Given the chaos that has generally ensued in 2019 when England and New Zealand clash on a cricket pitch, the start to their test series in Mount Maunganui today was surprisingly sedate.

There were forward defences, leaves, patient batting, controlled bowling and a healthy dollop of maidens, and in the end, fittingly, there wasn't all that much to separate the two teams on the first day of test cricket at Bay Oval.

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Yet, it just wouldn't be a game between these two sides without a bit of drama, and sure enough, a dropped catch late in the day from Ross Taylor proved a pivotal moment, and potentially a costly blunder for the Black Caps.

It provided a life for the dangerous Ben Stokes, unbeaten on 67 at stumps, and it was the reason why England would have left the ground the happier of the two sides, having guided their way to 241-4 after opting to bat first.

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The Black Caps could consider themselves unlucky, after a hard day's toil on a largely unresponsive wicket. There was some early swing on offer for Trent Boult and Tim Southee, and Colin de Grandhomme found a bit of movement, but a lack of pace and bounce meant there were few demons to deal with.

Despite that, the Black Caps seam attack still found some rewards; economical bowling with tight lines and lengths keeping England in check for most of the day, only for Stokes and Joe Denly (74) to loosen the shackles in the final session.

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Black Caps seamer Neil Wagner - who took 1-77 in 23 overs - believed he and his fellow bowlers had put in a strong day's work.

"I thought we asked really good questions for long periods of time, but at the same time I thought they batted really well too – they showed a lot of patience and they left well. Anything we threw at them they played quite well, at times they had a bit of luck, but sometimes you need a bit of luck.

"By no stretch have they got away from us - if we can come back in the morning and get a couple of early wickets, we'll be in a really good position."

Denly and Stokes' efforts didn't completely undo New Zealand's hard work, but having been at 120-3, it was advantage England, who had fought back from some early inroads led by de Grandhomme.

Dom Sibley, on debut, reached 22 before de Grandhomme lured an edge to slip, while fellow opener Rory Burns survived all sorts of scares in making an extremely unconvincing 52. He looked out to Boult on 10, only for New Zealand not to review a thin edge, a later edge from Southee went between a static slips pairing of Taylor and Tom Latham, and on 41 he survived an lbw shout by millimetres, thanks to the "umpire's call" DRS provision.

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So when de Grandhomme dismissed him, fending away from his body, it was no surprise, but Joe Root's dismissal was. The England captain inexplicably prodded at a ball from Wagner and steered it straight to Southee at second slip, leaving for just two and reducing England to 121-3 at tea.

Neil Wagner of New Zealand celebrates his wicket of Joe Root of England. Photo / Getty
Neil Wagner of New Zealand celebrates his wicket of Joe Root of England. Photo / Getty

Slow going on a slow wicket, but Denly and Stokes played their way out of trouble. After 15 overs without a boundary, the runs started to flow in the final session. Denly, not entirely convincing either, at least played aggressively when facing Wagner's short-ball barrage, while Stokes was the only batsman to look comfortable, picking up where he left off in the Ashes with a calculated display mixing strength and guile.

The pair added 83, before Southee struck with the second new ball, enticing an edge from Denly through to BJ Watling, who claimed an excellent one-handed catch, diving to his right. Stokes kept up the attacking nature, and with Ollie Pope added a further 37 before stumps, including four consecutive fours from a Boult over.

It was that fourth four which could be most crucial though – with Stokes flashing at a short ball, and sending it to Taylor at first slip. Seeing it late, it burst through his hands and to the boundary, giving Stokes a chance to push on tomorrow, and handing England the ascendancy.