An unbeaten century from skipper Ross Taylor put New Zealand in a commanding position at five-for-331 on the first day of the one-off Test against Zimbabwe in Napier yesterday.
Taylor finished the day on 111 not out after his team lost the toss and were sent into bat on a green-tinged wicket expected to favor the bowlers.
However, fears of demons in the pitch proved unfounded and, while the hard-working tourists worried the Black Caps at times, they failed to maintain consistent pressure against a dogged New Zealand batting line up.
Openers Brendon McCullum and Martin Guptill both scored half centuries in a 124-run opening stand, while former skipper Daniel Vettori joined the party with a rapid-fire 38 off 46 balls.
The opening pair dominated the first session, seeing off the new ball and frustrating Zimbabwe captain Brendan Taylor’s hopes of an early breakthrough in his side’s first away Test since 2005.
New Zealand, riding high after a rare win over Australia last month, kept the scoreboard ticking over with boundaries, but the batsmen heeded coach John Wright’s advice not to throw away their wickets with rash shots.
Test debutant Shingi Masakadza finally broke the partnership when Guptill’s attacking instincts got the better of him on 51 as he edged a rising ball to wicketkeeper Tatenda Taibu.
Guptill’s replacement, Kane Williamson, was sent back to the pavilion three overs later after a mix up with McCullum saw him run out for four.
The 21-year-old scampered down the wicket after driving spinner Graeme Cremer to the covers, while McCullum, seeing he was not going to make the single, retreated back to the non-striker’s end to leave his partner stranded.
With New Zealand looking slightly wobbly, it fell to captain Ross Taylor to steady the ship.
He and McCullum put on 64 runs before the opener was trapped LBW by Kyle Jarvis just after tea.
Jarvis should have had a second wicket in the same over when he enticed Dean Browlie into a careless prod, only for the catch to be dropped in the slips.
The miss did not prove costly as Hamilton Masakadza — Shingi’s older brother — forced an edge from Browlie in the next over which was snaffled up by Taibu to have him walking for a duck.
Vettori, promoted to No. 6 to add steel to the middle order, chimed in with a free-scoring 38 before falling to an inspired piece of wicketkeeping from Taibu.
He charged down the wicket attempting to meet a Cremer delivery, which skidded past his bat to the waiting Taibu, who whipped off the bails before Vettori had a chance to return to the crease.
Despite the setback, Taylor produced a captain’s knock, smashing a boundary off Brian Vitori to bring up a sixth Test century that included 12 fours and two sixes.
Along with wicketkeeper B.J. Watling, who ended the day on 15, he will be looking to build an imposing total before unleashing an attack that includes four seamers.
However, there have only ever been two results in the nine Tests at Napier and Taylor will be mindful that Zimbabwe pushed New Zealand hard in their last match at Bulawayo in November.