Vaughan rescues England as draw beckons
Prior to this Test, Michael Vaughan said he didn't "give a damn what anyone says" about the slump in form which has encouraged some to question his place in the side. For now, the critics have been muted, following a superb hundred on the fourth day against New Zealand, an innings which rescued England from a slippery 208 for 6 to hand them a useful 42-run lead. By the close, however, New Zealand's openers had reduced the deficit to just two runs, and only a speedy capitulation tomorrow morning can prevent the match heading towards a draw.
It was not all about Vaughan, though. New Zealand may be considered world cricket's perennial underdogs, in particular when they land on these shores, but their never-say-die qualities kept them in the game, led by Daniel Vettori who picked up 5 for 69. Were it not for Vaughan, England's mid-order collapse would have left them on par with New Zealand's 277 but, together with Stuart Broad who made 25, England's captain nudged a handy lead and gave his bowlers 15 overs at New Zealand's top order.
Only in the final session did England reassert the authority they briefly showed yesterday, and it was Vaughan and Broad who took control in the afternoon session with a seventh-wicket partnership of 61, full of verve. So much is expected of Broad and, on the early evidence of his six Test innings, there is an abundance of class allied with excellent genes. A sumptuous cover-drive befitting a No. 3 was followed by a calm flick off his toes, and he was no less adept at paddling Vettori for easy singles. Vaughan, meanwhile, was approaching the sort of form England have so missed from their captain. All the shots were on display: the swivel pick-up-and pull; two flourishing cover-drives and a pleasingly audacious shimmy down the pitch to Vettori, clumping him over mid-on. And Broad brought up the pair's fifty partnership with a cover drive to compete with Vaughan's very best.
New Zealand didn't help themselves, however, with several edges off Broad's bat falling short of the slips. Tim Southee persisted with impressive discipline for a nineteen-year-old and could have had Vaughan caught by Aaron Redmond at second slip. Shortly afterwards Broad was beaten by one which hurried back on him, Jacob Oram bowling him off his pads. With just the tail for company, Vaughan expanded his shots, lifting Vettori over midwicket for four to bring up his 18th Test hundred, and complete a clean sweep of centuries against all the current Test-playing nations. More pertinently, England had a lead and the match was once again alive.
Vettori wrapped up England's innings with Vaughan's wicket, his 250th in Tests, to become the first overseas spinner since Mushtaq Ahmed in 1996 to take five wickets at Lord's, and New Zealand faced an awkward spell before the close. Monty Panesar ought to have had Redmond lbw for 4, and two other close shouts were also turned down, much to the bowler's petulant anger. Jamie How and Redmond, though, survived unscathed.
Before Vaughan's rescue act, it was New Zealand who held the ascendancy. Andrew Strauss and Alastair Cook began the day in a tentative mood against Kyle Mills and Chris Martin, but pounced on anything short, as Strauss indicated his growing confidence with a characteristic pick-up-and-pull off Mills for four. The next ball was less authoritatively played, as Mills produced a corking off-cutter which missed everything, not that the vociferous New Zealanders could quite believe it. Cook matched Strauss with a resounding pull, but Martin finally found his length and produced a fine off-cutter to Cook who was superbly caught by a diving Brendon McCullum in front of first slip.
Strauss was trapped in front by Oram, who rarely offered anything driveable, and Kevin Pietersen departed to Vettori, playing down the wrong line. England had lunchtime indigestion at 160 for 3 and, after the interval, Martin really hit his straps. In a fast and accurate spell, he found the outside edge of Ian Bell's bat for a typically attractive 16 before Vettori changed the whole mood of the session. A tantalisingly flighted delivery beat Paul Collingwood, comfortably held by Ross Taylor at first slip, and Tim Ambrose lasted just one delivery when he padded up to a straight one. Somehow, Broad survived the hat-trick by a matter of centimetres. This was the vibrant and aggressive cricket Peter Moores called for, but unfortunately not from England, who had slipped to 208 for 6.
But they were saved by their captain, as were New Zealand earlier in the day. With England unable to break through in the final minutes of the day, only a calamitous capitulation from New Zealand tomorrow morning can force a result.
Will Luke is a staff writer at Cricinfo