England make steady start as new era begins in New Zealand

Ben Stokes unbeaten at stumps as Joe Denly and Rory Burns open with half centuries

Ben Stokes finished the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand on 67 not out. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty

Ben Stokes finished the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand on 67 not out. Photograph: Gareth Copley/Getty

 

First Test, Day One: England 241-4 off 90 overs (B Stokes 67*, J Denly 74, R Burns 52, C de Grandhomme 2-28)

Much of the talk before this first Test in New Zealand was of England’s new-found desire to bat time; to be like the more sensible walkers at the bottom of Mount Maunganui by setting out on the slow and steady path towards a delightful summit.

And so day one of the reboot will have pleased the new head coach, Chris Silverwood, as he watched Ben Stokes and Ollie Pope stride off at the close. They were unbeaten on 67 and 18 respectively, adding to some spadework by the top order for a healthy-looking total of 241 for four from 90 overs.

There will have been a sense of mild disappointment that Joe Denly was not there instead of Pope. The No 3 had ticked past four hours at the crease for 74 runs, mixing up dogged defence with some stylish stroke-play, only to fall to the second new-ball when wearily nicking behind off Tim Southee.

England debutant Dominic Sibley is caught by Ross Taylor off the bowling of Charles de Grandhomme. Photograph: David Gray/AFP/Getty
England debutant Dominic Sibley is caught by Ross Taylor off the bowling of Charles de Grandhomme. Photograph: David Gray/AFP/Getty

But with Stokes gifted a late life on 63 by Ross Taylor fluffing a two-handed take at first slip – and a slightly fortuitous 52 from Rory Burns earlier on – this was a day for Silverwood to be philosophical about such matters.

New Zealand’s fine seam attack had pounded away for all but five overs and though at times one wondered if England’s orders of obduracy had gone too far – not least in an afternoon session that returned 60 runs for the loss of two wickets – only one of the batsmen can be said to have gifted his wicket.

This was their kingpin, as it happens, with Joe Root taking 21 balls to get off the mark (just as some of the locals on the grass banks were starting to chirp) and then thick-edging his next from the tireless Neil Wagner to second slip.

Root had been largely bogged down by Colin de Grandhomme, his kryptonite during the World Cup final. The all-rounder is the slowest of the Kiwi seam-attack, operating around 75mph, but by wobbling the ball and using the odd off-cutter, he was also the pick with figures of two for 28 from 19 overs.

Root’s demise meant Stokes, at the back end of a personally golden year, arrived at the crease with the score 120 for three from 53 overs. He first opted to get to grips with a sluggish surface before unfurling nine fours. When the all-rounder slots them straight, as he did for the first of three in an over off Trent Boult, you know his game is in good order.

His stand of 83 with Denly was not a one-man show either, with the latter enjoying Mitch Santner’s brief introduction by lofting the left-arm spinner over extra cover for four then capitalising on this rare chance to attack with a straighter, more handsome six down the ground.

Denly may have once again fallen short of his maiden Test century but, following on from the 94 he compiled at the back end of the Ashes, the 33-year-old is starting to repay the faith shown by Ed Smith, the national selector, when offering his old Kent teammate a late stab at Test cricket.

With Bay Oval drenched in spring sunshine and a pitch prepared in such a way that the ground’s Test debut wouldn’t be over in the blink of an eye, both captains were looking to bat first at the toss. Root called correctly and soon Dom Sibley was out there for his first innings in the whites of England.

Neil Wagner celebrates the wicket of Joe Root. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty
Neil Wagner celebrates the wicket of Joe Root. Photograph: Phil Walter/Getty

After receiving his cap from fellow opener Mike Atherton, Sibley made it seven England batsmen to hit their first ball in Test cricket for four when clipping Boult through mid-wicket. He may be diametrically opposed to David Gower, another to start out with a boundary, but he looked comfortable in his own skin en route to 22 runs from his first 62.

His 63rd was the kind to make the analysts take note, however. Having watched Sibley score his runs exclusively through leg, Kane Williamson brought on de Grandhomme at first change. And during an early window of swing the all-rounder persuaded his former Warwickshire teammate to play at one which shaped away, giving Taylor a simple catch at slip.

It ended an encouraging opening stand of 52 with Burns albeit one that could have ended as early as the fifth over. Boult had grazed the edge of the senior partner’s bat en route to wicketkeeper BJ Watling only for a stifled appeal – and Williamson’s reluctance to send it upstairs – to hand the left-hander another chance.

Indeed fortune was with Burns until he eventually got nicked off to De Grandhomme during a miserly seven-over spell after lunch, having played and missed aplenty, edged Southee between first and second slip on 37 and survived a reviewed lbw off Boult on 44 via umpire’s call.

But Burns has long rationalised it is ultimately how many – not how – and now with Silverwood at the helm, others may be following suit. - Guardian

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