Inserting the opposition in a Test match is a proposition that no captain takes lightly, particularly one as cautious as Michael Atherton. To bowl first is to gamble both upon extravagant movement and the form of your bowlers. Unfortunately for England neither coincided before lunch in the first Test against New Zealand here today where the home side ended the opening session untroubled on 72.
To make the gamble worthwhile, you have to be confident of dismissing a side for under 280. To achieve that, or better, you have to bowl well with the new ball, something both Dominic Cork and Alan Mullally failed to do, the latter being particularly wasteful as he pursued a line wide of leg stump, a false line of enquiry that others followed and one that caused Alec Stewart to dislocate the little finger of his left hand, when he later dived to stop a loose one from Gough.
It was a failing that allowed New Zealand's opening pair of Bryan Young and Blair Pocock, so troubled by Cork's outswing in Hamilton, to cut and clip their way a fifty partnership almost without a hiccup. There was movement, but it came largely through the air rather than off the pitch.
England's problem was that there were several unknowns, not least that this was a new pitch. In fact, persuaded by the previous day's moisture, England left out their off-spinner Robert Croft, a decision they may regret after the new surface proved almost as turgid as its infamous predecessor: a square where England had never lost a Test.
For Atherton it was a particularly frustrating start to the day and he registered his displeasure over his pace bowlers' inaccuracy by giving Phil Tufnell an early bowl in the 12th over. It proved a short-lived gambit, but it got the point over to his bowlers to tighten their line.
Few could have chastised the England captain for being upset with his bowlers who showed remarkably little brain power as they allowed New Zealand to take early control of this Test.
First day; England won toss
NEW ZEALAND - First Innings (at Lunch)
B A Young not out 37
B A Pocock not out 25
Extras (b5, lb1, nb4) 10
Total (for 0, 29 overs) 72
To bat: A C Parore, S P Fleming, N J Astle, C L Cairns, J T C Vaughan, *L K Germon, D N Patel, S B Doull, D K Morrison.
ENGLAND: *M A Atherton, N V Knight, A J Stewart, N Hussain, G P Thorpe, J P Crawley, C White, D G Cork, D Gough, A D Mullally, P C R Tufnell.
Umpires: R S Dunne (NZ) and S A Bucknor (W Indies).