First Test: England made to suffer for careless early batting choices

  • @stephenbrenkley

England's top order was swept aside as the first Test finally began last night. They were in utter disarray by lunch, teetering on 81 for 5 which made a nonsense of the relative status of the teams in the world rankings.

Before the first hour of the series was out the tourists had lost three wickets including both openers, Nick Compton and their captain, Alastair Cook, as well as Kevin Pietersen to his first ball.

An apparently solid rebuilding operation was halted in its tracks when Ian Bell was removed by another piece of careless batting. Joe Root was next to depart and his dismissal was hardly blameless.

England seemed badly affected by the moving ball, treating it as a stranger although the conditions were of the kind they routinely come across at home. Three of the wickets fell to Neil Wagner, a late call-up to the squad, who is playing his first Test match at home.

The initial overs were always bound to be a difficult proposition. The sky was overcast, the pitch had been sweating under covers for 24 hours since the opening day of the series was washed out.

There was some seam movement, albeit on the slow side, which was given extra assistance by a sequence of shots poor in both conception and execution. It left the tourists with a great deal of unnecessary recovery work to do and the unheralded Kiwis with the most rewarding of starts.

Compton was the first to depart to the 14th ball of the match. He played an indeterminate push at Tim Southee which rebounded on to his stumps from the bottom of the bat. If it was unfortunate, it was also the upshot of uncertainty against the seaming ball.

When Cook was dropped by the debutant, Bruce Martin on nine, flicking off his legs, that seemed to be a reprieve for which New Zealand would be made to pay dearly. Astonishingly, having played one loose shot Cook then played another, cutting a wide short ball from Wagner at shoulder height to point.

Pietersen's entry was greeted with the usual air of expectation. But he received a ball of full length, which swung excruciatingly late into his pads, exactly the sort of delivery no batsman wants first ball. He was slightly late on the shot as well and the decision was an easy one for the umpire, Asad Rauf, to make.

Due diligence and application were required for England to overcome these early setbacks, which Bell and Jonathan Trott seemed to be providing. Bell played several handsome strokes including one extra cover drive for four which was exceptional even by his standards of beauty.

It was certainly of a loftier vintage than the cover drive which led to his dismissal shortly after he had survived a review of an lbw appeal. Inexplicably he hit the ball loosely in the air for Hamish Rutherford to take the catch at the second attempt. Bell had good cause to shake his head.

Root had hardly had time to settle despite one boundary to third man before he parried at a rising ball outside off stump. Dean Brownlie took the catch at third slip. Root might have been wiser to leave the ball alone.

Trott surveyed the wreckage of the early part of the innings with his usual combination of fussing at the crease and calm nudging. He was 40no by the break with Matt Prior having scored a single and if it was the type of pitch on which batsmen never felt truly in at least he had given himself the best chance of survival.