Canterbury opener Peter Fulton booked a return flight to England this year, at the same time throwing into doubt the immediate test future of New Zealand's cricketer of the year.

Fulton, 34, has been effective if slightly ungainly on his test comeback, but yesterday made the most of benign conditions and short boundaries to play his most authoritative innings at this level.

The converted opener is 124 not out, his first test century and just the third time he had passed 50 in 20 test innings. That included a nervy 10-ball wait on 99 as England bowled wide of off stump and tried to lure him into a false shot. Instead, Fulton waited until Monty Panesar drifted into his pads, pushed it wide of mid-on and celebrated with a personal best 22-yard dash to the non-striker's end.

"A mixture of excitement and relief is a good way of putting it," Fulton said. "If I'm honest I probably wondered at the start of this season if I'd get another chance to get a test hundred. I've just tried this whole season to enjoy my cricket and not get caught up in the past and disappointments I've had along the way.


"Over the winter I still wanted to play for New Zealand but once you've been in and out of the team a few times you get to that stage where you might have had your last chance. Thankfully that wasn't the case and Mike Hesson and the selectors showed faith. Hopefully I've gone some way to repaying that."

It was Fulton's third score of substance in four innings of this series. His combination with left-handed opener Hamish Rutherford - the pair added 79 yesterday - has given New Zealand's batting backbone it has been too regularly missing since the retirement of Mark Richardson.

It gives the selectors a welcome headache. Opening has been a position filled by default rather than demand. The default position has usually been Martin Guptill, recipient of the Sir Richard Hadlee medal at the New Zealand Cricket awards.

Guptill remains a serious white-ball threat, but his test results against quality opposition have been unconvincing.

Fulton may not possess Guptill's talent and youth, but he has runs on the board. This means Guptill's route back into the side when he returns to fitness might have to be through the middle order. In that case Dean Brownlie at No5 would be the most vulnerable.

Fulton's weakness has been a straight-bat waft outside off stump and yesterday it almost had him in trouble early. This time there was enough willow on the edge to carry it over third slip and from that moment he was away.

He was particularly strong through and over the on side, punishing left-arm spinner Panesar with a mixture of slog-sweeps, pulls and one sweetly timed flick off the pads that zinged through midwicket for four.

It's the push to mid-on he'll remember longest, though.