Steven Finn was the unlikeliest of heroes as England successfully batted out the final day in Dunedin, preventing New Zealand the chance to chase down any sort of target to win the first Test. The Middlesex bowler registered a first class fifty for the first time in his career, his night watchman role producing 56 runs in an obdurate 203 ball innings. Nick Compton was unable to turn his century into a particularly big score, falling lbw to Neil Wagner for 117, and Jonathan Trott was also removed by the New Zealand bowler for 52. Ian Bell and Matt Prior saw England home with 26* and 23* respectively, and having earlier declared with a lead of nearly 300, the hosts will be disappointed not to have put more pressure on their opponents. England will undoubtedly be the more satisfied of the two sides, having dug themselves out of a pretty significant hole.
England demonstrated in their second innings the application that was lacking in their first, as what was effectively a fourth-day pitch offered nothing to the Kiwi bowlers. On paper, England are a far superior side to New Zealand, but this Test should serve as a timely reminder that four or five days of Test cricket abroad will rarely be a straightforward assignment. Compton has the monkey of a first century off his back, and the issue of a lack of playing time before this match is less prevalent now. Kevin Pietersen is definitely struggling for form, but he has a tendency to pull out an innings when it is really needed so there will not be too much concern within the England camp. Captain Alastair Cook has acknowledged the need to make better starts to Test series, and this will be all the more important for the return series between these two sides which is just two games long.
While it is impossible to say whether or not England would have collapsed as they did had the match started on schedule, there will be some who will look to the day lost to rain as the main reason the Black Caps were unable to bat again. This was, however, a lifeless pitch, as shown by a second innings score of 421-6 from England. The wickets that fell on day two were mainly down to poor batting, and the New Zealand bowlers will realise this. Captain Brendon McCullum was happy with the way his side performed in the match, and rightly so as they were completely on top for the best part of two days. They can take a great deal of confidence from their batting display in particular, and will now feel that even if they were to face the prospect of replying to an imposing score from England, they have players such as Hamish Rutherford at the top of the order who can bat long and score big.
England head to Wellington knowing that their opponents will not simply roll over, and from a long-term point of view, this is a good thing – they are favourites for the series, and are still expected to win, but they will need to work hard which is the ideal preparation for the Ashes. Whether they bat or bowl first in the second Test, England will want to take charge from the off and put their opponents on the back foot. The pitch at the Basin Reserve is expected to do far more over the course of the game which is good for the series. Jimmy Anderson aside, England’s bowlers struggled in Dunedin and will hope to have more to work with when they travel to the North Island ahead of the first day’s play on Thursday.
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BIOGRAPHY: Cesc Fabregas