England in New Zealand: 'Patient approach pleasing but tourists could be busier'

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
England batsmen Joe Denly (left) and Ben Stokes (right) look at the ball as they cross for a run on day one of the first Test against New Zealand
Joe Denly and Ben Stokes put on 83 together for the fourth wicket

It was pleasing to see England finally adopt a more patient and disciplined approach to Test-match batting on the first day of the first Test in New Zealand.

It's nothing new but it's something England have not done well in recent years.

They've been determined to play very positively and seize the initiative but that often doesn't work in Test matches.

I've not been alone in saying I would much rather see a more measured style where the batsmen respect the bowlers if they're in control, knowing if they do hang in there it will get easier and you can score your runs.

That's what England did in reaching 241-4 in Mount Maunganui.

Though, without being critical, the tourists could have been a bit busier.

Over the past five years, a side that bats 90 overs in a day scores an average of 83 singles and England scored 60. That is some way down and suggests they could have been more proactive in pushing the ball into gaps and running.

Being busy is not about smashing the ball around or playing loose shots, it's keeping the scoreboard ticking with singles and that will come to England as they learn this approach.

There was a lot of leaving the ball, which was good. New Zealand bowled deliveries around off stump that England were edging during the Ashes against Australia this summer, but here their judgment was better.

It helps that openers Dom Sibley and Rory Burns have a more watchful natural game, while Joe Denly has a similar approach but also showed his range of shots in making 74.

A top three batting sensibly sets up a free-scoring middle order.

England have expressive batsmen in their middle order - they don't want them to be batting away at 30-4, they want them to come in and build on a foundation, which the top order provided here.

England opener Dom Sibley clips a ball away through the leg side on day one of the first Test against New Zealand
Debutant Dom Sibley hit four fours in making 22 off 63 balls

Sibley looked like he enjoyed himself on his debut and has obviously got a very good temperament. It showed in his confidence to clip his first ball away for four and it wasn't a bad ball at all.

He is quite open in his stance, which means he has to work on getting his front foot across to the off stump and not reach for the ball with his hands away from his body, as he did in nicking off for 22.

This is a big step up for him against a fine New Zealand attack but that four was a lovely way to start.

Ollie Pope played very well on his return to the Test side - he has that busy approach and wasn't fazed by it being the last over of the day when he dispatched a Tim Southee bouncer for four.

He is really determined to take his second opportunity in Test cricket by the horns, having being dropped after his previous two Tests against India in summer 2018.

The 21-year-old Surrey batsman is a prolific scorer in county cricket and is certainly good enough to score runs at this level.

Together with Ben Stokes, who showed proper Test technique again but may look to play a bit freer on day two, Pope will want to drive England on towards 400.

England captain Joe Root got a bit stuck in making just two off 22 balls. He has changed his batting technique and is now making a movement across with his back leg but it wasn't very fluent, though he didn't have much time at the crease in the warm-up match.

And New Zealand bowled very well to him. This is a very good seam bowling attack, one of the best around.

Root will be disappointed with how he batted and it was a poor shot to get out to, guiding it straight to second slip, but he is a very fine player and he will come good.

This was the first ever day of Test cricket at the Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui, and it's a really lovely spot.

It's part holiday area, part industrial - there cannot be another Test cricket ground with a salt-processing plant on the boundary edge.

But it's very laid back, with people sitting on the banks, and is a thoroughly enjoyable place to watch cricket.

A shot of Mount Maunganui in the background of the Bay Oval during day one of the first Test between New Zealand and England
The Bay Oval in Mount Maunganui is hosting a Test for the first time

Jonathan Agnew was speaking to BBC Sport's Jack Skelton.

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