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May 16, 2008
England finally injected some life into a deathly slow second day's play at Lord's with Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss trotting to an opening stand of 68. With four breaks for bad light - the fifth, terminal - it was a thermals and thermos day for the diehards, but England made a solid start in reply to New Zealand's 277 to give hope of resuscitating the match.
There are few aspects of the game more infuriating than bad light. A torrential downpour can be absorbed by advancing technologies in drainage - Lord's has one of the best in the world - but murky, dusky light is a no-man's land of indecision, inexact science and archaic rules, at the mercy of the cloud and sun. Consequently, the game petered and dribbled along without direction.
The disruptions affected New Zealand's batsmen in particular, though they showed admirable determination in the face of aggressive spells from Stuart Broad and James Anderson in the morning. In cold, overcast conditions, Daniel Vettori and Jacob Oram dropped anchor, defending cautiously on the back foot while wary of anything swinging outside the off stump. They needn't have been too wary, however; so cold was it that neither Ryan Sidebottom nor Broad - who found some marked movement yesterday - moved the ball to any alarming degree. That is, until eight minutes before lunch when Sidebottom - with the new ball - finally found one to swing back through Kyle Mills' lazy defensive.
Anderson, who bowled with such verve yesterday, produced a fine opening spell from the Pavilion End again, conceding nine runs from six tight overs. With a selection of bouncers and bumpers, Oram was particularly unsettled and received a nasty blow on the shoulder before another short delivery hammered into his gloves. The occasional edge flew over the slips, but England's bouncer policy was ill-advised and - for all the bruises New Zealand took - their wickets remained intact. At last, however, Sidebottom pitched one up to Oram - who lacked any sort of rhythm in his 28 and sent a thick outside edge to Strauss at first slip.
Vettori, though, revelled in the dogfight, nudging Sidebottom past square leg and working Monty Panesar into the gaps out to cover to keep the runs ticking over. At the other end Broad was in the middle of an aggressive spell but, like Anderson, continued to attack the middle of the pitch - though he produced a beautiful yorker to Vettori, on 15, which somehow he managed to dig out. It was wonderfully well disguised and yet more evidence that England's young thinking bowler never stops planning. New Zealand, however, were nudging their way up to 250. 10 minutes before lunch, however, Sidebottom took the new ball and bent one back to crash into Mills' off stump to hand the morning session's honours to England.
Bad light only allowed two balls after the lunch interval but, 25 minutes later, Sidebottom struck to bowl Southee to pick up his fourth. With just Chris Martin for company, Vettori understandably went on the attack in a last-ditch attempt to shift New Zealand's total up to 300, and took 12 from one Anderson over with three consecutive fours, all audaciously cut. After another break for bad light, Sidebottom bowled Vettori who inexplicably left a straight one.
In such favourable bowling conditions, England initially batted with similar caution as New Zealand's top-order, though were helped by a run of poor fielding from James Marshall in the slips. Strauss, clearly nervous, twice edged Chris Martin - the ball falling short - which Marshall parried away down to third man, and a third time handed Cook more easy runs. Martin bowled a tidy spell from the Pavilion End, bowling wide of the crease, while Mills found a touch more swing from the Nursery End. It was Southee who struggled, though. So impressive on debut - in Napier last March - today he was either too short - feeding Strauss's favoured pull - or much too full, allowing both left-handers to climb into him on the front foot.
The pair looked in excellent touch, enlivening a dull day with a spirited 42 runs in nine overs before the close. Cook carted Southee for three fours in succession off one particularly wayward Southee over - the first past third slip; the second elegantly flicked off his toes, while number three was pounded through extra cover - as England's fifty arrived from 98 balls.The forecast for tomorrow is marginally worse, and damper, than today, but the match remains intriguingly poised.