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May 22, 2004
It was, as a Kiwi might say, "a very sixy day's krucket". From the moment Chris Cairns went smack-happy in the morning session, to the historic finale provided by Andrew Strauss, this was a Test-match day to savour. After six sessions, England may claim the ascendancy, but this game has plenty distance to run yet, and both sides have the players to keep up with the pace.
To judge by Cairns's morning mood, the game might have been out of England's reach by now, had their bowlers got out of bed in Caribbean mode once again. But to their great credit, they adjusted their compasses and came roaring back into the match in a 15-over burst - if you'll excuse the odd outrageous carve over extra-cover, of course.
Once again, England had Steve Harmison to thank for their fightback. He was correctly introduced at the Nursery End this time, and exploited the right-to-left slope to perfection, cramping the left-handers and pinging Daryl Tuffey's off stump with a pearler that was wasted on a nightwatchman. It was a performance reminiscent of his second-spell comeback in Trinidad, and it demonstrated once again that he is a quick learner, as well as just plain quick
Cairns, however, must be wondering "what if?" He was never likely to shrink into the background on his farewell tour, but the certainty of his strokeplay beggared belief, or at least would have done, had he not done exactly the same thing to England's bowlers at The Oval in 1999, and again in partnership with Nathan Astle at Christchurch two winters ago.
His team-mates, however, were unable to keep up with him, not even that perpetual thorn in English flesh, Daniel Vettori, who survived a third-ball deflection onto his leg stump, but was then bowled off a big inside-edge one delivery later. All the same, 386 was a par total - Richardson produced all the bunker shots and hacks out of the rough on the front nine, Cairns balanced the card by teeing off to perfection on the return leg.
England adopted a more measured approach in their reply, as Strauss and the newly watchful Marcus Trescothick did everything that was asked of them, adding 190 for the first wicket while the pitch was still at its truest. But as Cairns the bowler demonstrated late on with some low-scuttling deliveries, there may be a different scenario on the third morning.
Strauss's effort will steal the plaudits, and rightly so, but for England's short-term piece of mind, Trescothick's was of even greater importance. To judge by his last two Test innings - an 88 in Antigua and an 86 here, both of which contributed to big century stands - you might be forgiven for wondering why there is such a fuss about Trescothick's form, especially when you factor in his Man of the Series performance in the recent one-dayers.
But that is precisely why Trescothick is such a hard player to gauge. When he is at his best - guarding his off stump with the passive watchfulness of a Buckingham Palace sentry, and thumping the bad ball through the covers - fuss could not be further from Trescothick's game. It's when he allows that simple approach to be cluttered with ambitious thoughts that everything falls apart. He could teach Claudio Ranieri a thing or two about tinkering oneself into oblivion.
Today, the big score was on from the moment Trescothick went to lunch unbeaten on 10. He had steered two wide balls behind square for four, but more crucially, he had left umpteen nickable deliveries well alone. Shortly after the resumption, he produced a cover-drive, a back-foot force and a cut, all for four, and then greeted Vettori with a square-drive to the boundary. The groundwork had been laid, and it was time to cash in.
Trescothick and Strauss - both left-handers, both captains at Lord's, and both stand-ins of one form or another - have carried England into a position of strength. This series has long promised to be a humdinger. It appears to be living up to its brief.
Andrew Miller is assistant editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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