New Zealand opener Peter Fulton scored an unbeaten century as England captain Alastair Cook was left to rue his decision to field on day one of the third and final Test match in Auckland.
Cook’s gamble of bowling first on the drop-in pitch at Eden Park backfired horribly as New Zealand ended the first day with 250 on the board for a solitary wicket – that of opener Hamish Rutherford for 37 – after an unbeaten second-wicket partnership of 171 runs.
Fulton exploited a dead, flat track perfectly as he recorded his maiden Test century at the age of 34 in the final session to become the second oldest player to do so this millennium after India spinner Anil Kumble, ending the day on 124 not out and still in complete control.
Number three Kane Williamson also looked virtually untroubled throughout and was left unbeaten at the close of play on 83 as England’s bowlers battled despondently through a chastening day in front of a sparse crowd at the temporarily converted rugby ground.
The tourists made just one enforced change for the series decider after two rain-affected draws in Dunedin and Wellington, with Jonny Bairstow selected to come in and replace Kevin Pietersen, who was sidelined with a knee injury.
The Black Caps persevered with the same team, resisting the temptation to hand Doug Bracewell a berth after his recovery from a gashed foot, and Brendon McCullum’s side benefited greatly from losing the toss on another desperately dull surface.
England could comfortably count their clear-cut opportunities with the ball on a single hand: the centurion Fulton edged over third slip off a frustrated James Anderson to go from 12 to 16, but the chances were few and fleeting.
The solitary wicket the tourists claimed was that of Rutherford, who got himself out with a reckless attempted cut which saw him edge behind to Cook at first slip off a surprised Steven Finn. But that was as good as it got for the beleaguered tourists.
It was a dispirited England side that battled through the evening session as Fulton and Williamson continued to steadily accumulate runs without offering chances to a fielding team that were increasingly devoid of ideas.
It is a shame that a draw is already being highlighted as the most likely result after a first day that saw the bat dominate the ball in another one-sided contest, and it would be the third successive stalemate in the series if neither side is able to force a result on a lifeless wicket.
Cook was left shaking his head as he left the field with his players at the end of an exhausting day in the Auckland sunshine, and he will need to somehow inspire his players ahead of day two as they require quick wickets to arrest their slump.
But the day belonged to the veteran opener Fulton, who left the ground to a deserved standing ovation after an innings that he will never forget and which has seen his side assume a strong position in a match England are desperate to win with the series at stake.
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- Peter Fulton