The silos sparkled in the sun. There were queues for tickets, but not at the gate, outside. The Barmy Army cleared their lungs early, the bars selling pink gin had opened, and it was all go for New Zealand’s newest test venue.
Then Joe Root won a pretty handy toss. As picturesque as the surrounds were the pitch did not indicate an even match between bat and ball.
Don Sibley caressed his first ball in test cricket through mid-wicket for four. The last Englishman to do that was David Gower, but let’s not get carried away just yet. (In actual fact it was Chris Woakes but some people seem to be remembered more than others)
It was not until the last ball of the fifth over that the edge was found. The problem was that the appeal was hardly emphatic and the umpire didn’t think so. No review was called for (it wasn’t Southee bowling) and a chance was missed.
After 45 minutes Big Colin was on.
Sibley was strong off his legs, all his runs were through mid-wicket and behind, but once New Zealand put it in The Corridor he was eventually undone.
The Burns / Denly partnership had elements of frustration for both sides. The batsmen couldn’t really get going against accurate but not penetrating bowling. And when the chance came from Burns it sailed between Taylor and Latham playing a game of statues in the slips.
You’d have that when Root came in things would have become more fluid. But he played de Grandhomme like he was back in the World Cup Final. It took him 21 balls to get off the mark before celebrating by nudging Wagner into the slips.
Between lunch and tea Big Colin’s figures were 7-4-3-1.
Even Stokes was slow to get going. But, as the bowlers tired he became the first English batsman to dominate and put the New Zealand bowlers under pressure. He ended up reverse sweeping the belatedly introduced Mitch Santner for giggles.
Finally the new ball did the trick with Denly’s vigil coming to an end off Southee who had bowled with no luck until that point.
For Stokes though it was more a case of The harder it is the further I can hit it. He did have some luck with a slash going through Taylor’s hands at slip, but overall he was a class above.
For long periods of time today came across as two sides playing their firs test for a while trying hard not to lose. Ben Stokes changed that a bit, and they scored almost as many runs in the last session as the previous two combined. But there is still not a lot in it.
And the good thing about playing on an untried pitch is that you don’t know how it’s going to play from here.
Footnote: Lockie Ferguson took 5/38 today.