246 for six in a full day's play may seem a bit retro, the sort of day that led to the pressing need for the invention of the one-day game, but it pleased a decent Basin Reserve crowd which is always tolerant of slow play in a good contest. The main questions of the day were whether:
a. New Zealand's batting could develop the resilience to build a decent score after winning the toss; and
b. umpire Rod Tucker could remain adjacent to his hat in the fierce Wellington breeze.
The answer to the first question is a provisional “no”, though the failure was a game one, and all hope is not yet lost. Only Kane Williamson and Jesse Ryder could claim to have fallen to a quality delivery (and receiving such a delivery does not have to result in dismissal).
In the first fifteen minutes of the match (and I refer readers to my previous homily on the importance of getting to the ground on time) we fondly remembered an absent friend in the form of the decision referral system, as Daryl Harper got the first two big decisions wrong, though neither was a horrendous error. Brendon McCullum deserved to be out for padding up to a straight one, which the technology showed to be passing just over the stumps. Martin Guptill got away with a thin edge to keeper Adnan Akmal, who was to take five catches as the day went on.
With Gloucestershire's James Franklin replacing Tim McIntosh, Martin Guptill opened and Kane Williamson came in at three. Williamson's 21 contained some of the classiest batting of the day before he was out to a sharp rising delivery from Umar Gul, but it is a mistake to push the 20-year-old up the order. He is a rare and precious talent who should be allowed to develop at five or six for a couple of years however desperate the needs of the team. If another opener could be conjured up, three to six should be: Taylor, Ryder, Guptill, Williamson.
Guptill puts me in mind of CJ Tavaré (and that is never an uncomplimentary comparison in these columns). Like the great man, Guptill is full of shots in all forms of domestic cricket, and a pillar of defence in Tests, where his determination to survive engenders amnesia in the matter of strokeplay. His stance also has a tendency to become square-on, and he even wandered to short square-leg and back between deliveries a couple of times. However, he has yet to emulate Tavaré's geological concentration span and fell to a fearful mow outside off just after lunch.
Up to that point Guptill had been secure, but runless, while Ross Taylor was aggressive but lucky to survive early on. Taylor is one of those rare batsmen whose natural talent is such that they almost always time the ball well from the start without having to think much about it. So when they hit a rare patch of poor form, as Taylor has of late, they don't know what to do to get out of it. David Gower was like that. Watching him in a bad patch was to see something that was against nature, a cheetah stuck in a swamp.
Taylor's fifty was possibly the scratchiest he has ever scored, which perversely makes it more of an achievement. That he took fewer risks and scored more slowly as time went on (13 in 70 minutes after tea) was a sign of increasing, not diminishing, confidence. After Ryder's first-ball dismissal to a fine ball from Tanvir Ahmed that pitched on off and left him, Taylor and Franklin put on 68 in the best partnership of the day, just as the phrase “all out by tea” was being bandied widely among the crowd. Both men displayed such sound judgement in shot selection that John Wright's blood pressure must have almost returned to normal. Alas, both fell to lapses in this very area, Franklin wafting at a ball well down legside and Taylor going the way of Guptill.
The one New Zealand batsman who was obviously not trying very hard to concentrate more than usual was Daniel Vettori, whose inventive urgency was untrammelled and effective. He was well supported by Reece Young, with whom he has an unbroken partnership of 66.
It was even windier than usual in Wellington today, and by mid-afternoon plastic bags, caps, bails and even helmets were being relocated. Umpire Tucker did manage to keep his hat on, but only by gripping the brim firmly at all times, which left his arm permanently raised in the “out” position, which must have unnerved the batsmen.
On such a day the wind is a strategic factor at the Basin, and the fact that Misbah-ul-Haq had his fastest bowler Wahib Riaz bowling into it for most of his overs suggests that he had yet to come to grips with the resulting subtleties.
New Zealand must beg, borrow or steal at least another hundred runs tomorrow to have a decent chance of a first-innings advantage.