England batted themselves into a promising position on the opening day of the first Test against New Zealand in Mount Maunganui.
Three of the tourists’ top five compiled half-centuries as England closed on 241-4.
Ben Stokes hit a unbeaten 67 against a flagging New Zealand attack after disciplined fifties from Rory Burns and Joe Denly laid the platform.
Colin de Grandhomme took 2-28 for the hosts on a good batting wicket.
England have become notorious for batting collapses in recent times but this was a solid, if not perfect, way to begin a Test series.
Captain Joe Root was the only member of the top order not to reach double figures, while debutant opener Dom Sibley hinted at – but did not fully show – his patient temperament in a gritty 22.
Stokes was dropped on 63 by Ross Taylor at first slip late in the day but he saw England through to the close in New Zealand’s North Island, along with Ollie Pope who made a sparky 18.
- TMS podcast: England and NZ size each other up
- Day one as it happened
A glimpse into the future?
On their last tour of New Zealand, England were dismantled for 58 on the opening day of the series, but Denly in particular showed the determination that was missing two years ago to grind out a start.
Just 30 runs came from the first 10 overs and when an aggressive shot was played – such as 24-year-old Sibley clipping his first ball to the mid-wicket boundary – it was a result of the bowlers straying off line, rather than a risky shot from the batsmen.
The approach worked to an extent. Burns’ half-century from 135 balls was his slowest in Test cricket, while Denly largely stayed clear of playing the drives that have been his undoing in the past and instead played himself in.
Batting at three, Denly was in the middle for just under four hours before reaching his half-century as the 33-year-old grafted against New Zealand’s accurate attack, before attacking left-arm spinner Mitchell Santner with a glorious straight six.
Stokes, too, showed the value of England’s new-found patience. After a quiet start he grew in fluency, taking Trent Boult for 16 runs in the closing stages, before being dropped by Taylor.
After a determined innings it was a surprise when Denly, faced with the second new ball, sent a thin edge off Southee through to wicketkeeper BJ Watling. The frustrated groan from the batsman showed his annoyance at, once again, falling short of a century.
In fact, England’s wickets all seemed to fall to a lapse in concentration.
Sibley was caught at first slip playing across the line while Burns, jittery after being hit on the helmet and edging through slip, nicked De Grandhomme through to Watling.
Root was the most disappointing of all, taking 21 balls to get off the mark before slicing the next delivery to second slip.
New Zealand nag on flat pitch
In Boult and Southee, New Zealand have two of the best swing bowlers in the world, but there was little assistance on offer for them.
As the ball got older, Boult had to rely on his variations, bowling cross-seam, while Southee was economical but unable to make a breakthrough.
It was all-rounder De Grandhomme and his nagging medium-pacers that eventually saw off both openers, while Neil Wagner was rewarded for a lengthy, hostile spell with the wicket of captain Root.
Southee produced a fine delivery to dismiss Denly – a touch wider, drawing the batsman into a false shot – and for much of the day, the New Zealand attack kept the lid on England’s scoring rate.
The only time England were able to get away was in the closing stages, when a tiring Boult returned with the new ball.
On a good wicket and with the likes of Jos Buttler and Sam Curran to come, England will hope to compile a potentially match-winning total on the second day, which begins at 22:00 GMT.
‘England will fancy their chances’ – analysis
England batsman Rory Burns on Test Match Special: “It was a tough day but a good day. It looked like a good wicket – it was a bit slower than I thought it would be and that made the cricket a bit attritional.
“I was nowhere near my fluent best but managed to stick in and grit it out. I’m disappointed to only get a 50 and not a big one.”
New Zealand bowler Neil Wagner on TMS: “I thought we bowled pretty well and England batted well. When we put it in the right area, they were patient and when we got it wrong, they put it away.
“But they haven’t run away from us and if we get a couple of early wickets tomorrow [Friday] we’re right back in it.”
Ex-England batsman Mark Ramprakash on TMS: “England will fancy their chances. I don’t think the wicket is going to change, it looks good for batting.
“The top order were focused for setting a platform for the rest of the team. Only four down at the end of the day means England will be pleased with their work.”