Hussain hundred puts England in control at Lord's
A century from Nasser Hussain and a partnership of 145 for the fourth wicket with John Crawley put England into a commanding position after the first day of the first npower Test against India at Lord's. India had enjoyed early success in taking three wickets, but they then had to toil on an increasingly flat pitch so that, by the close, England were solidly in control at 257 for four.
Mark Butcher opened the innings with Michael Vaughan in the absence of Marcus Trescothick with a broken thumb. Trescothick's absence accounted for a much slower scoring rate than usual, but the openers faced considerable movement with the new ball, with Ashish Nehra in particular getting the ball to go up the slope. He sometimes actually got too much movement, as when he bowled a big wide that had wicket-keeper Ajay Ratra scrambling across to prevent more extras.
Zaheer Kahn was accuracy personified so it was not until his fifth over that he conceded his first run. By that time he had accounted for Michael Vaughan who was trapped right in front before either he or England had opened their account.
Nasser Hussain took some to get going with his emphasis on survival, but he gradually began to extend his ambitions with a searing square drive off the bowling of Zaheer. Butcher too began to appear more comfortable and this pair reached a fifty partnership, albeit off 108 balls.
They appeared set to go through until the interval, but Anil Kumble, bowling the penultimate over before lunch, found a ball that turned onto Butcher's pad off the inside edge of the bat and Wasim Jaffer stretched out to his right at short leg to hold onto a smart catch. Butcher was out for 29 at exactly the wrong time from the side's point of view.
Graham Thorpe announced himself at the crease by square driving his first ball through the off side for four, while Hussain was content to remain until the interval at which point he had 37 and England were 76 for two.
Just as England had lost a wicket in the second over of the day, so they lost another in the second over after lunch. Zaheer was the bowler again, finding a peach of a ball that went down the hill enough to beat Thorpe's tentative push and clip the off stump.
Once more, Hussain had to rebuild the innings, this time in company with John Crawley. He went to a necessarily laborious fifty from 128 balls, but it was punctuated with some quality strokes producing nine fours. Crawley, meanwhile was batting with a certain freedom and fluidity that was good to see in a player returning to Test cricket after a lengthy absence.
After Thorpe's dismissal, the afternoon proved to be a good one for England. The 101 runs added in the session came from 30 overs, with both batsmen gaining in fluency. Crawley was particularly successful through the off side, off both back and front foot, while Hussain went about his business in a thoroughly professional manner so that by tea he was on 82 and Crawley 48 out of a total of 177 for three.
Hussain had scored a century against India during the NatWest Series final on this ground just ten days ago and now he repeated the feat with what, it has to be said, was a much better innings. His third Test century against India and his eleventh in total came from 192 balls with 17 fours - some caressed through the off side, and others thumped back past the bowler.
He received excellent support from Crawley in a partnership that was blossoming into one of sizeable proportions. After the initial movement, the bowlers were struggling to contain the batsmen to the extent that Nehra was operating with a sweeper on the cover boundary in an attempt to stem the flow of runs.
Saurav Ganguly's options were becoming limited with his attack toiling on what was now a flat pitch so he resorted to the somewhat occasional off-spin of Virender Sehwag. As so often happens in these circumstances, it was Sehwag who made the breakthrough. The partnership was worth 145 and Crawley was on 64 when he cut at a ball that bounced a little more than he expected and he chopped it to Rahul Dravid at slip.
This was the cue for extended applause as Alec Stewart made his way to the middle in his 119th Test - a record for England. With his radiantly proud parents looking on, Stewart eased himself into his task of keeping his captain company through until stumps.
That task was accomplished as Hussain managed to keep his concentration just about intact to close on 120 with Stewart still there on 19 and both ready to press home England's hard-won advantage on the morrow.