Black Caps head north with tails up
After a year of woe on the road, this is what it felt like to be a real test cricket team.
Now comes the acid test in the next fortnight for New Zealand to confirm their test cricket has turned the corner from the brutal lessons of South Africa.
Captain Brendon McCullum and his team fly into Wellington this morning with weary legs but a hint of a swagger, and likely to field an unchanged side in Thursday's second test against England at the Basin Reserve.
The bowlers toiled for 170 overs, a tick under two days of playing time, but couldn't dismiss England a second time and push for victory in the first test in Dunedin. It ended in a draw with England 421-6, a lead of 128.
Still it was a points victory for the hosts, expected to be thrashed 3-0 in the series, after they dominated Thursday and Friday at University Oval and rued losing day one to rain.
"This is a big step for us to look at where we were, and where we are now and show ourselves and our fans what we're capable of achieving against good teams," McCullum said.
"The challenge now is to back it up for test two and test three."
A friendly, docile pitch which got easier to bat on was what New Zealand wanted, even if it eventually stymied their victory bid. It might not be so sporting in Wellington and Auckland where England's pace duo Steven Finn and James Anderson will relish the extra bounce and provide a much sterner test for the home top order.
Encouragingly, the fringe players backed up coach Mike Hesson's selections as New Zealand's unbeaten record at University Oval extended to five tests. Opener Hamish Rutherford will feel bulletproof after his 171 on debut, the recalled Peter Fulton had 217 vital minutes at the crease and Neil Wagner gave New Zealand a glimmer of hope on the final day with a lion-hearted display.
The latter is a certainty to play in Wellington, especially with Doug Bracewell still not 100 percent with his cut foot. Spinner Bruce Martin, another debutant, took 5-133 off 58 overs on a pitch offering little assistance.
"I wouldn't expect too much difference [in the team] for the next one," McCullum said.
One concern may be weariness in the bowling ranks with just three days rest.
Wagner bowled 43 overs in the second innings, taking 3-141 including the key wickets of Jonathan Trott and Kevin Pietersen. The latter scored 0 and 12 in Dunedin and is struggling with a knee injury.
England lost 4-35, including a brilliant run out of Joe Root by Tim Southee, to be teetering at 390-6. But Ian Bell and Matt Prior stood firm after nightwatchman Steven Finn's remarkable 56 in 284 minutes. Trent Boult kept charging in and finished with 1-49 off 35 overs, a lack of swing in the chilly air counting against him.
"I thought even up until the last couple of overs there we were a red hot crack, if we could get into those bowlers with the ball still new," McCullum said.
"We gave it everything we possibly could. I thought the bowlers were huge to stand up and bowl as well as they did and for as long as what they did on a pretty unresponsive pitch."
England were relieved after an awful day one batting display. Captain Alastair Cook slammed poor shot selection and soft dismissals, before he and opening partner Nick Compton added 231 in the second innings, both scoring centuries.
Their notorious slow starts to overseas tours continued, suggesting they'll be more formidable in Wellington.
"We recognise that we have started overseas series poorly for a while now. It's something we wanted to address, but unfortunately our actions didn't back up our words and it's very hard to come back from the situation we found ourselves in. But the character to dig ourselves out of a hole is very pleasing," Cook said.
The Dominion Post