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May 24, 2004
At the end of the perfect Test match, the perfect finish: the man who had been told his head was on the chopping block, the man who was getting out bowled too often, the man who ran out the local hero, smashed consecutive fours to bring up his century, and then spanked the winning run through the covers as England made a daunting run-chase look easy. In the end they romped home, against a handy bowling attack, with eight overs to spare.
Hussain's hundred was a triumph of substance over style - and all the talk of his not reaching 100 Test caps later this summer can now officially cease. Most of this hundred was made under the additional pressure of having run out the local hero - the end of Andrew Strauss, for a splendid 83 to follow his first-innings 112, was the worst fate for a hometown boy since Derek Randall was similarly stranded by Geoff Boycott at Trent Bridge in 1977. But Hussain put it behind him and, like Boycott on that far-off day, made a crucial century. Boycs, watching today, looked on approvingly.
Earlier this week Hussain had hinted that something like this might happen. He pointed out that he'd often come to England's rescue when they were 10 for 2 or thereabouts. Today it was 35 for 2, with that big target looming large on the electronic scoreboard, so Hussain dug in, scratchily at first. During the long partnership with Strauss, watchers would often have confused the man playing his first Test with the one in his 96th.
But it was Hussain (who had earlier fielded with the dash of a debutant too) who hung in to the end, in partnership with his old mate Graham Thorpe, who took his foot off the accelerator a little towards the end as Nasser nosed towards three figures.
England made light of a run-chase that has only once been exceeded at Lord's, when Gordon Greenidge made mincemeat of David Gower's declaration and West Indies strolled to 344 for 1 with an hour to spare in 1984. England's previous-best fourth-innings run-chase at Lord's was a modest 218, coincidentally also against New Zealand - and coincidentally also reached for the loss of only three wickets - back in 1965.
The good news for England is that this is an infinitely superior New Zealand side to that one, and this victory - following hot on the heels of those three thrilling wins in the West Indies - came in conditions that were supposed to suit the varied Kiwi bowling attack. But Chris Martin was made to look ordinary, Daniel Vettori went wicketless, and Jacob Oram and Scott Styris lacked the firepower to dislodge a determined batting line-up. The omens - for the home side, anyway - look good for Headingley in a fortnight's time. And Nasser Hussain will be there, don't fret.
Steven Lynch is editor of Wisden Cricinfo.
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