Oram leaves England feeling blank
For the fifth match in a row, dating back to the visit of Sri Lanka in May 2006, the Lord's Test has finished in a draw. This possibly says more about the English weather than anything else, for each of the five has involved more than just a token delay for rain, yet this is a habit that goes to the heart of England's failings since the summer of 2005.
The Lord's Test has been the launchpad for each new home series - a chance to stamp their authority at a ground that, as Michael Vaughan testifies, really does feel like home. Instead they've found themselves drifting away at the end of each contest, ruing an opportunity squandered.
"We did have a shout," said Vaughan after the match. "We bowled very well today and created opportunities, but the ball either went wide [of the fielders] or went fast, and we did drop a couple. To win on the day we were going to have to take all our chances and something special was going to have to happen, and we just didn't do that."
A glance at the honours boards paints a clear picture of England's apparent dominance in recent Lord's fixtures. In the last five games, they have racked up 13 hundreds to the visitors' three, and have outscored them two to one in five-fors as well. But when it comes to the crunch, the coup de grace has eluded them.
"It's always difficult to force a result in Test match cricket when you lose 150 overs," said Vaughan, and he's right of course. But England had their opportunity at 78 for 4, with Brendon McCullum on his way to hospital and the untested Daniel Flynn holding the fort. Jacob Oram's response, however, was such a combination of guts and chutzpah that, by the time he spanked the new ball through the covers to bring up his fifth Test century, New Zealand's 200-plus lead was not merely matchsaving, it had become a statement of intent in its own right.
Oram's effort was heroic in the fullest sense, because by his own admission, he has been found out by England's attack, not least Ryan Sidebottom, who produced arguably his best ball of a stellar year to end his resistance shortly after he'd celebrated his hundred. It was the fifth time in a row that Oram had fallen to his nemesis, and he didn't try to pretend that his innings had been anything other than a struggle.
"It's the proudest moment of my career, and it surpasses anything I've done before," said Oram. "I rode my luck a bit, and there were only small periods of my innings where I felt in real control. Even scattered between the boundaries, there were some balls which snuck up on me, but I've battled through the tough times, and I've made some strides towards where I want to be in my game."
|It's the proudest moment of my career, and it surpasses anything I've done before - Jacob Oram reflects on his Lord's century|
Oram's rearguard began with New Zealand at their lowest ebb, with McCullum apparently out of the game, and disaster threatening to make an untimely appearance. Adversity, however, was just what Oram needed to put his form worries to one side. "There was a little bit of pressure coming on us, but it was a chance for me to get in at a time when the team really needed me," he said. "I've died in a bit of a hole recently, so I rode my luck. Today wasn't 100% technically perfect, but it was a great moment to bring up my hundred, because I knew that I wasn't at my best."
Such a candid admission merely exacerbates England's missed opportunity, although for New Zealand's captain, Daniel Vettori, Oram's form worries had no bearings on his standing in the side. "He's first pick in our team," said Vettori. "Whenever we don't have him in our side through injury we have to decide whether to pick a batter or a bowler. Maybe his batting hasn't been as good as he would have liked for a little bit but he came out today and played his natural game. There weren't too many worries for him, and when he plays like that, he's as good as anyone."
For Vaughan, there was little he could do by the end of the match except plan for the Old Trafford Test, which gets underway on Friday. With that in mind, he refused to concede that New Zealand had finished this encounter on top.
"Full credit to Jacob Oram and Daniel Flynn, they adapted to the conditions and made it very difficult," said Vaughan. "They played well but we knew we had to give everything today. We had to open up gaps for them to hit into, because we were trying to create opportunities. They'll say they got out with a safe draw, but we'll say we didn't take our chances. I'd have liked to play five full days on that wicket because I thought it was a good cricket pitch."
"Both teams will be happy," he said. "New Zealand will say they got out safely, and very calmly in the end, and we'll feel we created opportunities to maybe win the game today but we didn't quite grasp it. But really the game hasn't gone far enough for either team to say who's come out further on top. All it proves is that both teams are very hard fought, and the series will be a tough one. Whoever plays the best cricket in the next two games will win."
Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo