August 14, 2003

Butcher's prime cut

England v South Africa, third Test, Trent Bridge, Day 1

Mark Butcher: eighth Test century, and one of the best

It has been a familiar sight on the first day of all three Tests in this series: a left-hander pinging the ball to all parts. The good news for England was that this time it wasn't Graeme Smith bashing the boundary-boards, it was Mark Butcher.

It was Butcher's eighth Test century and, with the possible exception of his matchwinning effort against Australia at Headingley in 2001, his best. His hundred included 21 fours, a very high percentage, almost all of them solid and sure. He reached three figures by easing one off his legs to the midwicket boundary, in a carbon copy of so many of Smith's runs so far in this series.

Since that seminal knock against Australia, which came at a time when he was unsure of his place, Butcher has made five Test centuries - more than anyone for England except Michael Vaughan - and inked his name in for as long as that clunking off-drive remains well-oiled. It remains an oddity, both statistical and cricketing, that Butcher has not played a single one-day international to put alongside his 55 Tests.

His partner in a saving stand today, Nasser Hussain, rode his luck to collect his 13th Test century. Hussain started scratchily, narrowly avoiding Marcus Trescothick's fate of getting out to the innocuous-looking induckers of Andrew Hall: one wobbled past dangerously close to the bat on its way through to Mark Boucher.

But later Hall felt the rough edge of the bat as Hussain also dealt in bountiful boundaries, smacking 17 in all. Any doubts about his hunger for Test runs were quashed when he celebrated his hundred in typical Nasser style: left-fist pumping up and down accompanied by some barking expletives to no-one in particular, but to anyone who would listen.

Ed Smith had a nervy wait, and a longer one than usual for an England No. 5 these days. He followed his first-ball block off Shaun Pollock with a bashful anxious smile reminiscent of a young Prince William facing the media, but then grew impressively into his role as the form-horse in the England pack.

There was a defining moment shortly before tea. Just after dropping onto one knee to cream Hall through point for four, Hussain top-edged obligingly between the back-rushing Boucher and the incoming Ntini. It just showed that, after all the heartache of Edgbaston and Lord's, this really was England's day.

Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden CricInfo.

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