Half-centuries from Ben Stokes, Joe Denly and Rory Burns propelled England to a comfortable position on the opening day of the first Test at the Bay Oval on Thursday (November 21), but New Zealand will still be hopeful of making a comeback on Day 2 as the Joe Root-led side operated at a run-rate of just 2.68.
Every batsman apart from skipper Root contributed as England reached 241 for 4 in 90 overs. Stokes (67*) and Ollie Pope (18*) were at the crease when the stumps were drawn.
With clear skies and an easy wicket, Root had no hesitation in batting first when he won the toss and former Surrey pair Burns and Dominic Sibley obliged with their half-century stand. Burns was let off the hook on 10 when an appeal for caught behind was turned down and New Zealand decided not to seek a review only for replays to suggest there was a fine edge.
On a wicket offering little encouragement for the bowlers and England’s intent on occupying the crease as long as possible, both Burns and debutant Sibley took their sweet time to get going. Sibley marked his maiden Test by stroking the first ball he received to the mid-wicket fence for four. It was the first time an Englishman has hit a boundary off the first ball he faced in Test cricket since Chris Woakes against Australia six years ago.
The two managed to add 52 runs for the opening wicket but after seeing off the New Zealand bowling spearheads Trent Boult and Tim Southee, Sibley’s innings came to an end in an uncomfortable over by Colin de Grandhomme. The all-rounder kept bowling just outside off to Sibley and the right-hander eventually was caught at slip by Ross Taylor on 22.
Denly then walked in at No. 3 and Neil Wagner greeted him with a series of bouncers. His confrontation with Wagner started with a boundary. The left-arm paceman responded with two bouncers, the second of which was top-edged but landed just short of de Grandhomme in the gully. Denly, refusing to be intimidated, pulled the next short ball to the boundary and gave two more rising deliveries the same treatment in the following over.
Meanwhile, Burns brought up his fifth Test fifty with a four but three balls later he wafted his bat at a gentle de Grandhomme offering and was caught behind for 52. The two had added 61 runs and when Root came to bat at his favourite position - No. 4 - England were 113 for 2 in 45.1 overs. However Root, who on the Test eve denied captaincy was affecting his batting, faced 21 deliveries before finally getting off the mark with a two. But on the very next delivery, Root wafted at a wide delivery from Wagner and was caught at the slip cordon.
2019 has been the worst year for Root as a Test batsman. The 28-year-old now has three ducks and a two in his last eight innings, and the 28-year-old averages just 28.26 this year.
Having lost three wickets, England were in a spot of bother and they needed someone to bat till the end of Day 1, and it was once again Stokes who did the job for his team. He put on 83 runs with Denly for the fourth wicket as England added 120 in the final session, doubling the score, for the loss of only Denly’s wicket. The latter scored his fifth Test fifty but fell on 74 after New Zealand took the new ball. Denly slammed eight fours and a six in his 181-ball knock before becoming Southee’s victim.
Stokes and Pope then added 38 runs at a decent pace and ensured that there were no more hiccups till the end of day’s play. In the process, Stokes also completed his 20th Test fifty. The left-hander has now scored 694 runs in 2019 and is only behind Steve Smith (774) and Mayank Agarwal (740) in the list of top run-getters this year. He will now look to convert this into a big knock and take the game away from New Zealand.
De Grandhomme, with gentle medium pacers drifting away from the batsmen, finished with 2 for 28 while Southee and Wagner had a wicket each.
(With inputs from AFP)