ENGLAND retreated into a position of extreme risk avoidance on a ponderous first day of the Investec Test series against New Zealand at Lord’s.
The score at stumps, 160 for four in 80 overs including 30 maidens, had much to do with the Kiwis’ disciplined bowling, and a surface which encouraged a bat-and-ball stalemate.
But, after Nick Compton lost his patience, and his wicket, in mid-morning, England’s response was to occupy the crease at all costs – for long periods at the expense of worthwhile progress.
The first crowd of this much-anticipated Ashes summer was therefore left to attune itself to a throwback rhythm.
Strike bowler Stuart Broad had been at pains two days ago to insist, after England’s disappointing 0-0 draw in New Zealand two months ago that it would be they who threw the first punch this time.
But, following six hours of uneventful sparring, neither team could claim to have landed a significant blow.
After Alastair Cook won the toss and chose to bat in his first home Test as captain, the touring team was the one which could be happiest with their work.
Three draws between these countries in March eventually meandered to a thrilling, if not decisive, denouement in Auckland. Here, on a pitch apparently no less slow or unresponsive than those which attracted criticism in Dunedin and Wellington, another slow-burner barely flickered into life.
England lost an opener in each of the first two sessions, and the departures of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell meant there was no partnership of more than 45 – for both the third and fourth wickets – despite the batsmen’s painstaking efforts.
New Zealand bowled skilfully to test England’s top order with swing and keep the scoring rate to a trickle.
Openers Cook and Compton left well against Trent Boult and Tim Southee with the new ball, and it was not until New Zealand turned to Bruce Martin’s left-arm spin after 20 overs that the first breakthrough came.
Trott then also got ahead of himself, and should have gone caught and bowled for a duck when he chipped a straightforward chance back to Martin.
Boult only conceded his first run off the bat, Compton’s sharp single to cover, from the final ball of his initial five-over spell.
More tight bowling resulted in four successive maidens shortly after morning drinks – a runless sequence which proved too much for Compton, who reacted by going down the wicket to the first ball of Martin’s second over. He did not get to the pitch but went through anyway with an attempt to hit over the off-side infield, and skewed a catch to point from a delivery that turned a little.
It was a disappointing end for Compton, and Trott would have had even more cause for regret had Martin caught as well as he bowled. Cook did not last long after lunch, pushing forward and edging Trent Boult to wicketkeeper BJ Watling to end a 115-ball stay.
Trott was joined by a Bell for another no-frills partnership which eventually saw England crawl into three figures in the 50th over. Bell celebrated in the same Wagner over with one of the few memorable shots of the day, a cover-drive for just England’s ninth four.
Soon afterwards, though, Trott was gone, squared up on the back foot by Boult and edging low to third slip, where Dean Brownlie took a very good catch.
Bell, joined by Joe Root just before tea, went on to outdo the go-slow strike rates of his team-mates with a 31 from 133 balls until he fell to a thin edge behind as Neil Wagner slanted one across him.
Little had been ventured, and even less gained, by England when showery rain brought an early close.
The only consolation for Cook is that, unlike the first innings of that tour to New Zealand, there was no hapless collapse and therefore still the chance to take control of the match and series.