New Zealand toil on indifferent pitch after sending England in first

Bowlers can be forgiving people.

Generally they understand their place in the grand order. But when a captain boldly announces on the eve of a match that he intends to put the opposition in, duly wins the toss and does so, and then watches as his footsoldiers, who only on Sunday in Dunedin had finished sending down 170 overs in England's second innings, sustained another day of drudgery, it will have tested the patience of the New Zealand attack to the full.

Somehow a captain who puts a side in and suffers is deemed more culpable than one who bats and sees his side obliterated, and Brendon McCullum must have brooded on this one as his bowlers had their ice-baths and soaked their weary feet. The scoreboard read that England had 267 for two, Jonathan Trott had an unbeaten century and Kevin Pietersen was quietly lurking with him. Thanks a bunch, skip.

The England batsmen filled their boots but they should not be too smug about it, for Alastair Cook, eyeing the statistics which say that Test wins at the Basin Reserve come considerably more often than not from the side bowling first, and mindful that the weather forecast for the last two days is none too optimistic, would have done the same. One can never hypothesise too much on what would have happened had he done so, but on the face of it he was given a lucky escape.

If the BlackCaps bowlers will not be sending the captain any Easter eggs then he might find a large ribbon-bedecked one coming his way from Nick Compton, who followed his maiden Test century at University Oval with another here, and in so doing secured his opening berth for the foreseeable future. He made precisely 100, a much freer innings, with some robust drives and pulls among his 16 fours before the euphoria of the achievement perhaps got to him and he drove and edged a wide ball from the left arm spinner Bruce Martin, New Zealand's best bowler on the day, and edged to slip.

But he and Trott had already added 210 for the second wicket after Alastair Cook, uncharacteristically, had chipped a gentle catch to mid-on, falling over to the offside a little and stopping his shot as the ball just nibbled into the surface of the pitch and slowed up a fraction.

Trott was simply relentless in his unconcerned placid way. From the moment he first scratched his territory in the crease and adjusted his pad straps as he habitually does before facing his first ball, he never at any stage looked like doing anything other than making a hundred. Not a chance, not a sniff of one, did he give and, like Compton, he played a series of uncomplicated drives and cuts, as if photographic plates had been snipped from a batting manual, that brought him the bulk of his 15 fours.

There were, of course, no sixes: there never have been, and when he retreated to the pavilion at stumps, undefeated with 121, he stood within 18 runs of reaching 3208, and so overtaking the Indian batsman Vijay Manjrekar as the batsman with most Test runs without clearing the ropes. It was Bradman, hardly a prolific hitter of sixes himself – 6 in all of 6996 runs – who pointed out that if he didn't hit the ball in the air he could not be caught. Trott is nothing if not a pragmatist.

This was an important innings for Compton, arguably as much so as the second innings in Dunedin where his hundred followed a first innings duck and he faced the possibility of challenges to his place were he to fail again. Many are the players who have made but a single Test hundred and never pushed on.

It is by no means certain that security of tenure will follow a second one (Ravi Bopara was the last England batsman to follow his maiden hundred, scored after noughts in three previous innings, with one in his next innings, and indeed another in the Test that followed that) but it does show that the first was not a fluke and will cement the belief, if ever it was doubted in his mind, that he really does belong at this level.

The New Zealand bowlers had very little with which to work. If both sides anticipated the pitch to offer some good zip and carry, the home bowlers would have been disappointed with what they found: a little gently swing for Tim Southee and Trent Boult with both new balls; but nothing off the pitch and, once the hardness had disappeared from the ball, a sedentary pace that in no way replicated the lively practice nets.

A batsman who does not want to be dismissed, and is not mindful of any urgency, need not get out. Only during a strange afternoon session in which a rattling start of 40 runs in 6 overs was followed by 24 overs in which only a further 47 were scored (a curious sort of model for the clogged-unclogged traffic flow through the Mt Wellington tunnel right by the ground) did they manage to keep the lid on things.

Even then, though, they failed to look like taking a wicket. After the interval, in pursuit of some reverse swing (there are half a dozen bare used pitches either side of the Test strip that might abrade the ball) they pitched the ball further up as is necessary, but found none and were driven for their pains. A tough old day.

Powered by article was written by Mike Selvey in Wellington, for on Thursday 14th March 2013 05.44 Europe/London © Guardian News and Media Limited 2010


image: © gareth1953