England start on batting marathon to save First Test

New Zealand enjoy first-innings lead of 293 as Cook's men must dig deep to avoid defeat

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The Independent Online

England were left with the enormous task of batting for almost two days to save the first Test here today. They also had the matter of a deficit of 293 runs to negotiate after New Zealand declared their first innings on 460 for 9.

If it did not seem beyond the bounds of possibility with the pitch still in reasonable order, it also meant that the tourists would need to bat for almost three times as long as they managed in the first innings. By lunch on the fourth day, they had reached 58 for 0 in 22 overs, with both openers, Alastair Cook and Nick Compton on 25.

It was the fifth half-century partnership in 10 innings between the pair since they began their first wicket alliance in India late last year. Compton was beaten four times outside off stump as he betrayed his nerves but he also played two handsome back foot drives through cover point. Cook was error-free.

The first part of the morning was dominated by the Kiwis who launched a vicious onslaught on England's bowlers. They added 58 in under nine overs as Brendon McCullum, their captain, pulled and drove with abandon.

McCullum had nothing to lose, knowing that his side's lead was already substantial. He brought up his half century with a pulled six and then drove his opponents to distraction by edging a four through the slips and slicing a drive which fell just shot of Compton at deep point.

He was dismissed having struck 30 from 17 balls on the day when he hoisted a drive high in the air and was pouched by Jimmy Anderson, who judged the swirling ball adroitly at mid-wicket.

New Zealand finally called a halt to their innings when Steve Finn took his first wicket of the match by having Bruce Martin caught behind, feathering a top edge.

If Hamish Rutherford never scores another run in Test cricket he will always have Dunedin. His 171 was a ripping yarn, though England, who dropped him twice, may not yet be ready to agree wholeheartedly.

There were elements both human and statistical, compelling and esoteric by turn. First, the human. This performance represented the apex of a magnificent return to professional cricket for Rutherford. Picked for Otago at the age of 19 in 2008 he found the going tough.

His first two innings were ducks and in the 11 he was allowed in that first coming seven were in single figures. Rutherford was dropped. Cricket had become a trial for him.

For more than two years he was not in the Otago team, and the national team might as well have been a planet in another galaxy far, far away.

"There were a few dark times, things go through your head," he said after his integral role in taking New Zealand to 402 for seven at the end of a curtailed third day, a first-innings lead of 235. "I started work for the coffee shop and did some bar work and started to enjoy life a bit more through playing cricket for enjoyment rather than looking at it from a work point of view."

In March, 2012, Otago recalled him. In his first match back, against Northern Districts in Wellington, he made 107 and 118. He was on his way. His first-class record since has been exemplary but it was still a surprise when the Kiwi selectors called him up to the limited-overs sides last month. His scores in the shorter game for Otago were nothing to write home about.

Now, it can be seen that the selectors perhaps wanted him to become accustomed to the atmosphere in the international dressing room and to see the cut of the opposition's jib. Still, he was unsure of the Test place until he made 90 against England in the warm-up match for a New Zealand XI last week, which was effectively a trial.

Rutherford was resplendent throughout his innings and the blemishes which caused him to be dropped twice and offer two other near chances should be easily overlooked. It was a performance notable for the pace at which it was played and for its recognition of the conditions. England, please note. It helped no doubt that he was batting on the piece of cricket turf he knows best.

Square of the wicket he was brutal but the strokes that will linger the longest were the fierce cover drive that took him to 100 and the straight six with which he brought up his 150. He had been out in the 90s three times this season, leading to a wager with his Otago team-mates that if it happened again he would stand dinner for them all. It was not going to happen again.

Second were the statistical elements of this innings. It turned out to be full of nuggets. Rutherford beat a record that has stood for 136 years since the first Test match of all was played.

Over the course of two days in Melbourne on 15 and 16 March, 1877, Charles Bannerman compiled 165 (retired hurt) for Australia. It has remained from that day to yesterday the highest maiden Test innings played against England.

Cook's side bowled better yesterday than they did on the second afternoon when the bowlers were still trying to come to terms with the dismal nature of the batting. Jimmy Anderson, who took four wickets, said: "We bowled a lot better, asked a lot more questions of them and bowled really well with the second new ball."

But it was still another impoverished display in an opening overseas Test by England. "It's something we are aware of," Anderson said. "Every series we start we try and focus on that first day but for some reason it doesn't seem to happen for us. I can't put my finger on it."