England 342 v New Zealand 11-2: Fearless Ambrose rises to the test

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The Independent Online

Tim Ambrose somewhat fortuitously completed his maiden Test hundred, but the second morning of the second Test belonged to New Zealand's bowlers. England began the day on 291 for 5, with Ambrose on 97, but the Black Caps seamers ripped out the tourists' last five batsmen in 80 minutes for the addition of just 51 runs.

The bowlers continued to dominate proceedings when New Zealand came out to bat as James Anderson dismissed both openers before lunch. Matthew Bell and Jamie How both fell to beautiful outswingers from Anderson. Bell was bowled off-stump working to leg, while How edged a catch to Andrew Strauss at first slip. At the interval, in response to England's 342, New Zealand had been reduced to 11 for 2.

Ambrose ended day one nervously against the excellent Jacob Oram and his anxiety continued to show as he played and missed at the medium pacer on three occasions in his first over. But the hardest three runs of his innings came off the first ball of Oram's next over when England's keeper edged a lifter just out of the reach of Ross Taylor at second slip. Ambrose stood motionless in his crease as the ball ran away for four, taking in the special moment before removing his helmet, raising his arms and acknowledging the applause of the large England contingent in another good crowd. His joy was short lived, five balls later he edged Kyle Mills to Taylor at slip.

Stuart Broad soon followed when he was bowled behind his legs and England's chances of reaching 400 ended when Paul Collingwood was trapped in front by Mark Gillespie. Ryan Sidebottom top edged a heave and England's innings ended next ball when Monty Panesar gloved a bouncer through to the Brendon McCullum.

England have been here before so it would be dangerous to make too many bold statements just yet about Ambrose, whose century allowed Michael Vaughan's side to recover from the precarious position of 136 for 5 on the opening day. Yet it was one of the most important played by an England wicketkeeper for quite some time, probably since Geraint Jones struck 86 in the Trent Bridge Ashes Test of 2005.

The reason to be cautious is because two of Ambrose's post Alec Stewart predecessors began their careers in similar style. Jones scored a century on his third appearance for England and Matthew Prior smacked a hundred in his maiden Test innings. But where are they now?

Neither the innings of Jones nor Prior was played while England were in deep trouble. Vaughan's side were staring down the barrel of a series defeat when Gillespie bowled Kevin Pietersen for 31 and Ambrose walked out to meet Collingwood. A second consecutive miserable batting display seemed inevitable.

The first day was a wicket sandwich sort of day. In the first and final session a wicket did not fall but between lunch and tea it was coronation chicken for New Zealand who took 5 for 77 in 26 overs. Oram instigated the collapse by bowling Vaughan with a beauty two balls after the interval. He then encouraged Alastair Cook to nibble at a good length ball and edge a catch through to the keeper.

Andrew Strauss followed spooning a horrible drive to cover point and Pietersen missed a straight one.

Collingwood was stoic, but without the enterprise of Ambrose England would not have reached such a strong position. The modern game expects much of a wicketkeeper and Ambrose currently has ticks in every box. In Hamilton, on a slow, low pitch he dug in and showed patience, modifying his batting to the state of the game.

Here at the Basin Reserve, where he was able to trust the pace and bounce of the pitch, Ambrose did the same. In the first Test it appeared as though he may be vulnerable to the short ball, but yesterday he played his back foot shots with freedom. Twice he hooked a fast bowler for six and only once was he troubled, when Gillespie hit him on the head with a bouncer.

While it was the cutting of Ambrose that stood out, it was his driving down the ground that made him so hard to bowl at. Shorter men have to learn to cut and pull because they face fewer balls that can be played with a forward stroke and a straight bat. When a batsman is able to cut a fast bowler off his natural length he has problems because he has to change where he pitches the ball.

When placed in this position the bowler tends to over compensate, bowling a half volley, and if this delivery is punished too he has nowhere to go. Ambrose played half a dozen stunning drives down the ground, shots that undermined the rhythm and confidence of all the bowlers apart from Oram.

But the most impressive part of Ambrose's innings was the fearless way he went about his work. The approach was in stark contrast to England's top six who remain in danger of becoming paralysed by a fear of failure.

Is it a coincidence that Ambrose plays with absolute freedom yet he is the only batsman not to have a central contract?