England were unable to get out of first gear on a sluggish pitch at Lord’s, but insist they have laid a platform from which they can dominate the rest of the first Investec Test.
Jonathan Trott’s top-score of just 39, out of 160-4, and strike rates in the 20s for three of the top four meant England made mediocre progress at best after winning the toss.
New Zealand left-arm seamer Trent Boult, whose two wickets accounted for Trott and captain Alastair Cook, described the hosts’ approach as “reserved”.
But Trott, citing a slow outfield – relaid in the winter after last year’s Olympic archery – as well as an unusual lack of pace in the middle, believes England have made an acceptable start to this two-match series.
“It was pretty tough,” he said, acknowledging that the spectacle was perhaps not what most were anticipating to whet the appetite at the start of this Ashes summer.
“It’s not what you expect when you arrive for the first day of the summer at Lord’s, and it’s a whitish pitch.
“It was obviously a lot slower than people are used to, the crowds and the batsmen.
“Then add in the fact the relaid outfield is a little bit slower – the ball is sort of stopping going down the hill, when it normally speeds up – it was a little bit different.
“It was a different day to what people are accustomed to. But it was a good day.”
After Nick Compton lost his patience, and his wicket, in mid-morning, England’s response was to occupy the crease at all costs – at the expense of worthwhile progress for long periods.
Stuart Broad had been at pains two days ago to insist, after England’s disappointing 0-0 draw in New Zealand two months ago, this time it would be they who threw the first punch.
Following six hours of uneventful sparring, neither team could claim to have landed a significant blow.
After Cook chose to bat in his first home Test as captain, however, 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.
England lost an opener in each of the first two sessions, and the departures of Jonathan Trott and Ian Bell too prevented a stand 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 had conceded his first run off the bat, Compton’s sharp single to cover, only 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 up 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 Boult to a diving 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 Yorkshire’s in-form Joe Root just before tea, went on to outdo the go-slow strike rates of his team-mates with a ‘chart-topping’ 31 from 133 balls until he fell with a whimper to a thin edge behind as Wagner slanted one across him from the nursery end.
Little had been ventured, and even less gained, by England when showery rain brought an early close with Root’s county team-mate Jonny Bairstow unbeaten on three.
Trott gave the Kiwis due credit too, for limiting England’s scoring options. “I felt New Zealand bowled well, and we sort of combated that okay,” he said.
“Generally, whenever there was a loose ball, it sort of stopped in the wicket and there was no real pace in it to get punished.
“Also with the outfield holding up a bit, balls that would normally run away for two or three were only going for one.”
England’s patience did not pay off in terms of permanence, with no batsman reaching a half-century. “My dismissal just before teatime, and Belly’s (Ian Bell) just before the close of play, weren’t ideal,” added Trott.
“You just have to adjust to the circumstances and conditions that confront you.
“We’ve spoken a bit about our batting, first innings setting up games, and I still think there’s potential there to set up this one well and to kick on a bit.”
Trott would have made a duck had Martin held a simple return catch. “The ball stopped a little bit for the spinner, and I found that as well,” he said. “It tells you just to rein it in; you’ve got to get used to it a bit more. You have the intention to go out there and play your game. But they made it difficult for us, and I thought we fought back pretty well.”
On the face of it, Boult had more reason to smile.
“I reckon it was a pretty successful day for us,” he said.
“As a bowling group, we did our jobs. We were pretty patient, and to have them 160-4 at the end of day one is pretty satisfying.
“It’s kind of noticeable they were pretty reserved, and just looked to bat time.”