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England's Steven Finn knocks past New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum.
England's Steven Finn knocks past New Zealand captain Brendon McCullum.

Steven Finn holds the line as England draw first Test with New Zealand

The nightwatchman went 49 balls without a single scoring shot as he made 56 to help secure an opening draw for the visitors at Dunedin.

Steven Finn proved an unlikely cornerstone for England's resistance after they closed out a nervy draw in the opening Test against New Zealand at Dunedin.

Finn went 49 balls without a single scoring shot at one stage of his near five-hour 56, but England could nonetheless be grateful that he made the move up from number nine to three so seamless with his maiden half-century in any professional cricket.

After yesterday's epic opening stand of 231 between centurions Alastair Cook (116) and Nick Compton (117), England began a sunny final day with strong prospects of ensuring a draw at the start of this three-match series.

But they might reasonably have expected their main contributor to be any one of seven other contenders with substantially better batting pedigrees than fast bowler Finn, with his previous highest first-class score of 32.

He could muster only five fours from 203 balls, having batted throughout two sessions today before finally falling when he missed a sweep at slow left-armer Bruce Martin to be lbw immediately after tea.

Finn's departure induced one final wobble, Joe Root run out for a duck an over later when Tim Southee's dive and direct hit from cover was too quick for the young Yorkshireman as he answered Ian Bell's call for a single.

But in Bell and Matt Prior, England still had two front line batsmen in reserve - and their unbroken stand of 31 against the third new ball took their team to the safety of 421 for six before New Zealand agreed to call time 128 in arrears.

Compton's was the only departure of a sunny morning, to Neil Wagner (three for 141). But Jonathan Trott (52) and Kevin Pietersen also went to the left-arm seamer as England made 53 for two from 28 overs in the middle session and the onus fell increasingly on Finn to keep the Kiwis at bay.

Compton augmented his maiden hundred by just 15 runs before falling lbw; Trott shared a third-wicket stand of 90 with Finn but went caught-and-bowled, and then Wagner got Pietersen for the second time in the match following his first-innings golden duck.

Finn, meanwhile, not only improved his Test-best twice in the same match but dug in for a cussed central role.

Compton reopened his account in the fifth over of the day with a trademark extra-cover drive for four off Southee, but was to be the only casualty before lunch - falling over slightly in defence as Wagner found just a hint of inswing.

His 310-ball vigil was over after almost seven hours at the crease, mostly in company with Cook. Thanks to them, England's remaining batsmen could be encouraged that survival ought to be routinely viable on a pitch showing no signs of deterioration.

That impression was underlined by Finn, who batted with increasing assurance - having come to the crease last night and accompanied Compton to his hundred once Cook went.

He needed just one minor moment of fortune this morning when he edged Kane Williamson's off-spin low and just out of the clutches of second slip to move into the 40s, in familiar surroundings following his stint with Otago in late 2011.

Trott was fluent on his way to a 78-ball 50, which he completed with his eighth four - in his favourite direction past straight midwicket off Southee.

But the return of Wagner undid him, extra bounce inducing a return catch in startled back-foot defence, and Pietersen never looked comfortable in his short stay before he got a faint inside-edge behind.

Finn's stoic presence verged on the strokeless after he reached his 50, as he came to terms with his new responsibilities, especially once Trott was gone.

His durability, though, in the second-longest innings by any English nightwatchman down the years was nonetheless the main reason the tourists managed to steer clear of further anxiety.

They can therefore head to Wellington tomorrow, for next week's second Test, relieved that their hapless first-innings collapse to 167 all out did not cost them as dearly as it might in this rain-shortened match.

"The last two days we showed some good fighting spirit," Alastair Cook, the England captain, admitted afterwards. "The way we went about those last two days we can take a lot from."

Cook admitted he was puzzled at how England had got off to a bad start, which has become something of a habit in the opening Test of recent series.

"I'm not quite sure we know the reasons for it, it's certainly frustrating," he said.

"You can talk about doing the right things. We know how important it is to get off to a good start, especially in a three-match series."

Brendon McCullum, the New Zealand captain, praised his young side for having England in trouble from the off.

McCullum said "It's great for a young bowling group and each and every one of them bowled outstandingly well in this match.

"I'm incredibly proud of their efforts."

 

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