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Black Caps in prime position

Cricket: Black Caps in prime position

Hamish Rutherford plays a shot over the slips. He was out later, caught by Alastair Cook, playing a similar shot. REUTERS/Nigel Marple
Hamish Rutherford plays a shot over the slips. He was out later, caught by Alastair Cook, playing a similar shot. REUTERS/Nigel Marple
As one dag noted on that bastion of wisdom, Twitter, this afternoon: you know you're getting into uncharted territory when phrases like 'gee, that Peter Fulton's hard to set a field to' are bandied about.
Astute punters would have received generous bookmaker odds on New Zealand being 250 for one at stumps on the opening day of the third test at Eden Park. The crowd certainly thought so, play ended with a standing ovation from most around the ground.
The home side has a prime opportunity to assume a position where they could press for a rare series win against a major nation.
Fulton eased his way to a maiden test century looking every bit an opener. He combined for a second-wicket stand of 171 with Kane Williamson who is 83 and looking as composed as he did during his unbeaten half century at Wellington.
Fulton has reignited a fading first-class career and looks like sustaining a future. No vice-captain has been named for this side but the 34-year-old has taken up the mantle with scores of 55, 1, 45 and now 124 not out this series. The vulnerability which saw him edge out twice to first slip in the second test has been tightened in Auckland.
He left the ball with intent for the most part, playing himself in on an excellent batting wicket. He showed exaggerated caution for the 10 balls he spent on 99, but he's only human.
Fulton demonstrated the fluency and range he is renowned for in the Plunket Shield. He combined in an opening stand of 79 with Hamish Rutherford, who looked capable getting to 37 before throwing his wicket away with a feet-planted flail to the bowling of Steve Finn. Still, if New Zealand had been offered the sort of output produced by their openers before the series, it would have been welcome.
Fulton narrowly avoided giving a chance to third slip when he played away from himself against Jimmy Anderson in the 13th over. He also hooked a steepler off Stuart Broad which managed to sail the meagre 50 metres or so over the fine leg rope. Broad responded with a teapot stance for about 20 seconds, but the England batsmen are bound to reap reciprocal rewards.
Fulton may be holding more back. He remains the holder of New Zealand's highest maiden first class century, 301 not out for Canterbury versus Auckland at Christchurch in 2002-03.
What today's performance means for Martin Guptill when he returns to fitness is a moot point. Dean Brownlie needs to muster runs at No 5 to be sure of his spot. Such rare and genuine competition for places is welcome for New Zealand fans.
Alastair Cook was left to second-guess his decision to insert the hosts at the toss.


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