Opening batsman Peter Fulton approached a maiden test century as he guided New Zealand to 173-1 at tea Friday on the first day of the third test against England.
Fulton, a 13-test veteran, was 95 not out after sharing partnerships of 79 for the first wicket with Hamish Rutherford and an unbroken 94-run knock for the second wicket with Kane Williamson. Williamson was 39 not out at tea.
Fulton provided the sound platform on which New Zealand built its innings after England won the toss and chose to bowl. He was 41 not out at lunch and went on to his third test half century from 109 balls.
The only wicket to fall before tea was Rutherford for 37, dismissed by Steve Finn (1-38).
England captain Alastair Cook may have repeated the mistake of his New Zealand counterpart Brendon McCullum in choosing to bowl first after winning the toss. McCullum made the same decision in the second test at Wellington and saw England reach 267-2 by stumps on the first day and 465 in its first innings.
Both the first and second tests were drawn.
England's only wicket before tea came from an error by a New Zealand batsman and Cook, rotating his attack of three seamers and one spinner, was at a loss to break solid partnerships in both sessions.
Fulton and Rutherford appeared likely to guide New Zealand to lunch without loss until Rutherford, in his third test, rashly threw away his wicket one over before the interval. He chased a delivery from Finn wide of his off stump and slashed a sharp, rising catch to Cook at second slip.
The 34-year-old Fulton was recalled to the New Zealand team for the current series after a four-year absence. He made a sound 55 in the first test at Dunedin and scores of 45 and 46 in the second test at Wellington.
But he was at his best on Friday, playing a cautious and technically sound innings which allowed New Zealand to strongly resist England's bid to take any advantage from the pitch when it won the toss.
Fulton has an acknowledged weakness outside off stump but he studiously avoided playing in that area and, when England bowled too straight, worked the ball through his favorite areas on the leg side.
He hit left-arm spinner Monty Panesar for three sixes, striking two fours and a six from consecutive deliveries in Panesar's 11th over. If he goes on to his century he will be only the second New Zealander after Zin Harris in 1962 to score a maiden test century after the age of 34.
Williamson, who came to the crease late in the first session, provided outstanding support to Fulton, hitting seven boundaries in his unbeaten 39.