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New Zealand 470 England 286-6: England taught a lesson in art of bowling attack

Circumspection, canniness, claustrophobia. The third day of the first Test between New Zealand and England in Hamilton may have yielded just 199 runs and four wickets but each of the above conditions appeared in abundance on what for a purist was an absorbing day of Test cricket.

Criticism could be aimed at England's batsmen for their lack of adventure and ambition on a pitch holding very few demons, but doing that would take much deserved credit away from New Zealand, who showed just what could be achieved by a disciplined and well prepared bowling attack.

Stephen Harmison and Matthew Hoggard should have been sitting rather uncomfortably in the players viewing area as the Black Caps bowlers made England's batsmen fight for every run. The gulf in quality would not have been lost on Michael Vaughan, the England captain, and Kevin Pietersen, the team's best batsman, who were forced to live on scraps throughout the day. In a 31-over afternoon session only 56 runs were scored.

Pietersen is one of the most aggressive batsmen in world cricket and when he is struggling to score freely the opposition must be doing something right, or the pitch must be difficult to play shots on. England probably did concede the centre ground too easily but bowlers are allowed to bowl well as a unit and not concede four or five runs an over.

The slow, low nature of the pitch means that it is relatively easy for a batsman to stay in, but scoring runs is another matter. England could have gone out all gung-ho and been bowled out for 360 in the final session, but where would that have placed them?

Getting the right balance between attack and defence is one of the many skills a batsman needs, as is the ability and strength of mind to go on to score hundreds, a feat England's top order once again failed to do. Paul Collingwood and Tim Ambrose, unbeaten on 41 and 23 respectively overnight may, of course, go on to reach three figures.

In doing so they would ensure England avoid defeat, but the feat should not deflect attention away from the issue because what has taken place in the past nine Test innings is unacceptable. In that time only one of England's top order batsmen – Alastair Cook – has scored a hundred.

"The facts don't lie," admitted Andy Flower, England's batting coach. "Our batters should be going on to get bigger scores, they all realise that. I don't think it has anything to do with hunger or the effort they're putting in.

"They're world-class players, we've seen that in the past. It is a matter of being very tough with yourself and disciplined. I think it's going to come, they're putting in the hard work and that's always the base around which you can build your game."

England's circumspection was caused by the canniness of Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel, who were outstanding. Unresponsive pitches have made the lives of modern orthodox finger spinners an absolute misery and it was fascinating to watch the pair deny England's batsmen of the run-scoring opportunities they wanted. Each bowled an impeccable line and length and spun the occasional delivery. As gnarled old spinners still say: "you only have to spin one ball to create doubt," and that is just what the pair did.

Stephen Fleming, when announcing his retirement from Test cricket, admitted that New Zealand cricket was not blessed with as many highly skilled athletes as other countries, stating that the side had to outsmart the opposition by pushing them where they were vulnerable and by putting them in a place they do not want to be. Vettori and Patel did that.

Vaughan edged a Patel ball that went straight on whilst Strauss was bowled by a beauty from Vettori. The New Zealand captain tossed the ball above Strauss' eye-line inviting him to drive and the ball spun between bat and pad to hit middle stump.

Pietersen hit his third ball, bowled by Patel, for six but failed to find the boundary in the next 91 he faced. It was like watching a Serie A football match in Italy, very cagey and skillful with no one wanting to make a mistake. But Pietersen cracked first, when he came down the pitch and pushed at a Vettori delivery. The ball struck pad then bat and bounced back towards the bowler who took an excellent diving catch. Ian Bell missed a straight ball, as batsmen sometimes do.

"It's always the batsman's responsibility to find the balance between attack and defence," said Flower, commenting on the approach of England's batsmen. " No one can do that for them, so that is their job. It was unusual, in these days of more aggressive Test cricket; this was like harking back 30 years.

"It was a very hard day for everyone concerned; turgid, not very entertaining, but full of battle and fight. Perhaps it should have been more attacking but they scrapped and that's what you do when you play for England."

Pietersen admitted that he has never found it harder to score runs. "I was never ever looking just to defend," he said. "I am always looking for scoring options but if the bowlers are bowling well you can't just come in and hit the ball where you want.

"Vettori is a world-class spinner and Patel bowled really well. If a few of us had tried to play our normal game and got out for 10 or 15 we could have been in a whole lot of trouble. But we scrapped and batted the whole day. Yes, we haven't scored as many runs as the crowd would have liked but we only lost four wickets."

Ambrose resists Black Caps barrage: Day Four

England took a huge stride towards saving the first Test on the fourth day when further dogged resistance saw them occupy the crease throughout the morning session. Paul Collingwood and Tim Ambrose, on debut, both posted defiant half centuries before lunch against a determined New Zealand attack.

Collingwood was the only batsman to be dismissed prior to the interval when he was adjudged lbw to Jacob Oram on 66. England's one-day captain was far from pleased when he saw Daryl Harper raise his finger, and he had every right to be, the ball had made contact with the inside edge of his bat before thudding in to his right leg.

Ambrose once opened the batting for Sussex in one-day cricket but this innings showed that he can adapt his batting. He coped admirably with the accurate spin of Daniel Vettori and Jeetan Patel. Faster, bouncier pitches could expose deficiencies in his technique but this was an excellent start to his Test career.

Ambrose reached his half-century in classical style, driving Oram through extra cover for four. His family, watching on the sidelines, enjoyed the moment enormously. Ambrose's fifty came up off the 157th ball he faced and he became the ninth England keeper to pass this landmark on debut.

Chris Martin set the tone for the morning with another fine spell of fast/medium bowling. Martin has improved considerably since England last played against him in 2004. He is a stronger, better grooved and far more disciplined bowler than before.

The dry, abrasive surface has scuffed the ball up enough for reverse-swing to be generated and it caused Collingwood to play and miss at Martin on numerous occasions. Once he found the edge but it ran down to third man for four, giving Collingwood his eighth Test half-century.

Lunch, day four: England 347 for 7 (166 overs) (Ambrose 55, Sidebottom 2).

Third day

Third day of five

New Zealand won toss

New Zealand – First Innings 470 (L R P L Taylor 120, D l Vettori 88).

England – First Innings

(Overnight: 87 for 2)

*M P Vaughan c McCullum b Patel 63

243 min, 177 balls, 8 fours

A J Strauss b Vettori 43

130 min, 118 balls, 5 fours

K P Pietersen c and b Vettori 42

202 min, 131 balls, 2 fours, 1 six

I R Bell b Mills 25

88 min, 88 balls, 4 fours

P D Collingwood not out 41

147 min, 111 balls, 7 fours

†T R Ambrose not out 23

74 min, 59 balls, 3 fours

Extras (b3 lb1 nb5) 9

Total (for 6, 521 min, 134 overs) 286

Fall: 1-84, 2-86, 3-130, 4-159, 5-202, 6-245.

To bat: R J Sidebottom, S J Harmison, M S Panesar.

Bowling: Martin 24-10-53-2 (6-2-15-0, 12-5-25-2, 2-0-6-0, 2-1-7-0, 2-2-0-0); Mills 21-6-61-1 (6-2-17-0, 7-2-21-0, 5-2-9-1, 3-0-14-0); Patel 35-10-90-1 (nb1) (9-2-23-0, 5-1-11-1, 11-5-18-0, 10-2-38-0); Oram 16-8-18-0 (4-0-9-0, 4-3-1-0, 4-2-4-0, 4-3-4-0); Vettori 38-13-60-2 (nb4) (18-5-29-0, 12-3-17-1, 1-0-4-0, 7-5-10-1).

Progress: Third day: 100: 179 min, 45.3 overs. 150: 265 min, 67 overs. Lunch: 159-3 (Strauss 43, Pietersen 10) 73 overs. New ball taken after 90 overs at 188-4. 200: 363 min, 94.4 overs. Tea: 215-5 (Pietersen 36, Collingwood 0) 104 overs. 250: 453 min, 116.5 overs.

Vaughan's 50: 178 min, 127 balls, 6 fours.

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 fourth day's play at independent.co.uk/sport and then join Angus and Stephen Brenkley of the Independent on Sunday for an online debate about the issues arising from play starting at 9.00am