For those hooked on the hurly-burly of limited-over cricket a 90-over day that yields 282 runs for the loss of just six wickets would seem rather pedestrian, not worth the entrance fee. Yet there was much to admire and enjoy about the performances of several players from England and New Zealand on the opening day of what is an extremely important Test series for Michael Vaughan's side.
The bowling of England's Ryan Sidebottom and Monty Panesar was exemplary, as was the batting of New Zealand's Jamie How and Ross Taylor, each of whom posted a career-best score. The performance of each was gritty and disciplined, yet not lacking in either skill or flair.
But the outstanding aspect of the day's play was, amazingly, England's catching. In the build-up to this Test series Vaughan has often spoken about his side turning the page and returning to the good old days of 2004-05 when half-chances were taken and bowlers bowled with discipline.
Not everyone is there yet, and there must be doubts whether some – Stephen Harmison – will ever return, but this was an encouraging performance. In Sri Lanka before Christmas England dropped several straightforward catches but here yesterday Alastair Cook and Paul Collingwood held on to five blinders.
The fielding of England's Test side is constantly analysed because it is an area that needs to improve. There are still too few natural athletes, as becomes apparent when Harmison, Panesar and Sidebottom are seen loitering at cover point, the position where Jonty Rhodes fielded for South Africa. But, even so, it was refreshing to see an England team make the most of the opportunities offered to them.
"It was very satisfying to have a day when the catches stick," said Peter Moores, the England coach. "Those who watch the lads train know how hard they work at their catching and it's nice for them to get some reward, especially Alastair [Cook] who has been working very hard.
"We have said all along that to improve skills like that is not an overnight thing, and you need to practise to get better. It was especially pleasing to see catches held that make a difference. The best was Cook's second catch at gully to dismiss Stephen Fleming. You will not see many better than that."
Cook took three high-quality catches, the first in front of his face and the other two diving to his right and left. Fleming was on 41 when the opener dived full length to his right and stuck out his right paw. It was a wicket Sidebottom, being watched by his father Arnie, enjoyed hugely; for the last three years Fleming had been his captain at Nottinghamshire.
The snaffle that dismissed Jacob Oram was pretty good too, with Cook this time leaping to his left and plucking the ball out of the air. Collingwood had an excellent day as well, taking two sharp catches, one off his own bowling to dismiss Matthew Sinclair, and the other to end How's dream of scoring a maiden Test hundred. How batted beautifully for his 92, driving and pulling England's bowlers with authority whenever they erred.
But How, like Fleming, perished after becoming frustrated by the lack of scoring options given to him as a result of England's attritional cricket. Vaughan, realising that the slow, low nature of the pitch was not going to allow his bowlers to force the pace, sat back, set defensive fields and asked his bowlers to bowl one side of the wicket with the aim of frustrating New Zealand's batsmen.
The tactic reaped reward as Fleming, Sinclair, How and Oram fell attempting to score off balls that were not quite there to hit. New Zealand rallied while Brendon McCullum was at the crease with Taylor, but the dismissal of the New Zealand keeper for a quickfire 51, driving wildly at a wide half-volley from Sidebottom, ensured the day remained England's.
"Sidebottom was the pick," Moores said. "He bowled beautifully, used the conditions and angled the ball across their right-handers. But the real key was Monty bowling so well. He created a lot of pressure and allowed us to chip away at the other end. On other days he will get more wickets. He bowled with energy and enthusiasm."
Matthew Hoggard and Harmison were disappointing but the only real negative for England was the injury suffered by Ian Bell fielding at short leg. Bell was hit painfully on the right hand by a full-blooded pull from How and as he left the field there were fears that he had broken a bone. However, an X-ray and an MRI scan revealed that was not the case and England are hoping that regular ice treatment will reduce the swelling and allow him to bat in the first innings.
* James Anderson, who was left out of the England team for the first Test, has been released to play for Auckland in a four-day match against Wellington.
First day of five; New Zealand won toss
New Zealand – First Innings
J M How c Collingwood b Panesar 92 250 min, 180 balls, 12 fours
M D Bell c Cook b Harmison 19 61 min, 37 balls, 4 fours
S P Fleming c Cook b Sidebottom 41 92 min, 73 balls, 8 fours
M S Sinclair c and b Collingwood 8 39 min, 37 balls, 1 four
L R P L Taylor not out 54 171 min, 121 balls, 7 fours
J D P Oram c Cook b Hoggard 10 30 min, 29 balls, 1 five
†B B McCullum c Ambrose b Sidebottom 51 76 min, 55 balls, 5 fours, 2 sixes
*D L Vettori not out 4 7 min, 9 balls, 1 four
Extras (lb2 nb1) 3
Total (for 6, 366 min, 90 overs) 282
Fall: 1-44, 2-108, 3-129, 4-176, 5-191, 6-277. To bat: J S Patel, K D Mills, C S Martin.
Bowling: Sidebottom 21-8-39-2 , Hoggard 21-1-95-1, Harmison 15-2-64-1, Panesar 26-7-66-1, Collingwood 7-2-16-1.
England: A N Cook, *M P Vaughan, A J Strauss, K P Pietersen, I R Bell, P D Collingwood, †T R Ambrose, R J Sidebottom, M J Hoggard, S J Harmison, M S Panesar.
Umpires: S J Davis and D J Harper (both Aus).
TV replay umpire: B F Bowden (NZ).
Match referee: J Srinath (Ind).
What did you think of today's play? Read Angus Fraser's first full report of the second day'splay at independent.co.uk/sport and then join Angus and Stephen Brenkley of the Independenton Sunday for an online debate about the issues arising from play starting at 9.00amReuse content