Caution is an over-rated virtue in Test cricket and England, for all their coach's bluster, are as cautious as they come. But when a Test series and an England captain's head rely on it, the means are justified even when the opposition have been dismissed for 124 and your most adventurous bowler has just taken 5 for 48.
England's batsman are clearly trying to be as ruthless and calculating as they can to set up the victory that still eludes them. But although a winning position may still be some way off, the care with which they have approached the task of overhauling New Zealand shows that after the events of the first Test, most will never take victory for granted again.
It is just as well, for Michael Atherton's team have long been the scavengers of international cricket, particularly overseas, where opportunities to win are thin. For one thing they do not have a surfeit of sophisticated talent to make clean kills like Pakistan and Australia. Instead they have to rely largely on weak opponents and New Zealand are weak enough to provide easy meat.
However, one of the reasons why England do not win many Test matches overseas is the frequency with which players lose and gain form. Seven weeks ago, Nick Knight was almost the toast of the land after nearly winning the Bulawayo Test with a thrilling last-over assault on Heath Streak. Yesterday he looked jittery as he forced an innocuous-looking ball from Simon Doull clean to gully.
Since the Bulawayo Test, where he scored 56 and 96, Knight has failed to make another half-century, and it seems the longer the tour has gone on, the more alien the game has become for him. Perversely, it is a trend that has worked in reverse for Atherton, who was lbw to Doull for a workmanlike 30. The captain appears to have emerged from the abyss with sanity and strokes more or less intact.
One problem for Knight may be that he is trying to adopt the Warwickshire ethos of believing everyone can bat like Brian Lara and hit their way out of a bad run. If that is the approach Knight is adopting, he would do well to remember that even Lara has had to make compromises to regain his touch at Test level, where mistakes rarely go unpunished a second time.
Unfortunately for Knight, his slump was cruelly highlighted by the brilliance of Alec Stewart, who added an articulate half-century to the virtuoso hundred he scored in Auckland. Stewart's form has been so consistent that it came as something of a shock when he was dismissed by Geoff Allott. Apart from a few dicey moments early on, the Surrey captain looked in control and it needed a brilliant one-handed diving catch by Stephen Fleming at first slip to send him on his way.
With "the Gaffer" gone, the rest of the day was given over to the careful compilation of runs by Graham Thorpe and Nasser Hussain as New Zealand were forced to ring the bowling changes. Something that was not easy after Chris Cairns was forced to retire with a bruised finger after stopping a drive from Stewart off his own bowling.
There is no doubt that little has so far gone right for Lee Germon and his team, who having batted without due care and attention, were then forced to bowl on the pitch at its flattest. Germon set attacking fields that even the likes of Courtney Walsh would have struggled to bowl to.
Nevertheless, although Doull and Allott provided worrying moments for England, it was the bespectacled teenager Daniel Vettori, who gave his captain the most control with a steady and mature spell of bowling.
Vettori is the son of Italian immigrants whose Test debut is only his third first-class match. A fact appreciated by the 7,000-strong crowd, who showed their encouragement by applauding the 18-year-old every time he bowled a maiden.
Before lunch, when England had bowled, such steadiness had been in short supply, and it had been the rather overventuresome Darren Gough who had brought about the home side's downfall with a mixed bag of fine deliveries and good fortune.
Charging in from the Adelaide Road end, Gough dismissed Nathan Astle, well caught by Robert Croft at mid-off, as well as Doull in the same over, to finish with his first five-wicket Test haul since Sydney two winters ago.
In comparison to Andy Caddick, who got the ball to swing and bounce, Gough did not bowl well. However, the man who claims he is not a line- and-length bowler still has the happy knack of getting wickets.
It is a knack that appears to have deserted Dominic Cork, who unusually had to make do with playing second fiddle to the Stradivarii played by Gough and Caddick. If prior knowledge is anything to go by, it is a role that Cork, used to being top dog, will not be happy playing for long, and one that Atherton will no doubt gently goad him with, when it comes to bowling New Zealand out for a second time.
Wellington scoreboard, second day
New Zealand won toss
NEW ZEALAND - First Innings
(First day: 56 for 6)
N J Astle c Croft b Gough 36
(118 min, 90 balls, 3 fours)
D N Patel c Cork b Caddick 45
(97 min, 66 balls, 6 fours)
S B Doull c Stewart b Gough 0
(1 min, 2 balls)
G I Allott c Knight b Cork 1
(30 min, 18 balls)
D L Vettori not out 3
(14 min, 10 balls)
Extras (lb5 nb2) 7
Total (218 min, 48.3 overs) 124
Fall: 1-14 (Pocock) 2-18 (Young) 3-19 (Parore) 4-19 (Fleming) 5-23 (Cairns) 6-48 (Germon) 7-85 (Astle) 8-85 (Doull) 9-106 (Allott) 10-124 (Patel).
Bowling: Cork 14-4-34-1 (nb2) (4-1-10-0, 7-2-13-0, 3-1-11-1); Caddick 18.3-5-45-4 (8-4-15-2, 3-1-4-1, 6-0-18-0, 1.3-0-8-1); Gough 16-6-40-5 (nb1) (8-3-12-3, 8-3-28-2).
Progress: First day: Overnight and morning rain delayed start until 4.28pm. 50: 125 min, 27.1 overs. Close: 56-6 (Astle 15, Patel 5) 30 overs. Second day: 100: 193 min, 43.3 overs. Innings closed: 11.52am.
ENGLAND - First Innings
N V Knight c Patel b Doull 8
(11 min, 10 balls, 1 four)
*M A Atherton lbw b Doull 30
(95 min, 70 balls, 3 fours)
A J Stewart c Fleming b Allott 52
(122 min, 86 balls, 6 fours)
N Hussain not out 60
(180 min, 152 balls, 5 fours, 1 six)
G P Thorpe not out 47
(140 min, 105 balls, 6 fours)
Extras (lb5 nb2) 7
Total (for 3, 276 min, 70 overs) 204
Fall: 1-10 (Knight) 2-80 (Atherton) 3-106 (Stewart).
To bat: J P Crawley, R D B Croft, D G Cork, D Gough, A R Caddick, P C R Tufnell.
Bowling: Doull 15-5-45-2 (3-1-7-1, 4-0-20-0, 5-2-16-1, 3-2-2-0); Allott 19-2-62-1 (nb2) (3-0-13-0, 7-1-22-0, 5-1-14-1, 1-0-4-0, 3-0-9-0; Vettori 15-7-30-0 (1-0-4-0, 14-7-26-0); Cairns 4-2-8-0 (one spell); Astle 7-2- 15-0 (nb1) (6-1-15-0, 1-1-0-0); Patel 8-2-29-0 (5-0-25-0, 3-2-4-0); Pocock 2-0-16-0 (one spell).
Progress: Second day: Lunch: 20-1 (Atherton 7, Stewart 5) 6 overs. 50: 59 min, 14 overs. 100: 128 min, 31.1 overs. Tea: 115-3 (Hussain 14, Thorpe 5) 35 overs. 150: 183 min, 44.5 overs. 200: 263 min, 66.2 overs.
Stewart's 50: 107 min, 76 balls, 6 fours. Hussain's 50: 140 min, 117 balls, 3 fours, 1 six.
Umpires: S A Bucknor and D B Cowie.
TV replay umpire: E A Watkin.
Match referee: P J P Burge.Reuse content