Dunedin: England captain Alastair Cook was acutely aware that his side had narrowly avoided an embarrassing first Test loss to New Zealand in Dunedin on Sunday and that the series may be more competitive than they first thought.
Brendon McCullum's side, routed in South Africa late last year in a Test series that witnessed them capitulate for 45 runs in one innings, were six places below Cook's second ranked team heading into the Test last Wednesday.
After losing the first day to rain, New Zealand's bowlers ran through the vaunted England batting line-up, who appeared cavalier in their approach, to dismiss them for a paltry 167 in a first innings which was boosted by a 47-run ninth-wicket partnership between Steven Finn and James Anderson.
"They put some pressure on us, but if you look at the shots, it was pretty poor shot selection, or probably more poor shot execution; you can pretty much describe it as soft dismissals," Cook said. "If you do that against any team, you pay the price."
New Zealand's new opening pair of debutant Hamish Rutherford and the recalled Peter Fulton, a pair that had been expected to be targeted by Finn and Anderson, then took the match away from the visitors when they put on 158 for the first wicket.
Rutherford went on to score 171 and the speed at which he paced his innings enabled McCullum to make a declaration at 460 for 9, a lead of 293 runs and with almost two days to try and bowl the visitors out to achieve a massive upset.
"When you get bowled out for 160-odd in the first innings on a good wicket, you are always going to be struggling in the game and facing an uphill battle just to save the game," Cook said. "We certainly felt after day [two], they were 130 for none, we thought it was pretty much damage limitation from there on. You are never really going to win a game from that situation."
A benign pitch and a far more stoic attitude from England in their second innings helped the tourists. Cook scored 116 and shared a 231-run stand with Nick Compton, before Finn scored 56 and occupied the crease for nearly five hours as nightwatchman to ensure the visitors go into the second Test in Wellington on even terms.
Of concern for Cook as they head to the Basin Reserve for the start of play on Thursday, however, was the poor form shown so far of world class batsmen Kevin Pietersen, who is also nursing a sore knee. He only made 22 runs in the warm-up game in Queenstown before the first Test and was then trapped lbw by Neil Wagner for a golden duck in the first innings and wafted well away from his body in the second to nick behind to be out for 12.
Both dismissals indicated he was still rusty after some time off following the Test series in India late last year.
One of the positives for Cook, though, was the way in which his batsmen did respond in the second innings, albeit on a pitch that was giving the bowlers no assistance, while Compton's maiden Test hundred was particularly pleasing.
"It's great that he's gone on to get a hundred and I think we'll see him take a big step forward because a hundred as an opening batsman for England will give you a huge amount of confidence," Cook said of Compton's innings. "His determination, his will to score runs for England or whatever team he's played for, I think that's what's driven him on so far in his career.
"What I do hope - it'll give him the confidence, like I know any hundred does for a better ... knowing that you can perform at this level."
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