Wellington: Alastair Cook did not quite agree his side may have the momentum from the drawn first Test against New Zealand as they head into the second on Thursday though his assertion they were growing in confidence sent an ominous warning to Brendon McCullum's team.
New Zealand dominated the first innings' play at University Oval, dismissing Cook's team for 167 and then posting 460 for nine declared. England, however, then demonstrated why they were the second best Test team in the world as they knuckled down in their second innings with Cook and Nick Compton combining for a 231-run opening partnership.
The hosts' bowlers then toiled on a pitch that became increasing benign on the final day as nightwatchman Steven Finn scored a career-best 56 while the rest of the batsmen occupied the crease "putting miles in the (New Zealand) bowlers legs" as Cook said as he looked ahead to the match at the Basin Reserve.
"I think we have some confidence after that fightback," Cook told reporters on Wednesday at a sun-drenched Basin Reserve of their Dunedin second innings 421 for six. "For the first couple of days we were put under pressure and to respond with the bat like we did was excellent from the team. "It certainly shows that if you're not quite on it, even if it's just the first two batters playing a soft shot, that can transfer on to the rest of the team.
"We just did not bat well, it's as simple as that, but the character we showed to fight back has been good." Cook agreed their performance in Dunedin exhibited the delicate balancing act between giving players time off to recuperate from year round cricket in between tours and giving them enough playing time before Test series. The visitors played just one four-day match before the first test, a loss to a New Zealand XI in Queenstown.
"That is the challenge when you do have the rotation policy and the balance between the amount of cricket you play," he said. "As players when you get into that rhythm with the bat and ball and hit form you want to keep on playing but physically, especially for the bowlers, that is very hard to do that. "So that is the balancing act and the reason why the policy is looked at very hard. "I actually thought our preparation was pretty good, it was more a mental blip for the side really."
That 'mental blip' and the application in their second innings in Dunedin, however, amply demonstrated they were getting used to local conditions, something not lost on the hosts. "They've had a couple of hits on tour and they improved dramatically in that second innings (in Dunedin)," McCullum told reporters on Wednesday. "So I guess their batters have a bit more confidence and are a bit more used to their conditions."
With the second test due to start in sunshine on Thursday, with showers not forecast until the fourth day's play on Sunday and a pitch expected to offer more pace and bounce than Dunedin, the toss could be important for both teams. McCullum has already said he would bowl first to capitalise on any life in the pitch that may exist, though Cook was more circumspect believing "the pitch can change a huge amount in 12 hours", though he felt whoever seized the advantage in Wellington could ride it into the final game at Eden Park.
"Certainly, in a three-test series in a second one after the first has been a draw, both sides will want to stamp their mark on the game," he said. "As it proved in Dunedin, if you put your noses ahead then you give yourselves a great chance to win the game. "If you go behind then it's very hard to win the game so it's important we start well."