Ryan Sidebottom claimed a crucial late wicket to help England finish with a flourish on the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand today. Brilliant catching and disciplined bowling allowed England to edge the opening day of the three Test series against New Zealand. On a slow, low and largely unhelpful pitch wicket-taking opportunities were always going to be limited, and the honours would have gone to the Black Caps but for the handiwork of Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood, who shared five high quality catches.
England's bowlers toiled manfully with Ryan Sidebottom and Monty Panesar standing out, restricting the Black Caps to 282-6 in 90 intriguing overs. The pair, like Collingwood, would have felt that their efforts deserved to be rewarded. New Zealand, meanwhile, would have been extremely disappointed to lose six wickets on such a docile pitch. Each of the Black Caps batsmen would not be happy with the shot that caused their downfall but Michael Vaughan's vibrant side gleefully accepted the half chances offered.
Jamie How was the hosts best batsman, scoring a career best 92 before edging Panesar low to Collingwood at slip. How's driving and pulling was superb, latching quickly and precisely on to anything loose sent down by the bowlers. His half-century came up off the 120th ball he faced and his innings contained 11 boundaries.
The timing of tea, which arrived when How was on 90, affected his concentration. Before the interval the solid right-hander looked in little trouble, but after 20 minutes contemplation he seemed nervous. Two sweeps at Panesar were missed and though the delivery that dismissed him turned fractionally he was guilty of coming across the ball rather than playing it with a straight bat. Collingwood's catch, by his left boot, was excellent.
Stephen Fleming looked set for a big score too, reaching 41 in exquisite style before cutting one hard to gully, where he was superbly caught by Cook diving full length to his right. The wicket gave Sidebottom special pleasure because Fleming spent three years captaining him at Nottinghamshire.
It was the second sharp chance taken by the England opener, who had earlier held on to a sliced Matthew Bell drive at Stephen Harmison. Cook's third catch of the day dismissed Jacob Oram, New Zealand's dangerous all-rounder. Oram played an innocuous back foot push at a widish ball from Matthew Hoggard and was athletically caught by the 23 year-old diving to his left. It was the only moment of joy for Hoggard, on what was otherwise a disappointing day for the seamer.
Collingwood's first catch was a stunner too. Caught and bowled chances can look easy but generally they are not. A bowler is not expecting the ball to come back at him and he is often caught unaware and off balance when it does. Matthew Sinclair drilled a good length delivery back at Collingwood and his lightening fast reflexes allowed him to hang on to the ball.
New Zealand looked set to waste winning the toss following Oram's dismissal but a 86 run sixth wicket stand between Brendon McCullum and Ross Taylor took their side to respectability. McCullum continued with the aggressive style that made him such a handful in the one-day series, and it worked. Panesar and Hoggard were carved over the boundary for six and for a brief while it appeared as though he would ruin England's earlier good work.
But McCullum played one big shot too many, slashing at a wide half volley from Sidebottom and edging a low catch through to Tim Ambrose, who claimed his first Test catch.
Taylor continued to show great restraint right until the close, posting his first half-century in Test cricket in the process. If New Zealand are to put England under pressure in the Test Taylor will need to turn his fifty in to a hundred and The Black Caps have to score at least another 100 runs.
The only real negative to come out of the day for England was the blow Ian Bell received at short leg. Bell, fielding at short leg, was struck painfully on the right hand when Jamie How pulled a short ball from Sidebottom in his direction. Initially it was feared that Bell had broken his hand but x-rays and scans proved otherwise. England are hoping that regular treatment will allow him to bat in their first innings.
* In an attempt to gain much needed practice England seamer, James Anderson, will play for Auckland in a four-day game against Wellington starting tomorrow. England were approached about one of their players playing when Chris Tremlett returned home with a side injury. Originally he was due to stay on and play for Auckland who have lost the services of two fast bowlers to the rebel Indian Cricket League and two to the New Zealand side.
Cricket New Zealand chief executive, Justin Vaughan, is not happy with the arrangement. "We are not particularly enthusiastic about it," he said. "But we can understand why Auckland want to do it with some of their other players absent. We would be happier if they gave a chance to a young New Zealand bowler because we can see a scenario where Anderson bowls himself in to form and then helps England win the deciding Test because of that."
Vaughan will ask England's chief executive. David Collier, whether a reciprocal arrangement can be made for New Zealand's tour of England, which starts in May.