New Zealand's test cricket showed further signs of resurgence on the second day of the opening test against England as first Tim Southee, then Ross Taylor exhibited dominance.
On a wicket where the English order and the New Zealand openers struggled, Taylor, and to a lesser extent Kane Williamson, made it look a different game. Yet to say the visitors had the advantage was a slight illusion. At stumps New Zealand were 153 for four. They lost their fourth wicket at 147; England lost theirs at 157. It was more a timing issue.
New Zealand brought up their 150 in 46.3 overs at 3.22 runs an over; England posted theirs in 75 overs. In another comparison of approaches, England scored 21 boundaries in their 232, New Zealand already had that number when they brought up 131. The difference is New Zealand should get more time playing an older ball.
Williamson and Taylor compiled 93 for the third wicket after combining at seven for two. England's best partnership was 45. The pair didn't appear daunted by the tag of a slow-paced pitch with minimal bounce and carry. The overcast, supposedly swing-conducive conditions also seemed to matter little.
Most of their leaves outside off stump showed positive intent.
As scholarship recipient to Lord's 11 years ago, Taylor provided the Marylebone Cricket Club faithful with the most spirited knock of the match, even if it failed to earn honours board immortality.
He made 66 from 72 balls in a 13-boundary romp between cover and square leg. His 50 came up in 49 balls. Taylor was eventually adjudged lbw to James Anderson. He took a blow in the shoulder at one stage off Steven Finn but, in a reflection of a mature mindset, didn't play rash shots seeking utu.
Anderson, with the earlier wicket of Peter Fulton when Graeme Swann snaffled a third slip catch at his feet, became the fourth English bowler to take 300 test wickets. He joins Sir Ian Botham, Bob Willis and Fred Trueman. He was the best of the English bowlers, finishing with three for 32. That title mightn't last the test. Swann bowled menacingly into the footmarks created by New Zealand left-armers Trent Boult and Neil Wagner, which suggested he could become a tour de force by the fourth innings unless the New Zealanders show assiduous footwork. They risk becoming victims as puffs of Swann-generated dust explode around their boots.
Williamson continued to demonstrate his offside nous in the extra cover to point arc on his way to an unbeaten 44. It remains a delight to see him punch off the back foot to the cover boundary. He suffered one reprieve on 23 when a regulation Anderson chance resulted in wicketkeeper Matt Prior sticking out a lazy right glove and the ball bobbed away harmlessly. Brendon McCullum will rejoin him on one tonight (New Zealand time).
Earlier, Tim Southee lit up the second morning with a double wicket maiden over. His strikes were reinforced by two Neil Wagner wickets shortly afterwards.
New Zealand took control after a soporific start with a three-wicket blitz in six balls. England slumped from 192 for four to 195 for seven. They lost four wickets for 49 runs in the opening session.
Southee was fortunate to get Joe Root tickling a ball down the legside but there was nothing lucky about Matt Prior's lbw next ball. It created a hat-trick chance after the third umpire confirmed Prior's worst suspicions. Wagner trapped Stuart Broad in the next over with a ball drifting back in slightly from over the wicket. Broad was wise not to seek further counsel. The lbw was so adjacent he could have walked without umpiring assistance.
Another highlight was the New Zealand fielding, led by B-J Watling with four catches and a concession of one bye. He remains arguably the best selection decision of the John Wright-coaching era, it's hard to think of a time when the gloveman has disappointed.
Root was England's early talisman, eking out a worthy 40 in his first home test.
Renowned as an opening batsman, his temperament is exemplary. He offered one ragged shot, a lobbed drive through a vacant cover. Jonny Bairstow gave him support, top scoring with 41.
New Zealand's bowlers were persistent but initially unrewarded as Root and Bairstow made 32 runs against the new ball. The run rate dropped below two at times. The visitors kept the second new ball pitched up and exacted appreciable swing. Southee's over was the catalyst for change.
The test continued on a dreary London day where the full wardrobe, including long-sleeved sweater, was required. The slip cordon was a key barometer; hands were buried in pockets, bunched around the team's special hand-warming pouches, until the final moments of each bowler's delivery stride. The gloom enveloping the ground largely evaporated on the field courtesy of the lighting towers' full beam which enabled a full day's play.