England 273-7 v New Zealand: Pietersen rules the farmyard as chickens are put to flight

Little and large show as Pietersen and Ambrose join forces to rescue England in thirdTest against New Zealand
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Kevin Pietersen is unlikely ever to win a popularity contest in Nottingham, the acrimonious way in which he left the county for Hampshire in 2004 put paid to that, but, as a batsman, he won the respect of the county's cricket loving public yesterday with a stunning hundred. Every spectator stood, cheered and applauded when Pietersen drove the New Zealand fast bowler, Chris Martin, gloriously through the covers for four to complete a 12th Test century. They rose again when he was eventually dismissed for 115, too.

Pietersen was not the only England player to star on a fluctuating opening day of the third Test. Tim Ambrose is developing the happy knack of scoring runs when England need them most and his 161-run partnership with Pietersen is the sole reason why Michael Vaughan's side finished the day on 273 for 7. Fifteen minutes after lunch, when England were floundering on 86 for 5, a total of 200 seemed riches, but thanks to Pietersen and Ambrose a score in excess of 300 is now possible. In conditions that will continue to offer bowlers assistance it is a total that should allow the hosts to dominate the match.

Pietersen is a wonderful batsman, as his record proves, and he often produces his best when England need him most. Yet his Test form at Trent Bridge had been modest. In three previous matches he averaged 24.5 with a top score of 45. For large parts of the past nine months his England career seems to have been trundling along in third gear. There has been the occasional outstanding performance, the excellent hundred against New Zealand in Napier being one, but his cricket appeared to be losing its vibrancy. Yet this was a display more like those at the start of his career, the performance of an awesome talent at the top of his game. It was faultless. In conditions that resulted in several of his team-mates scratching around at the crease like hens in a farmyard, Pietersen was king.

Unerringly for New Zealand's bowlers, who failed to capitalise on their early success, the ball consistently made contact with the middle of Pietersen's bat. He may have played and missed once or twice at the start and edged a couple of fours to third man, but once acclimatised he was in total control. It was like the Pietersen of old – positive, decisive, busy and belligerent. The trademark "flamingo on-drive" failed to materialise but there were enough sumptuous shots to admire.

Pietersen is never still at the crease and the sight of a big, powerful brute of a man advancing down the pitch is not one a bowler enjoys. They are not the movements of a man in fear of what is about to come his way. There have been times when Pietersen has been reckless but this was not one of them. The good balls were played with respect and the bad ones put away. His driving was magnificent.

Ambrose has made an encouraging start to his Test career but, with the shadow of Matthew Prior getting ever bigger, he needed a score. Some ordinary bowling from the Black Caps helped England's diminutive keeper, with short-pitched deliveries feeding his cut shot. He played several pleasant shots down the ground, too. Jamie How dropped a difficult chance at mid-wicket when he was on 36 and a second Test half century was brought up when he cut a disappointing Daniel Vettori for three.

Ambrose gave the admirable Iain O'Brien his fourth wicket just before the close when he edged a catch through to debutant Gareth Hopkins. Hopkins was a late addition to the New Zealand team when Brendon McCullum's ongoing back problem failed to allow him to keep wicket. The injury has not prevented McCullum from playing and he will bat at three, replacing James Marshall.

Much is said and written about pitches but nobody can be completely sure how they will play until the first ball is bowled. The white, flat pristine surface here played as expected, not as it appeared, offering bowlers assistance throughout the day. Predictably New Zealand had opted to bowl on winning the toss.

England would have been reasonably pleased to reach lunch on 84 for 2. On a seaming pitch Alastair Cook never settled and it came as no surprise when he deflected an unconvincing forward prod on to his leg stump. Vaughan, however, looked in beautiful touch, his 16 runs coming from four crisp boundaries. But the captain fell when he drove loosely at O'Brien and lost his off stump.

In his pre-match press conference Vettori, the New Zealand captain, expressed disappointment with the quality of ball being used in the series and said that it had become a team tactic to get the match ball – a 2008 produced ball – replaced for one made the previous year. It is New Zealand's belief that the 2007 balls offer greater swing movement than those produced this year.

After 15 overs and a couple of nags to the umpire about the shape of the ball the strategy worked and it was changed. Yet it was as far as the tourists' success went. The new ball did no more than the first as Andrew Strauss and Pietersen guided the team out of a hole.

Yet the nature of the day's play took an alarming twist for England in 15 forgettable post-lunch minutes. In the first over after the interval Strauss, on 37, drove wildly at Kyle Mills and edged a catch to Ross Taylor at slip. The England selectors have been keen to proclaim their support for Ian Bell and Paul Collingwood but yesterday's display will further test the patience and loyalty of the quartet.

Bell had batted for three minutes when an O'Brien delivery beat his defensive push and rapped him on the pad. Umpire Steve Bucknor took his time before raising his finger. Collingwood lasted one minute and one ball longer than his team-mate and he too failed to trouble the scorers, edging a nervous prod at Mills to Taylor at slip. A considerable score is required from each in England's second innings if the axe is to be avoided.

Best moment

Kevin Pietersen celebrated his previous Test hundred modestly, raising his bat politely in Napier and acknowledging the applause of the crowd. Here, however, he was back to his exuberant best, jumping up and down and carrying on like a goose.

Ball of the day

Kyle Mills produced a stunning over at the start of Michael Vaughan's innings, but the best ball the England captain faced was his first. The delivery bounced and seamed away. Don Bradman would not have got bat on it.

Shot of the day

Which one of Kevin Pietersen's would you like? The most pleasing was probably the stroke that took him to a hundred, a magnificent extra-cover drive that pierced the field and raced away to the boundary. Sheer class.

Weather: Four-day forecast

Today: 17C, Mostly cloudy, 10mph wind, 20 per cent chance of rain

Tomorrow: 19C, Partly cloudy, 11mph wind, 20 per cent chance of rain

Sunday: 18C, Partly cloudy, 6mph wind, 10 per cent chance of rain

Monday: 17C, Mostly cloudy, 11mph wind, 20 per cent chance of rain

Scoreboard from Trent Bridge

New Zealand won toss

England – First Innings

A J Strauss c Taylor b Mills 37

122 min, 97 balls, 5 four

A N Cook b Mills 6

20 min, 15 balls, 1 four

*M P Vaughan b O'Brien 16

32 min, 22 balls, 4 fours

K P Pietersen c Hopkins b O'Brien 115

284 min, 223 balls, 14 fours

I R Bell lbw b O'Brien 0

5 min, 3 balls

P D Collingwood c Taylor b Mills 0

4 min, 4 balls

†T R Ambrose c Hopkins b O'Brien 67

222 min, 148 balls, 9 fours

S C J Broad not out 15

34 min, 20 balls, 3 fours

J M Anderson not out 1

16 min, 12 balls

Extras (b4 lb8 nb4) 16

Total (for 7, 373 min, 90 overs) 273

Fall: 1-14 (Cook) 2-44 (Vaughan) 3-84 (Strauss) 4-85 (Bell) 5-86 (Collingwood) 6-247 (Pietersen) 7-262 (Ambrose).

To bat: R J Sidebottom, M S Panesar.

Bowling: Martin 12-1-61-0 (5-1-21-0, 1-0-6-0, 4-0-22-0, 2-0-12-0); Mills 24-7-58-3 (nb2) (8-2-19-1, 6-1-20-2, 5-3-8-0, 5-1-11-0); O'Brien 20-4-61-4 (nb1) (6-1-13-1, 6-1-20-1, 3-1-10-0, 5-1-18-2); Oram 17-6-26-0 (5-2-10-0, 5-3-2-0, 4-0-12-0, 3-1-2-0); Vettori 17-0-55-0 (nb1) (4-0-6-0, 9-0-31-0, 1-0-8-0, 3-0-10-0).

Progress: First day: 50: 69 min, 15.2 overs. Lunch: 84-2 (Strauss 37, Pietersen 15) 29 overs. 100: 150 min, 35.4 overs. 150: 211 min, 51.1 overs. Tea: 180-5 (Pietersen 71, Ambrose 36) 59 overs. 200: 275 min, 67.5 overs. New ball taken after 80 overs at 244-5. 250: 342 min, 82.5 overs.

Pietersen's 50: 148 min, 106 balls, 4 fours. 100: 246 min, 194 balls, 12 fours. Ambrose's 50: 148 min, 102 balls, 7 fours.

New Zealand: J M How, A J Redmond, B B McCullum, L R P L Taylor, D R Flynn, †G J Hopkins, J D P Oram, *D L Vettori, K D Mills, I E O'Brien, C S Martin.

Umpires: S A Bucknor (WI) and D B Hair (Aus).

TV replay umpire: P J Hartley.

Match referee: R S Madugalle.