Burns scored his fifth half-century in 13 tests from 135 balls in 195 minutes — 3 1/4 hours — and Denly followed him to his fifth half-century in nine tests almost identically from 136 balls in 196 minutes.
Along the way, opener Dom Sibley made 22 from 63 balls on his test debut, and captain Joe Root scrambled 2 runs from 22 balls as England progressed at a glacial pace through the first two sessions, little more than two runs per over.
Burns was eventually out for 52, losing his way after being 35 at lunch and adding only 16 runs more in the first hour of the second session. Denly accelerated after his half-century and was eventually out for 74 which included eight fours and a six.
Stokes took 15 balls to get off the mark, then stepped things up and reached his half-century in what, by the standards of the day, was a headlong rush — from 91 balls. He was 67 not out at stumps and Ollie Pope was 18 not out.
Root didn't hesitate to bat when he won the toss — New Zealand would have done the same — but the pitch at Bay Oval, which is hosting a test for the first time, proved more complicated than it appeared.
While firm and with a smattering of grass, the pitch was slow and the absence of pace and consistent bounce made run-scoring harder than expected. England struggled to generate any momentum until the last session when Stokes, Denly, and Pope scored more freely against the second new ball.
Before the match, Root repeatedly emphasized the importance of occupying the crease for long periods, something England hasn’t consistently managed for some time. That policy is central to the approach of new coach Chris Silverwood and a departure from that of his predecessor, Trevor Bayliss, whose aggressive style hasn’t produced much recent test success.
Fast bowlers Trent Boult and Tim Southee were containing but not threatening with the first new ball for New Zealand as Burns and Sibley dug in. Medium-pacer Colin de Grandhomme then found the formula for bowling success, dismissing Sibley in the first session and Burns in the second, both to catches behind the wicket.
Neil Wagner ramped up the pressure with a barrage of short-pitched deliveries which unsettled Burns and yielded the wicket of Root, who played an indecisive shot and was caught by Southee at second slip.
Denly seemed to be getting into his stride when he made an error and fell to a superb one-handed catch by wicketkeeper BJ Watling off Southee. Stokes and Pope were scoring freely before stumps and it appeared the pitch would increase in pace as it spent more time exposed to the sun, making batting more rewarding.
“We knew the toss was going to be important and they had to play pretty well, we bowled pretty well,” Wagner said. “We created a lot of chances which didn’t go our way but they showed a lot of patience, took their time and batted pretty well.”
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