After a day New Zealand's cricketers could only dream about, reality hits today when a dominant position needs to be rammed home against England in the first test.
Openers Hamish Rutherford and Peter Fulton virtually floated off University Oval last night to a standing ovation after the team's best day of test cricket in recent memory.
Now the hard toil beckons after Rutherford, 77 not out on debut and approaching a century on his home ground, and Fulton (46 not out) guided New Zealand to an imposing 131-0 at stumps.
New Zealand's first century opening partnership in 23 test innings saw the hosts approach an unbeatable position.
Four-wicket hauls from Neil Wagner and debutant Bruce Martin shot out a reckless England for a woeful 167 in 55 overs.
"We've got to go out and do what we did tonight with the bat and keep going," Wagner said as New Zealand eye a repeat of their stunning first test win in 2008.
"Hopefully we post a good score and when we come out with the ball, we've got to be ruthless and just give them nothing again. If we execute in our areas again, and ask every question possible, we get ourselves in with a shot."
After day one was washed out, 291 overs remain in the test and showers are forecast for the next two days. New Zealand need to maintain their momentum, post 400-plus and maybe have a dart at England's batsmen again tonight.
The new opening pair mixed it up with England's crack pace attack as Steven Finn and James Anderson found little in the sluggish pitch to their liking.
Rutherford showed solid defence and thrashed anything loose through the off side, and clouted spinner Monty Panesar into the sightscreen. He raced to 50 off 65 balls and a rousing ovation, then survived a rare blemish on 52 when Stuart Broad shelled a low caught and bowled chance.
Fulton took a body blow or two but largely looked comfortable as he lowered anchor, an excellent start to a budding opening partnership in New Zealand's most troublesome batting area.
"We're in the position that every team can dream of at the moment. We've got to make the most of it now," said Wagner.
The script wasn't meant to play out like this. England, the world No 2 with a 2-1 series win in India under their belts, were heavy favourites. New Zealand lost seven of their past eight tests on the road, but were home at last on their favourite ground.
England's batsmen were coming in cold, literally. Having shivered through the washed out first day, the first hour was always going to be tricky.
But it was more the lax attitude of the touring batsmen rather than unplayable bowling that did the trick. They weren't prepared to graft on a surface that required patience.
Opener Nick Compton hadn't played since December while Kevin Pietersen had a month off after the India ODIs in January. Both missed out twice in Queenstown, and neither troubled the scorers here.
Pietersen looked as if he was batting in the dark, first ball, when a Wagner inswinger trapped him dead in front.
Skipper Alastair Cook was the prized scalp. He scores test runs in his sleep and looked in ominous touch in the ODIs. But even he was restless; dropped by Martin at mid-wicket, then one over later snared by Rutherford when he played a loose cut at Wagner.
Wagner (4-42) was the quickest of the pace trio, and didn't overdo the short stuff as he'd done previously; snaring Pietersen with a beauty then enticing Ian Bell to hit aerially to cover.
Martin (4-43) got more out of the pitch than expected in his 14 overs and proved a handy selection. The 32-year-old on debut got a couple to bounce, accounting for Trott and Matt Prior.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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