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May 23, 2004
By and large, England and New Zealand have shaken off that traditionally dour image of their respective games, to embrace a younger, more dynamic version. But today, grit and tenacity came surging back into the picture, and the end result could not have been more compelling.
The lead protagonist was a man who could make a stroll up Primrose Hill look like an assault on the north face of the Eiger. Mark Richardson's struggle to the summit, after 555 balls and precisely 13 hours at the crease, was one of those magical Lord's moments, made all the more special by his cruel luck in the first innings. It is little wonder that he had to pause for breath before indulging in that all-important leap for the cameras. His monumental triumph of the will has given New Zealand every chance of stealing a famous victory on a perfect Test-match wicket, one that has remained true for the batsmen but offers an ever-increasing hint of assistance.
The tale of Richardson's career has been told to death since New Zealand's arrival in the country, but it is worth repeating nonetheless. He began life as a slow left-armer and a tailend batsman, but morphed into an opener after developing a debilitating dose of the yips. New Zealand have long invested in deadpan No. 1s, from Trevor Franklin through to Matthew Bell, but few have worn their struggles so visibly on their sleeves.
Richardson's tale, however, is not entirely unique. England themselves have a self-made batsman who began life as a spinner: Nasser Hussain, whose position is under the utmost scrutiny in this match following Andrew Strauss's instant impact. Of the players on show in this match, only Hussain could have produced an innings of equal bloodymindedness. Given the state of the game and the pressure he is under, it would be entirely appropriate if he does exactly that tomorrow.
Hussain's fielding performance alone was an indication that he is not going to be ousted without a struggle. He had a hand in four of the first five wickets to fall - three sharp catches under the helmet, one of them a stunning scoop diving forward to his left; and a pick-up-and-throw from midwicket that was a 36-year-old version of Mark Ramprakash's debut effort against West Indies in 1991. A lip-reader would have had a field-day with Hussain's celebrations of that one, as he chuntered like an old git to anyone in earshot. But his point had been made, and who would bet against him making it again tomorrow?
Hussain wasn't the only England player with a point to prove today. After a barren first innings, Ashley Giles was a dead man walking, and his opening spell today did little to dispel the doubters. But he has risen above them before, and without his critical double-strike to remove Scott Styris and Craig McMillan, England would have been floundering.
One of England's strengths is their subtle blend of flair and stodge. They have the players for all conditions, and Giles's teasing spell with Richardson in the 90s was one of those improbable moments when two dour performers combined to produce a sweet moment of theatre.
At either end of the day, however, it was England's flair players who took centre stage. Simon Jones made the old ball talk in a beautifully controlled morning spell, for the first time living up to Duncan Fletcher's assertion that he was a reverse-swing specialist. And then came Steve Harmison's now-customary surge in the evening session which, had it not been for that drop, would have resulted in his first home five-wicket haul. New Zealand stole an extra 24 runs as a result, and it goes without saying that a certain ousted gloveman will be looking on with interest.
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