One's the shortest man in the team, the other's known as "the big man". The big man is one of the most destructive short-form hitters in the world. His partner in crime is arguably a third-choice selection for his provincial Twenty20 side.

As individual cricketers, they couldn't be more different. But together, the ultimate odd couple of BJ Watling and Colin de Grandhomme have once again delivered for the Black Caps as they fought their way back into a dominant position against England in the first test at Mount Maunganui.

Just how dominant will be determined tomorrow – the Black Caps will likely bat on as long as possible, building a substantial lead before trying to roll England in the later stages of the test. But, having started the day trailing by 209 runs with only six wickets remaining, the Black Caps now lead by 41 runs, and still have four wickets remaining.

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Watling produced the first test century at Bay Oval as he finished the day unbeaten on 119, and he had the perfect foil in de Grandhomme, whose 65 was pivotal in moving the hosts from a position of uncertainty, into one of dominance.

The pair added 119 for the sixth wicket, and with contributions from Henry Nicholls (41) and Mitchell Santner (31 not out), the Black Caps frustrated an English bowling attack who offered little on a docile pitch. That factor means a draw still looms as the probable result, unless the New Zealand seamers can produce something that Jofra Archer, Sam Curran and Stuart Broad could not.

They'd do well to emulate the fighting qualities personified by Watling, who produced his eighth test century, and second on the trot. It was typical Watling – there weren't many shots you'll be remembering for their beauty, but his technique was sound, application flawless, and temperament as cool as ever.

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He offered one chance, on 31 – Ben Stokes dropping a regulation catch at first slip off Joe Root – and was on the right side of two lbw reviews from the bowling of Archer, but mostly, the fielders' relationship with the ball when Watling was batting was simply to turn around and chase as it zipped along the Bay Oval outfield.

De Grandhomme was similarly – and much more surprisingly – circumspect. The usually aggressive all-rounder took 14 deliveries to get off the mark, and after some early inside edges as he struggled for timing against Curran, the man with the "see ball, hit ball" philosophy did just that.

A man for home conditions, de Grandhomme swatted Archer for six over square leg, but largely kept things along the ground, content to drive through the covers and accumulate singles when on offer.

The pair were so effective at accumulation that nearly 90 minutes went by in the second session before England bowled a maiden – a stark contrast to the first hour, where it took 41 minutes for a boundary, and just 26 runs were produced.

That was Watling as his blocking best, while Nicholls made a handy contribution before being trapped lbw by Root. 80 runs came from 32 overs in the first session, but having resumed seriously in arrears, it was all valuable stuff, even more so when Watling and de Grandhomme were unbroken in the second session, adding 92.

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BJ Watling and Colin de Grandhomme celebrate their partnership. Photo / Photosport
BJ Watling and Colin de Grandhomme celebrate their partnership. Photo / Photosport

Their resistance ended the first ball after tea – de Grandhomme cutting Stokes to point, where Dom Sibley got down low to take a superb one-handed snare inches from the ground – but Santner ducked, weaved and fended his way to 31 scratchy but important runs, somehow surviving 103 balls to reach stumps, as the Black Caps hit the front.

After the first four partnerships failed to surpass 54, the Black Caps middle order put together stands of 70, 116 and an unbroken 78, and the common thread was Watling, who earned his just rewards when he scampered a single to short midwicket to bring up his century off 251 balls.

A standing ovation awaited him, and a rare running fist pump showed just how much it meant, not only to Watling, but to his team.

Today, the Black Caps needed players who were up for a scrap. Fortunately, they possess the ultimate fighter.