• New Zealand v England, 3rd Test, Auckland, 1st day

Fulton, Williamson put England on back foot

The Report by George Dobell
March 22, 2013
New Zealand 250 for 1 (Fulton 124*, Williamson 83*) v England
Scorecard and ball-by-ball details

Fulton knew he was good enough

Had Alastair Cook arrived at Auckland with a case of wine and box of chocolates for his New Zealand hosts he could hardly have been a more gracious guest.

Cook, perhaps seduced by a hint of green and a theory that the drop-in pitch in use for this Test might aid his seamers, inserted New Zealand upon winning the toss and thereby surrendered first use of a fine surface. Under bright skies and on a true pitch, barely a ball deviated in the air or off the pitch all day as New Zealand reached 250 for the loss of just one wicket by stumps. With the series level at 0-0 going into this final match, New Zealand have earned an excellent opportunity to win a Test series at home against England for just the second time. The first was in 1983-84.

Cook's insertion may well draw comparison with Nasser Hussain's infamous decision in Brisbane in 2002. To be fair to Cook, there is little reason to suppose this pitch will deteriorate. It is hard, easy paced and true. It offered precious little swing or seam movement and promises little better for spinners later in the game. The lush outfield and lack of other pitches limits the opportunity for reverse swing, too. If it was ever going to help the bowlers, it was going to be in the first hour. But his decision has allowed New Zealand to claim the initiative and, in the decisive Test of a series, leaves England in a precarious position. Even a drawn series would have been considered a setback at the start of the tour.

Perhaps Cook's decision was not so much at fault as England's execution of the decision. Certainly they will reflect that they did not fully utilise the new ball. It is not that James Anderson or Stuart Broad bowled badly - far from it - just that they did not make the New Zealand openers play as often as they might have in the first few overs. By the time they had found their line, the openers had settled and the ball offered nothing.

The main beneficiary of England's generosity was Peter Fulton. The 34-year-old New Zealand opener had previously only passed 50 twice in Test cricket and his previous highest score was 75, made almost exactly seven years ago. Here, however, at the age of at 34 years and 49 days, he benefited from the benign conditions and a small outfield to become the second oldest man to score his maiden Test century for New Zealand. The oldest is Zin Harris.

Whatever his fragility on the off side - and several times he was drawn into playing at deliveries he should have left and on 12 was fortunate to see an indeterminate prod off Anderson fly past third slip - Fulton is a beast off his legs. He scored 98 of his 124 first-day runs on the leg side and at one stage plundered Monty Panesar for 14 - a six and two fours - in three balls, all over midwicket. Perhaps, on a larger playing surface, he might have been caught on 30 when he top-edged a pull off Broad and saw the ball clear the fine leg boundary, just 53 metres from the bat, but generally he blocked on off stump and waited for England's bowlers to stray either too full or on to his legs. He on drove sweetly - the stroke that took him to 50 was delightful - and showed a willingness to hit over the top, clubbing Panesar for two sixes over midwicket.

Kane Williamson was, in many ways, even more impressive. More secure in defending his off stump than his partner, he also unveiled some delightful strokes with a couple of straight drives off Anderson bearing the hallmark of true class. Quick to pick-up the length, he cut and pulled Panesar for boundaries and, at the age of just 22, resumes on day two just 17 short of a fourth Test century. He has already helped Fulton add 171 for the second wicket, with his preference for the off side complementing his partner's leg-side skill.

Initially it was Hamish Rutherford who impressed. He scored 37 of an opening partnership of 79, easing New Zealand's early nerves with a pleasing straight drive for four off Anderson and lofting Panesar for two straight sixes in the spinner's second over.

His wicket, in the penultimate over before lunch, owed more to a lapse of concentration than any incisive bowling. Slashing at a wide one without foot movement, he was well taken at first slip and left the pitch knowing he had squandered an ideal opportunity of a big score.

England were underwhelming in the field. While Broad and Anderson persevered in conditions offering them little, Finn, lacking rhythm from his new run-up, failed to generate the pace that might have been expected of him, while Monty Panesar, with no help from the conditions, was ineffectual. While the flat pitch should offer few fears to England's batsmen, it is tough to see how England can claim the 19 wickets they need to win this series.

George Dobell is a senior correspondent at ESPNcricinfo

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