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March 24, 2008
Career-saver of the day
It was now or never for Andrew Strauss. That was the consensus at any rate, after a series in which England's batting had failed so regularly a scapegoat had to be found. Strauss was the nominated man - he'd been dropped once already this winter, and a top-score of 44 in five innings hardly augured well for his survival prospects. Not a bad time, then, to respond with your highest score in Test cricket. His previous best of 147 had come in Johannesburg in January 2005 which, coincidentally, was the match that set up England's last series win on foreign soil. If this effort achieves a similar feat, Strauss can ink himself into the No. 3 spot for the foreseeable future.
Emotional outburst of the day
Strauss was made to struggle as his century approached. He gave it away once before in such a prime situation, against India at Lord's last summer, when he danced down the track to Anil Kumble and carved a loose swipe to slip for 96. The memory of that innings was doubtless at the back of his mind, but this time he was made to contend with the second new ball as well, which Daniel Vettori took without a moment's hesitation at the end of the 80th over. Chris Martin responded to the challenge by torturing Strauss' outside edge four balls in a row, but then finally catharsis - overpitched with a hint of width, and a gleeful slash through point. Strauss punched the air with his bat and saluted all corners of the ground, then gestured to his stomach in a tribute to his wife Ruth, who is pregnant with their second child.
Trailblazer of the day
If Strauss's innings was a grind - it was, in terms of balls, the slowest of his 11 Test centuries - Ian Bell's was a gleeful romp. Somehow such riches had seemed on the cards from the moment he leathered Jeetan Patel through point for the first of his 19 boundaries, and he didn't disappoint, with a stylish unfurling of every shot in his repertoire. He danced down the pitch to deposit Vettori over long-on, he strode into position to cover-drive with impunity, and he reached his century with a carefree hook over backward square leg. Critics will suggest that his team-mates had done the hard work for him - a knock like this in the first innings wouldn't have gone amiss - but then again, not many of them are capable of making batting look this easy.
Catch of the day
There wasn't a lot of comfort on offer for New Zealand today. It was a day of hard yakka, the like of which they hadn't been subjected to all series, and even the little things failed to go their way, like Mathew Sinclair's direct hit that came within millimetres of running out Tim Ambrose. But they were briefly uplifted in the morning session by Ross Taylor, standing in for Stephen Fleming at slip. Fleming missed the morning session after going down with a bug, but Taylor was more than his equal as an understudy, as he reached low to his right to pluck a rare edge off the bat of Kevin Pietersen. At 140 for 3, the door was ajar, but Strauss and Bell slammed it shut with their superb stand of 187.
Throat ball of the day
A bit of chin music might have been the only way to slow England's serene progress, but unfortunately for New Zealand the pitch had flattened out and their seamers, though willing, lack the 90mph cutting edge required to intimidate batsmen in such circumstances. Instead, the only man to get it in the neck was New Zealand's wicketkeeper, Brendon McCullum, who was felled while standing up to the stumps in Grant Elliott's penultimate over of the day. Elliott, even in his wildest dreams, is little more than a county-paced trundler, but he found enough nip to beat Ambrose's edge and hit his own man instead. McCullum wasn't wearing a helmet, but fortunately the ball missed his face. He'll probably find it difficult to nod at New Zealand's team meeting tonight, however. Much like the rest of his colleagues.
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