New Zealand 173 for 3 (Latham 101*, Nicholls 5*) v England
Tom Latham is not a batsman who does things by half. Even by the standards of New Zealand's under-appreciated line-up, he tends to slip below the radar, but in racking up his fifth Test century in the space of ten Test innings, he has achieved a feat that no other Kiwi has ever before managed. And it was on his watch that England's tricky tour of New Zealand's took another turn for the problematic.
It was probably quite some relief for England that their day's work was truncated, moments after tea, by the onset of a torrential downpour coupled with apocalyptic cloud cover. By that stage, Latham was solidly ensconced on 101 not out, the serenity of his latest stay at odds with the chaos in his opponents' camp, as he picked up where BJ Watling and Mitchell Santner had left off with their monolithic stand in the first Test at Mount Maunganui.
There will, allegedly, be other more important challenges for this England side in the coming months. This Test series, as we all know, falls outside the World Test Championship and therefore is being seen in some quarters as some sort of glorified development trip. But given that Test cricket has existed irrespective of wider context for 141 years and more than 2300 matches, the combatants tend to know instinctively when they are in a battle. And England certainly know for sure.
To say that this tour hasn't quite gone to plan so far for England is quite the under-statement. The first-Test thrashing aside, there have been off-field distractions with the Jofra Archer incident and Chris Silverwood's sad news from home, and then on the eve of this game, the untimely gym injury to Jos Buttler that forced a rejig of their resources and a debut for Zak Crawley, with Ollie Pope taking over the wicketkeeping duties.
And then came England's throw of the dice at the toss, with Chris Woakes' recall at the expense of Jack Leach meaning that England had plumped for an all-seam attack for the first time since the Headingley Test against South Africa in 2012 - and that didn't exactly work out as planned.
England, it seems, had been gambling both on a correct call at the toss (which Joe Root duly delivered) and on an unusually furry surface, featuring a full 16mm of live grass, playing into their hands. And though Woakes himself justified his recall with two wickets in 14 economical overs of probing line and length, it already feels inevitable that Leach's absence will be felt as the match wears on - not least if Ben Stokes is unable to bowl for the rest of the match.
Ben Stokes was not called upon until the 44th over of the day, and then bowled just two uncomfortable overs before hobbling out of the attack with a sore left knee. It is not a new injury, which is some comfort, but it is one that the ECB have already admitted that will need to be assessed before he can be called upon again. With a four-Test tour of South Africa looming next month, discretion may be prudent.
Not least because this innings already promises to be a further slog for England's attack. In spite of the pitch's fuzzy appearance, barely a ball deviated from the straight and narrow all day, and England were reliant on discipline - from Woakes first and foremost - to keep themselves in contention. It was a trait that Latham in particular was more than willing to display for his countrymen in return.
Ominously for England, in the course of Latham's formidable run of form, which extends back to his career-best 264 not out against Sri Lanka last year, he has yet to be dismissed for less than 154 on the occasions he has reached three figures, and there was little evidence in another supremely judged stay that he'll be giving it away lightly on this occasion either.
He did have one massive scare in the penultimate over before lunch, as Woakes nipped one into his pads on 49, and extracted an lbw verdict from an uncertain umpire Kumar Dharmasena that was instantly and rightly reviewed by the non-striker Ross Taylor. And then, on 66, Latham was briefly undone by Jofra Archer's extra pace - all too briefly for the catcher Stokes, who was unable to cling onto a fenced edge that burst through his upturned fingers at second slip.
Beyond those flickers of fallibility, however, Latham's innings was built on a pinpoint recognition of his scoring opportunities, as he presented the straightest of blades to anything remotely stump-threatening, while cashing in whenever the opportunity arose. Sam Curran, in particular, strayed repeatedly onto his toes in search of that elusive swing. Latham reached his first fifty in 87 balls, then galloped down the track in the final over before tea, to meet Root on the full and bring up his century with a whistling drive through long-on.
For all that Root favours mixing things up with an over of spin before an interval, it was a curious moment to bring himself into the attack, given that Latham had been on 96 and the opportunity was still there to make him sweat.
For he had been made to work hard at the top of his innings. Broad and Archer opened proceedings with a steadfast line round the wicket to both the left-handed openers, with Broad soon extracting Jeet Raval as the day's first casualty when he flashed at a length ball outside off, and scuffed a flat-footed drive to Root at first slip for 5.
Woakes, no fan of the Kookaburra ball in his previous forays overseas, was unable to find much lateral movement throughout a probing day's work. But by settling in on an immoveable line and length, he was able to force the errors, even in a batsman as brilliant as Kane Williamson, who was suckered by the angle into the stumps, and kissed the edge on an off-stump line to give Root his second catch of the morning, low to his right.
Taylor's arrival upped the ante for New Zealand's innings, as he took the attack to Archer in particular, unfurling the cut to fine effect to cash in on an occasionally errant line. He too had a let-off, and one that even he probably had not seen coming, when on 25, he whipped impulsively across the line to Broad, and was only saved from a plumb lbw by the faintest of tremors on RTS - one that Taylor himself seemed not to have felt.
Taylor carried on his selectively aggressive vein to bring up a 99-ball fifty, only to fall to his very next delivery, as Woakes dangled a fuller length outside off, and induced an impetuous drive straight into Root's bread-basket.
Henry Nicholls arrived and survived with few concerns, as play was curtailed just three balls into the final session, with the clouds closing in in the gloom and the groundstaff scurrying to batten down the hatches.
Prior to the start of play, England's new boy, Crawley, had been handed his cap by his county (and now England) team-mate Joe Denly, and already it is looking likely that he'll be required to show composure at No. 6 in the face of what may prove to be another daunting New Zealand total. In the event, he endured an unfortunate first day in the field, his two most notable moments coming with a hyperactive shy at the stumps that fizzed away for four overthrows, and a valiant attempt to save another boundary that ricocheted over the rope off his own tangled feet.
Pope, by contrast, looked the part behind the stumps, having had just five first-class matches in the role prior to this opportunity. He was tested early on by a wayward sighter from Curran that swung wickedly down the leg side, and had to be on his mettle to contend with a brief flurry of 140kph aggression from Archer in his mid-afternoon spell. But Pope, like the rest of his team, will probably prefer not to have to spend 201 overs in the squat position, as had been Buttler's fate in the first Test. Latham looks in the mood, and the form, to challenge that sort of timeframe.