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May 24, 2004
England 441 and 282 for 3 (Hussain 103*, Strauss 83, Thorpe 51*) beat New Zealand 386 and 336 by seven wickets
"At 10 for 2, I've done it for you," said Nasser Hussain earlier this week, in response to the various calls for his removal from the side. Well, at 35 for 2 and with his head on the chopping block once again, Hussain rose to meet the vultures with a glorious unbeaten hundred, adding 108 for the third wicket with Andrew Strauss and 139 more with Graham Thorpe, as England overcame New Zealand to win the first Test at Lord's by seven wickets.
In a match of sustained drama, Hussain provided a climax that rivalled Steve Waugh's epic career-saving century at Sydney two winters ago - and the denouement, like Waugh's, was pure theatre. With nine runs required for victory, Hussain produced a lofted drive off Chris Martin to go to 98, then brought the scores level and the house down off the very next ball, with a crashing cover-drive that took him to his 14th Test hundred. One more cover-drive later, it was all over, and the celebrations could really begin.
Up until that thrilling climax, it had been a typical Hussain innings - one that ended in triumph but flirted with disaster throughout; not least when, in a deliciously ironic twist, he ran out Strauss, England's golden boy and the man tipped to replace him in the team, just as Strauss seemed destined to complete the second century of his debut Test. But in harness with his old ally Thorpe, Hussain overcame his embarrassment and dug in to provide the final and decisive act of a wonderfully fluctuating Test match.
It was only in the final half-hour of the match, when New Zealand took the new ball in a last roll of the dice, that Hussain finally pulled out the stops and began to middle his shots. Up to then, he had been seeing the ball more like a peanut, and owed many of his 103 runs to the fleet-footedness of Thorpe, who managed to turn any old inside-edge onto the box into a quick single. But as Mark Richardson had already demonstrated, the style of his runs did not matter. Context and content were all that mattered.
As with so many of his innings down the years, Thorpe's contribution was immense but understated. He finished unbeaten on 51, having first guided a crestfallen Hussain out of the doldrums after the run-out, and then, with the runs required ticking down, he served up the singles and turned down the big shots to give his old mate every chance of reaching his hundred. Five years ago, on New Zealand's last visit, Thorpe had been widely criticised for leaving Alex Tudor stranded on 99 not out, but today he was altruism personified.
The day had begun inauspiciously for England. They resumed on 8 for 0, still needing another 274 for victory, but that prospect looked pretty distant as Marcus Trescothick and Mark Butcher both fell cheaply inside the first hour. On 2, Trescothick mistimed a drive to be caught by Daryl Tuffey, reaching to his right in his followthrough (18 for 1), before Butcher squirted Martin's fourth delivery to Stephen Fleming at second slip for 6 (35 for 2).
In the circumstances, therefore, it was quite right that the Man of the Match went to Strauss, whose second Test innings was a performance of such sang froid that victory appeared a formality while he was at the crease. As Middlesex captain, he is familiar with the conditions at Lord's, and in the morning session he produced an imperious display that befitted his status, moving along to 52 not out with the pick of his strokes a brace of sumptuous cover-drives.
Strauss did have his awkward moments, however. Vettori managed to hit him under the grille of his helmet as he missed a sweep, and after lunch he suffered a dose of the jitters as Jacob Oram and Scott Styris repeatedly tucked him up from around the wicket. But a couple of loose deliveries from each bowler was all the medicine he needed, and he was well on his way again, when disaster struck.
Hussain had added just 10 runs in an hour, and had even been missed by Brendon McCullum off a Chris Cairns no-ball, when he dropped the ball at his feet and hared off for a quick single, screaming "run, run, run!" as Strauss hovered uncertainly. Hussain belatedly realised the run was not going to happen, but by then Cairns had swooped from point, and McCullum had flicked off the leg bail. Strauss meanwhile had crossed, and left the ground to a standing ovation while Hussain was left to ponder the error of his ways.
Fortunately there was a friendly face coming out of the pavilion. The Hussain-Thorpe partnership has been central to several of England's greatest wins of the past decade, most notably Edgbaston 1997 and Karachi 2000-01. Together they rebuilt the innings, to ensure that Lord's 2004 can be bracketed with those triumphs.
Plain numbers will never explain how good Ryan Harris was in Cape Town, where he defied logic and a crocked knee to bowl Australia to a famous victory