Tim Ambrose ended an absorbing day of Test cricket three runs short of a maiden Test century. Ambrose's exhilarating unbeaten innings of 97 allowed England to reach 291-5 on the opening day of the second Test, a position that should enable Michael Vaughan's side to dictate terms over the course of the match.
The level of control England have will depend on how many the lower order can add on day two and how the inexperienced seam attack bowl on a pitch offering consistent lateral movement. It was such activity that allowed the Black Caps to reduce England to 136-5 in the afternoon session, a position that left them once again looking extremely vulnerable.
It was at this moment that Ambrose breathed life in to England's innings. The diminutive stumper cut, drove, pulled and carved New Zealand's seamers, with the exception of the outstanding Jacob Oram, to all parts of the Basin Reserve. In Paul Collingwood Ambrose found the perfect ally and at the close the pair had added 155 valuable runs for the sixth wicket.
In his two Test appearances Ambrose has shown his quality and flexibility. In Hamilton he kept well and played a dogged, patient innings in England's first innings. Here he showed that he can get after the bowling too. His 50 was brought up off the 68th ball he faced and 72 of his runs were brought up via fours and sixes.
Ambrose's counterattack took New Zealand by surprise, placing their bowlers under greater pressure than at any time in the series. And under such a force they buckled, sending down far more bad balls than they did in the entire first Test. In the final session England scored 135 without losing a wicket, quite a contrast to the previous one where they lost 5-77.
A pulled six and three in the penultimate over of the day moved Ambrose to 97 and on strike against Oram. But the bowler produced a superb over, beating the outside edge of Ambrose's bat on four occasions. The movement achieved by Oram so last in the day should have pleased England's seam bowlers, if they can bowl with the same control New Zealand's batsman should find scoring runs as hard as England's top order.
Everything went swimmingly for England in the opening session of the Test. Alastair Cook and Vaughan made a watchful start after Daniel Vettori, the New Zealand captain, invited England to bat on a hard, flat surface possessing a tinge of green.
The new ball seamed around enough to cause discern to Cook and Vaughan, who each played and missed on numerous occasions. Even so there was greater urgency about the batting with both batsmen looking to take quick singles to keep the scoreboard ticking over.
Vaughan struck England's first boundary when he drove Chris Martin square of the wicket for four, and when Cook reached 13 via a nudge in to the leg side off the same bowler he replaced David Gower as the youngest England player to score 2,000 Test runs. Both batsmen were wary when the ball was pitched full but when the bowlers dragged it down they latched on to quickly. Vaughan pulled Kyle Mills for four whilst Cook tucked in to Mark Gillespie. At lunch England had reached 79 without loss.
But the nature of the days play changed with the second ball after the interval, when a beauty from Jacob Oram ripped through Vaughan's defence and clipped the top of his off-stump. Cook followed his captain in Oram's next over when he nibbled at a widish ball and edged a simple catch through to the keeper. Seventy nine for nought had become 82-2.
And it became 94-3 when Andrew Strauss played a dreadful shot and was caught at cover point. Strauss needs a decent score in England's second innings or he could follow Matthew Hoggard and Stephen Harmison out of the side.
Ian Bell could have been out first ball when he foolishly had a hook at a Mills bouncer and top-edged the ball to fine leg. Bell was fortunate that Gillespie was half asleep and made a weak effort. England's number five was lucky not to be dismissed on one too, when he edged Oram to the right of Brendon McCullum, the Black Caps keeper, who dropped the catch. McCullum should have left it for Stephen Fleming, one of Test cricket's best catchers, fielding at first slip.
England's batsmen had promised to be more positive in this Test but Bell could not get the ball away, spending 28 balls trapped on one. A straight drive for four off Martin moved him to five and gained ironic applause from the sizeable crowd. Bell drove Martin for another boundary but it was the bowler who had the final laugh when the 25 year old edged a defensive push through to McCullum.
Kevin Pietersen was once again a paragon of responsibility, attempting to play the big innings his side so desperately required. Pietersen played several thumping shots before he missed a straight ball from Gillespie and was bowled. The wicket left England teetering on 136-5 and the threat of another paltry total being posted.