England produced an abject batting performance in the First Test today which defied logic, reason and the supposed status of the teams in this series.
With a litany of wretched strokes, ill chosen and woefully executed, they were dismissed by New Zealand for 167 in 55 overs after the match finally started on the second day.
Almost nobody who batted could be exempt from censure. It was England’s lowest total batting first against the Kiwis in 43 Test matches and perhaps more pertinently it was the fourth time in successive overseas tours that they had failed to reach 200 in their first innings of the first Test.
Nothing put the innings into perspective so much as New Zealand’s response, which began with almost half the day left. They finished on 131 for 0 as the tourists’ bowlers were infected by similar shoddy workmanship to the batsmen. Hamish Rutherford, began his Test career with 77no and the recalled Peter Fulton was on 46.
It had been a different game and when Kevin Pietersen dropped Rutherford at point off Stuart Broad it compounded all previous felonies. This was England’s worst opening day of play in a Test since they were all out for 102 against Australia at Headingley in 2009 when their opponents replied with 196 for 4 by the close.
Although New Zealand stuck well to clearly defined plans, they were offered abundant help in carrying them out. The pitch encouraged seam as pitches usually do in New Zealand and England but that apart it was unimpeachable.
Jonathan Trott, in by the third over, was England’s leading scorer with 45 but after a blameless occupation of nearly three hours he too came up with a shot which he would not care to repeat in any coaching clinic. The bowlers who inflicted the damage were men who hitherto have barely sent ripples let alone tremors through the ranks of top-class batsmen.
Neil Wagner, a left arm seamer playing his fourth Test and his first at home, took 4 for 42 while the debutant 32-year-old left arm spinner, Bruce Martin returned 4 for 43. It started to go awry for the tourists from the third over.
Nick Compton, whose chief virtue in his brief international career has been the certainty of his defence, played an indifferent forward prod at Tim Southee and was aghast when the ball rebounded from the bottom of his bat and on to the stumps.
Retrenchment was necessary and who better for the job than England’s stoic captain, Alastair Cook? When he was reprieved by Martin, who shelled a chance from a clip off the batsman’s legs, it seemed for all the world that New Zealand would be made to pay.
Instead, the next over brought Cook’s dismissal as he contrived to cut a wide short ball – Wagner’s second delivery in a Test at home - high to point where Rutherford, pouched the catch. Immediately, Engand’s woes were to increase.
Wagner greeted Kevin Pietersen with a full length ball which swung late into his pads before he was through the forward defensive. It was a horrible ball to deal with at the start of an innings and umpire Asad Rauf’s finger was up before the appeal was complete.
At 18 for three, England were up against it but by no means done. Trott and Ian Bell set about rebuilding the innings with diligence and in Bell’s case no little style.
But not for the first time in his time as a high-class international batsman, Bell gave his wicket away with a whimper. With Wagner coming round the wicket, he badly mistimed his drive which went in the air to short extra cover where Rutherford held a straightforward chance at the second attempt.
Before lunch, Joe Root was out parrying a rising ball from Trent Boult to third slip. England went into the break at 81 for five and after it there followed a brief flurry from Trott and Matt Prior, who was as busy and businesslike as ever.
But Prior carved needlessly to point and when Stuart Broad followed a pulled four with another pull down deep square leg’s throat next ball, the man having been placed there in full view for that very purpose, England’s misery seemed complete.
There followed the only prolonged resistance and the highest partnership of the innings, between Steve Finn and Jimmy Anderson. They put on 47 for the ninth wicket in largely untroubled style before Finn followed the pattern of the innings by top edging a pull.
Anderson brought the innings to a close with a slice to backward point. England needed quick wickets but never looked like acquiring them.
If anything the pitch was flatter by now, the sun was out and New Zealand’s batsmen shone along with it. The recalled Peter Fulton and Rutherford, in his maiden Test were splendid foils for each other.