Angus Fraser: England struggle to avoid follow-on
England saved the follow-on on the third afternoon, passing 270 when a forceful back foot shot from Paul Collingwood rolled to the extra cover boundary for four, but they will need to be at their best over the final two days of the first Test if they are to avoid defeat to an excellent New Zealand side. Collingwood and Tim Ambrose, on debut, remained unbeaten at the end of an absorbing day of Test cricket as England crawled to 286-6, still 184 runs shy of the Black Caps imposing first innings total of 470.
The highlight of the day was the intriguing battle between England's naturally aggressive middle-order and the New Zealand spinners. Unresponsive modern pitches have made the life of a conventional finger spinner pretty miserable but it was a joy to watch Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel whirl away for over after over in tandem, dictating terms to batsmen who relish striking the ball to the boundary.
The pair bowled beautifully, rendering Kevin Pietersen, Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood virtually shotless for lengthy periods of the day. Pietersen is as powerful and free-scoring a batsman as there is in world cricket, yet he only managed to score 26 runs between lunch and tea. He hit the third ball he faced for six but it took him a further 91 balls to find the boundary again.
Pietsersen can rarely have been made to work as hard for runs in his career and he looked devastated when, on 42, a defensive push flew of his pad then bat back to the bowlers left. A right-handed person may not have caught it but Vettori, the bowler, scooped it up beautifully low and to his left.
Pietersen, as is usually the case, was the wicket England's opponents wanted most and as he made his way pack to the pavilion the Black Caps would have fancied their chances of bowling England out before the close. But Collingwood and Ambrose held firm, scoring 41 and 23 respectively. The pair will need to remain at the crease for some time on the fourth day if England are to avoid a nervy finish.
New Zealand's bowlers showed England just what could be achieved with discipline and hard work; something Michael Vaughan would have been aware of as he scratched around for runs in the morning session. The England captain received very few loose deliveries and reached his 15th Test fifty via an outside edge to the third man boundary. Thirty six runs were added in the first hour and New Zealand's control was rewarded when Vaughan misjudged a Patel delivery and edged a catch through to the wicket-keeper.
Andrew Strauss and Chris Martin, New Zealand's opening bowler, are not the best of friends - the pair had a public verbal exchange in January after the England batsman suggested that the Black Caps would be a weaker side without Shane Bond. Martin took exception to the remarks, accusing Strauss of being arrogant and mouthy, and he greeted him at the crease with a couple of bouncers, the first of which hit the batsman on the chest. It did not take long before Strauss looked to take on the short ball and his first boundary came when he pulled Martin for four.
Strauss grew in confidence as the session wore on but rarely can he have faced spin so early in an innings. In the build up to the Test the former opener said that he did not believe batting at three would be too different to opening. But it is and, initially, it was apparent as he struggled to come to terms with Vettori.
And it was Vettori who dismissed him with the third ball after the interval. Left handed batsmen constantly have to face spinners who toss the ball in to the bowlers foot-holes and Strauss was bowled driving at a ball that spun sharply between his bat and pad.
Ina Bell showed no affect from the nasty blow he received to his right hand on the first day but he too could not come to terms with the accurate bowling that was being sent his way. The ironic thing about Bell's dismissal was that he just seemed to be finding his timing when Kyle Mills nipped the second new ball back through his guard and clipped off stump.
In total 56 runs were added for the loss of two wickets in the 31 overs between lunch and tea, figures that highlight New Zealand's dominance. Collingwood would have been dismissed prior to Pietersen had Brendon McCullum held on to a difficult stumping chance of the bowling of Patel. But he survived, assisted Ambrose to score his first Test runs, much to the joy of his parents sat in the sun on a grassy bank, and much will be required from England's most combative cricketer when the teams square up tomorrow morning.
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