England atoned for multiple misdemeanours by eking out a draw in the first Test yesterday. But that hardly equated to total redemption, which will be earned only when they achieve two things.
First, they must go on to win this series against New Zealand in the next fortnight, which is not the cast-iron certainty that it seemed only a week ago. Secondly, they must ensure that the next time they play an opening Test overseas they hit the ground more like Usain Bolt at his peak instead of as if they were performing blindfolded in a three-legged race.
These tourists are aware of this cardinal defect but also perplexed enough by it that they probably have no idea how to fix it. The only opening Test of an away series that they have won since 2004 was against Bangladesh, which barely counts. That apart, the total now comes to 13 matches, four draws and nine defeats. Of the 13 before that they won four and drew five and for much of that time they were pretty hopeless in any case.
The reason perhaps lies in a combination of packed schedules, which militate against proper preparation time, the fact that often in the first match of the series they are returning after a period of rest and the possibility, as in this case, that, subliminally at least, they feel superior to their opponents. A solution may be much more elusive. Most observers think they will just have to get on with it.
It is at least welcome that England tend to improve once the initial skirmish is out of the way. Last year, they lost the first match in Sri Lanka but won the next to draw the series, and in India they followed defeat with two of their most glorious victories.
All is therefore hardly lost against the battling Kiwis. England will not make the mistake, subliminal or otherwise, of taking them lightly again. The word is that the pitches in both Wellington and Auckland, venues for the next two Tests, are likely to be a little quicker, which can only help England's battery of fast bowlers.
There are few draws at the Basin Reserve, where the second Test starts on Thursday, and almost all have been caused by rain. Suffice to say that New Zealand win few matches there either – not once in six Tests since 2008.
Both sides will probably be unchanged. England's conundrum about the opening batsman to accompany Alastair Cook has been resolved after Nick Compton's stoical century and there is no reason to alter the bowling attack. Stuart Broad, if nothing else a proud competitor, has bought himself some time.
New Zealand did all that could have been expected of them and for the first two days, when the course of many Tests is established, ran the show. Brendon McCullum asked for a more competitive spirit and he got it, though not with the result he might have thought hove into view by the close of the third day. Achieving a draw in a match where the opposition forced all the pace was not quite as straightforward for England as it will look to those glancing at the scorebook in years to come. The teams shook hands at the earliest permitted time, with an hour left, when England were 128 ahead with four wickets in hand.
Just as the fourth day belonged to Compton, who scored a gallant and painstaking maiden hundred, the fifth was dominated by the nightwatchman, Steve Finn, who made 56, his maiden half-century in first-class cricket. Finn faced 203 balls, 153 more than he had faced in any innings before, and batted for four hours, 46 minutes. It was a sterling, almost heroic effort and ultimately much more necessary than it ought to have been. Finn saw three authentic batsmen depart and each one merely stiffened his resolve. His chief attribute was the forward prod, making excellent use of his long legs.
Advancing from 40 to 50 took 50 balls, the landmark finally arriving with a streaky four wide of the slips. The custom for bowlers who make 50, or so it has become, is to start some kind of breakdance, kiss the bat and the shirt before waving ecstatically at the crowd. Finn is made of sterner stuff. He seemed to breathe a sigh of relief and then raised his bat (no names of either manufacturer or sponsor in sight, which may change soon) sheepishly in the direction of the dressing-room veranda. The highest praise that can perhaps be accorded Finn's innings is that it was a surprise when he played a reckless sweep to be lbw to Bruce Martin.
There has been only one longer innings by a nightwatchman for England, and that was the five hours and six minutes in Bridgetown 23 years ago by Jack Russell, who with due respect to Finn was in a different class: a nightwatchman who would check the locks, close the windows and apprehend the thieves single-handed.
Compton, whose hundred was greeted with enormous elation and no little relief, was out before lunch, having added another 15 dogged runs to his overnight hundred. The warm feeling towards his feat is generated not only because his grandfather Denis was one of the greatest heroes English cricket has produced but also because Compo Jnr is so patently a fiercely dedicated professional cricketer.
After he was out England regrouped, only to have a wobble in the afternoon when Neil Wagner bowled with a big heart and much skill. But Ian Bell and Matt Prior ensured no further alarm. England, as so often before in the recent past, must start all over again.
New Zealand v England
First Test, University Oval (fourth/fifth day of five): New Zealand drew with England
New Zealand won toss
ENGLAND First Innings 167 (Martin 4-43, Wagner 4-42)
NEW ZEALAND First Innings Overnight 402-7 (Rutherford 172, Fulton 55, Anderson 4-108)
*B B McCullum c Anderson b Broad 74
59 balls 3 sixes 9 fours
B P Martin c Prior b Finn 41
63 balls 0 sixes 8 fours
N Wagner not out 4
6 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
Extras (lb7) 7
Total (for 9 dec, 116.4 overs) 460
Fall: 1-158, 2-249, 3-267, 4-310, 5-321, 6-326, 7-370, 8-447, 9-460.
Did not bat: T A Boult.
Bowler spells: J M Anderson: 33-2-137-4 (5-1-18-0; 4-0-17-0; 5-0-10-1; 2-0-7-0; 3-1-15-0; 8-0-30-3; 6-0-40-0), S T Finn: 26.4-3-102-1 (8-2-23-0; 10-1-37-0; 1-0-4-0; 3-0-12-0; 4-0-26-0; 0.4-0-0-1), S C J Broad: 28-3-118-3 (5-1-16-0; 5-0-7-0; 6-1-16-0; 8-1-50-2; 4-0-29-1), M S Panesar: 22-2-83-1 (8-1-26-0; 11-0-51-1; 3-1-6-0), I J L Trott: 2-0-4-0 (one spell), J E Root: 5-1-8-0 (1-1-0-0; 3-0-4-0; 1-0-4-0).
ENGLAND Second Innings
*A N Cook c Watling b Boult 116
252 balls 0 sixes 15 fours
N R D Compton lbw b Wagner 117
310 balls 0 sixes 12 fours
S T Finn lbw b Martin 56
203 balls 0 sixes 5 fours
I J L Trott c & b Wagner 52
94 balls 0 sixes 8 fours
K P Pietersen c Watling b Wagner 12
26 balls 0 sixes 1 fours
I R Bell not out 26
84 balls 0 sixes 4 fours
J E Root run out 0
2 balls 0 sixes 0 fours
†M J Prior not out 23
50 balls 0 sixes 3 fours
Extras (b6 lb11 w1 nb1) 19
Total (for 6, 170 overs) 421
Fall: 1-231, 2-265, 3-355, 4-367, 5-386, 6-390.
Did not bat: S C J Broad, J M Anderson, M S Panesar.
Bowler spells: TG Southee: 36-8-94-0 (1nb) (4-2-8-0; 4-0-13-0; 5-0-9-0; 2-0-8-0; 8-2-27-0; 7-0-24-0; 2-1-3-0; 4-3-2-0), TA Boult: 35-12-49-1 (7-3-10-0; 5-1-7-0; 3-0-11-0; 11-5-12-1; 4-1-2-0; 2-1-2-0; 3-1-6-0), N Wagner: 43-9-141-3 (1wd) (6-2-16-0; 5-1-20-0; 6-1-24-0; 3-0-4-0; 10-2-40-1; 8-2-20-2; 3-1-15-0; 2-0-2-0), BP Martin: 44-13-90-1 (13-5-31-0; 5-2-7-0; 3-0-7-0; 4-0-16-0; 6-0-16-0; 1-0-2-0; 5-4-1-0; 6-2-9-1; 1-0-1-0), KS Williamson: 12-3-30-0 (4-1-9-0; 1-0-4-0; 5-2-9-0; 2-0-8-0).
Fourth-day progress: New Zealand: B B McCullum: 50 off 47 balls (8 fours, 1 six), 450 runs in 113.2 overs, Innings: 460-9 in 116.4 overs (N Wagner 4) - England: 50 runs in 19.5 overs, Lunch: 58-0 in 22 overs, 100 runs in 32.2 overs, A N Cook: 50 off 98 balls (6 fours), N R D Compton: 50 off 143 balls (5 fours), Tea: 139-0 in 54 overs, 150 runs in 58.1 overs, 200 runs in 73.3 overs, Cook: 100 off 221 balls (13 fours), Compton: 100 off 259 balls (10 fours), Close: 234-1 in 87 overs.
Fifth-day progress: England: 250 runs in 95.1 overs, 300 runs in 110.5 overs. Lunch: 329-2 in 123 overs. I J L Trott: 50 off 78 balls (8 fours), 350 runs in 131.4 overs, S T Finn: 50 off 142 balls (5 fours),Tea: 382-4 in 151 overs, 400 runs in 157.5 overs. Close: 421-6 in 170 overs.
Umpires: Asad Rauf (Pak) and P R Reiffel (Aus).
TV Umpire: R J Tucker (Aus).
Match referee: R S Mahanama (S Lanka).