Second Test: Kevin Pietersen takes over after England lose their concentration and early wickets
New Zealand fight back following opening day dominated by marker for the future from Compton
If England were ever thinking of changing their opening partnership any time soon, say for the start of the Ashes, the moment has probably passed. Nick Compton scored his second hundred in successive Tests yesterday. Like the first it was brimful of application and studiousness.
He left nothing to chance and if most of his strokes were more assured than they had been in Dunedin five days earlier, the one that still mattered above all was the leave outside off stump. A close second was the solid forward prop. The rest was garnish on those solid foundations.
Anything is possible in Test cricket, of course (though not usually in the selection of the England team in recent times) but the overwhelming probability is that Compton will open the batting against Australia at Trent Bridge in July. Despite the outpouring of much punditry at the start of the year, this is probably what England had in mind all along.
Compton's gritty century, a phrase probably not often used to describe any of the 17 Test hundreds scored by his grandfather, Denis, helped to ensure that England dominated the first day. They failed, however, to consolidate this position on the second morning of the second Test.
Three wickets fell before lunch which the tourists reached on 353 for 5, hardly a position of weakness but not one of impregnability which had seemed possible. Kevin Pietersen, at least, was still there on 68, his first half-century of the tour, though not without the odd scrape.
Jonathan Trott, with whom Compton had shared a record second-wicket partnership, was out to his first ball of the day. He could have been forgiven for pushing at a ball from Trent Boult which was just outside off stump and feathered it behind.
Much more culpable was the shot which caused the downfall of Ian Bell for 11 as he tried to break free from a period of circumspection. He did not reach the pitch of a ball from Bruce Martin and the shot swirled high in the air towards mid-off where Peter Fulton eventually judged the catch well.
It was left to Pietersen to ensure, a shade hesitantly, that there were no further alarms for the tourists. He was not at his most aggressive or assured and he should have been caught by wicketkeeper B J Watling off a top-edged hook to the persevering Tim Southee on 40. But Watling mistimed the jump, fatal for a short man.
Pietersen was also embarrassed a time or two by Bruce Martin, a familiar predicament for him against left-arm spin with one ball passing alarmingly close to his outside edge.
When Joe Root was out chasing a wide one from Martin with a horizontal bat, there was no doubt that the early part of the day belonged to New Zealand. It was a salutary thought that up until barely a week ago Root was being touted as the obvious replacement for Compton as opening batsman.
Root, of course, had been the preferred option for many when the winter touring squad had first been selected. But even then the selectors probably had Compton in mind to be more than merely a short-term replacement for Andrew Strauss as Alastair Cook's opening partner.
They could not tell him that, though that is what he wants to know above all, they could barely even admit it to themselves but England under the National Selector, Geoff Miller, plan not simply for the next match but for the series after next as well. What they needed for their judgement to be seen as sound was a Compton hundred.
Now there have been two. This one was a much less grim affair than the first after England had been put in on what proved to be a perfectly acceptable strip for batting. If there was not too much change in Compton's tempo this hundred there was a discernible alteration in his approach.
Compton shared a second wicket of 210 with Trott whose hundred was his ninth in Tests. Trott was handsome in his praise for his partner. They certainly looked at home with each other as soon as Cook surprisingly gave away his wicket in the day's 11th over.
Their 210 was the highest partnership for England's second wicket in New Zealand, which is perhaps surprising since the Kiwis have had some palpably weak bowling attacks over the years, as well as some strong. There is something reassuring about a Compton being in the record books for England.
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