WELLINGTON, New Zealand (AP) Captain Eoin Morgan grafted 48 on a lifeless pitch to guide England to 234 as it batted first on Saturday in the third one-day cricket international against New Zealand.
The drop-in pitch at the Wellington Regional Stadium, a problem in recent limited-overs internationals because of its indifferent quality, was especially poor on Saturday. A dirty, mottled brown, it both looked and smelled like the manure with which it had been treated in an effort to promote grass growth.
The pitch was low and had a limpid bounce which made attacking stroke play difficult, forcing the England batsmen - who were asked to bat after losing the toss - to exercise patience and to demonstrate creative shot selection as they sought new ways to score runs.
There was an early warning to England when the first over bowled by Trent Boult - the second of the innings - was a maiden. The England openers, eager to hit out, instead found the ball grabbing the surface, coming on without any reliable pace and with a muted bounce which made flat-bat shots almost impossible.
Jason Roy struggled to 15 from 26 balls, Jonny Bairstow to 19 from 39, Joe Root to an almost whirlwind 20 from 22 balls.
Morgan was the first man to show any mastery of the pitch, reaching his 48 from 71 balls with three fours and a six - one of only two sixes in the innings.
But he also found scoring difficult as New Zealand captain Kane Williamson, back after missing a match with a hamstring strain, used his slower bowlers well through the middle of the innings. Colin de Grandhomme, bowling his middling medium pace, was almost impossible to get away and bowled his his 10 overs consecutively, taking 1-24.
To make life even more difficult, there was also turn. In the 37th over, Ish Sodhi bowled a leg break to Jos Buttler which gripped and turned so prodigiously it beat the batsman and the wicketkeeper, leaving both to follow its progress in astonishment.
Sodhi took 3-53 from his 10 overs, dismissing Bairstow, Ben Stokes and Jos Buttler.
Stokes provided the most extreme example of how difficult the pitch was for naturally attacking batsmen. He scored his first 21 runs from 51 balls and all from singles but he subdued his frustration and eventually hit two fours to reach 39 from 73 balls.
Morgan was approaching a half century, which would have been a triumph under the circumstances, when he was undone by Tim Southee who first lulled him with a series of slower deliveries, then bowled him with a quicker, fuller ball.
Jos Buttler looked the most dangerous England batsman when, going against the trend of the innings, he reached 29 from 23 balls, hitting thee fours and a six. But he became Sodhi's last victim, going down the pitch to a ball which turned sharply and took the outside edge. Sodhi also bowled Bairstow with a sharply turning wrong-un.
There was only a little fight from the England tail as three late wickets fell to runouts. Moeen Ali made 23 from 19 balls before running himself out, Chris Woakes made 16 from 15 deliveries and Adil Rashid 11 from 8.