Cricket: Strong start offers hope of glory

Staunch 250 for one the first signs of redemption for New Zealand

Peter Fulton celebrates reaching his century. Photo / Getty Images
Peter Fulton celebrates reaching his century. Photo / Getty Images

New Zealand fans may have witnessed the first genuine signs their national team is rebuilding successfully on the opening day of the third test against England.

In quiet moments the vocal majority might accept that after the rancour faced by coach Mike Hesson, the pressure faced by Brendon McCullum and the ridicule faced by the team after the South African test shemozzle, their performances are trending for the better.

The 250 for one New Zealand amassed was no accident. The team have played consistently throughout this series, albeit with what might be considered a 254 run follow-on blip in Wellington. But that's hardly a 45.

Bookmakers would have offered generous odds on the stumps score. The crowd sided with that opinion; play ended with an almost universal standing ovation. England captain Alastair Cook was left to second-guess his call to insert the hosts at the toss.

The home side now have a prime opportunity to assume a position where they could press for a rare series win against a major nation.

Fulton eased his way to a maiden test century looking every bit an opener. He combined for an unbeaten second-wicket stand of 171 with Kane Williamson who is 83 and looking as composed as he did during his unbeaten half century at Wellington. They are 71 runs from passing the second-wicket test record against all countries; John Wright and Andrew Jones made 241 against England in Wellington during the summer of 1991-92. The second wicket has been a strength throughout the series with partnerships of 91, 42, 56 and now 171 not out. More importantly Ross Taylor has not come to the wicket before the 16th over.

Fulton has reignited a fading first-class career and looks like sustaining a future. No vice-captain has been named but the 34-year-old has inadvertently taken up the mantle with scores of 55, 1, 45 and now 124 not out. The vulnerability which saw him edge out twice to first slip in the second test has been tightened in Auckland. He left the ball with intent for the most part, playing himself in on an excellent batting wicket including 98 runs through the legside.

Fulton may be holding back. He remains the scorer of New Zealand's highest maiden first class century, 301 not out for Canterbury versus Auckland at Christchurch in 2002-03.

He and Hamish Rutherford eased to 79 before Rutherford produced a feet-planted flail to the bowling of Steve Finn on 37. Still, their partnership endured.

Fulton narrowly avoided giving a chance to third slip off Jimmy Anderson in the 13th over and miscued a steepler off Stuart Broad which sailed the meagre 50 metres or so over the fine leg rope. Broad responded with a teapot stance for about 20 seconds, but the England batsmen should reap reciprocal rewards.

Such fortune was not enough to convince Fulton it would be his day: "I could never relax. Even there for that new ball at the end, that was pretty tough mentally. They went past the bat a few times early too."

Finn noted the short boundaries. "It is strange walking back to your mark and seeing the boundary so close but you have to utilise the short ball as best you can. When you know [a six] is a top edge away that can be off putting."

He says they expected more from the pitch. "It looked like there was a bit in it for the bowlers this morning.

"There was plenty of green grass but that just seemed to hold the wicket together rather than offer assistance. Everyone thought it would do more before the toss.

"We changed tack quite a bit by adjusting angles, going wide of the crease and around the wicket. We exercised our options as best we could."

- NZ Herald

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