In what is now effectively a four-day match, New Zealand took advantage of some sloppy play from England’s batsmen to take control of the first Test at the picturesque University Oval in Dunedin. After the entire first day was lost to the weather, New Zealand may have been regretting their decision to put the tourists in as the conditions appeared to favour the batting side. However after Nick Compton played on with only five on the board, a succession of poor shots eventually led to a first innings total of just 167, Jonathan Trott top scoring with 45. To compound England’s misery, debutant Hamish Rutherford hit an unbeaten 77 in his first Test innings to help his side reach 131 without loss at the close of play, with his opening partner Peter Fulton reaching 46 not out. If they are able to safely negotiate the first few overs of the morning on the third day, the two openers will fancy their chances of batting their opponents out of the game and rendering the opening day washout irrelevant.
After an extremely poor start to the Test series, there are question marks over England’s decision to only play a single four day warm-up match. Admittedly this is a short series at the end of a tour, and since the tour of India, most of the squad have either been playing limited-overs cricket or taking enforced rest. Compton and Kevin Pietersen, who both made ducks in England’s first innings, could have done with more than one chance to get some serious time in the middle before this game, as the two batsmen registered a grand total of 44 runs combined in the defeat by a New Zealand XI. There is a worrying trend of poor starts to Test series developing for England, and they cannot afford to keep starting on the back foot. Thankfully, the next two series are both at home for England in conditions with which they are familiar, but it is definitely something that needs to be addressed ahead of future tours. A glance back to the schedule for the 2010-11 Ashes series may be a good place to start before the squad heads down under this winter.
New Zealand trail by just 36 with ten wickets in hand heading into the third day, and it will take a dramatic shift in momentum for England to win this match. Even if they are able to start producing their very best, Alastair Cook’s men may have left themselves too much to do, with a draw a more realistic target. As well as being a short match, this is short series with only two more Tests to follow. Having been widely expected to win the series comfortably and even complete a whitewash, the England players have been left in no doubt as to the improvements they will need to make to avoid defeat. The Black Caps lie above only one other Test side (Bangladesh) in the rankings, but they have gratefully accepted the chance that has been presented to them. Of course, a wake up call such as this may yet prove to be something looked back on as positive ahead of a massive year for English cricket. If any of the players had one eye on Australia’s travails in their series in India, they would be well advised to focus on their own preparations for the Ashes this summer.