil Wagner's next delivery, steering an edge to second slip.

Wagner pounded the pitch manfully, engaging in an entertaining tussle with Denly and striking Burns a blow on the helmet that seemed to contribute to the opener losing his composure. Twice Denly pulled Wagner for two fours in an over, but in between times the bowler had the better of things, seeing edges fall short of gully and slip.

Burns also edged Southee between first and second slip on 37, with Taylor and Tom Latham unmoving, and then survived a marginal lbw appeal on umpire's call when New Zealand did turn to the DRS. He went to his fifty in Boult's following over, clipping off his legs for a sixth boundary, before finally succumbing to de Grandhomme via a thin edge to the keeper.

It was also de Grandhomme who made New Zealand's initial breakthrough, a teasing away-nibbler finding Sibley's outside edge after the new man had compiled 22 from 63 balls in his maiden outing. If it was a regulation dismissal for an opener, drawn into an off-stump push and well held by Taylor at first slip, Sibley had at least made New Zealand work hard for it, leaving the ball well and giving England an ideal start after Root had won the toss and chosen to bat.

Having come into the game with a reputation for obduracy, Sibley promptly clipped his first ball in Test cricket to the midwicket boundary; but he was soon living up to his billing, absorbing another 22 deliveries before producing his second scoring shot.

The Burns-Sibley axis soon settled into an unhurried groove, in keeping with the relaxed atmosphere on the grass banks for those fans attending Bay Oval's Test debut. Both captains took the view that the pitch would be good for run-scoring, despite a greenish tinge, and that was borne out. Burns had an escape on 10, HotSpot confirming a thin outside edge to a regulation Boult outswinger, while Sibley was forced to dive for his ground to complete a quick single but otherwise the openers were untroubled, as New Zealand found some gentle swing but little pace from a docile surface.

England 3rd innings Partnerships

WktRunsPlayers
1st48RJ BurnsDP Sibley
2nd5JL DenlyRJ Burns
3rd2JL DenlyMJ Leach
4th14JL DenlyJE Root
5th52JL DenlyBA Stokes
6th11JL DenlyOJ Pope
7th1JC ButtlerOJ Pope
8th5JC ButtlerSM Curran
9th59SM CurranJC Archer
10th0SCJ BroadSM Curran